Trump Justice Department Uses Game Of Thrones Hack Against Iran

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Joffrey would never come up with something as devious as the Trump Justice Department's sustained propaganda campaign against the Iran nuclear deal.
Joffrey would never come up with something as devious as the Trump Justice Department's sustained propaganda campaign against the Iran nuclear deal. HBO

Federal authorities have charged Behzad Mesri with hacking HBO and stealing 1.5 terabytes of data, including scripts of Game of Thrones and pre-release episodes of The Deuce and Curb Your Enthusiasm. But more consequential than the cyberattack itself is the alleged rationale behind the splashy indictment announcement: heightening tensions with Iran and establishing a pretext for a manufactured war. Could Game of Thrones be instrumental in rationalizing the United State’s next conflict?

“US charges Iranian man in HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ hack,” CNN’s headline reads, an emphasis on the cyber-attacker’s Iranian origin that typifies most headlines about the indictment. Here’s The New York Times: “Iranian Hacker Charged in HBO Hacking That Included ‘Game of Thrones’ Script.” And Los Angeles Times: “Iranian man charged with hacking HBO and leaking ‘Game of Thrones’ information.”

The indictment, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, alleges Mesri worked for an Iranian cyberattack unit and a hacking group called the Turk Black Hat security team, often defacing websites under the pseudonym “Skote Vahshat,” but doesn’t draw an explicit link between the HBO hack and the Iranian government. Instead Mesri, charged with computer fraud, wire fraud, extortion and identity theft, is alleged to have worked singularly to ransom the data in exchange for $6 million in Bitcoin.

But while the indictment and press conference stopped short of accusing Iran directly, gone unreported in most outlets is the propaganda subtext to the charges, promoted by the Justice Department to pressure lawmakers to impose new sanctions on Iran and scuttle President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) reached in 2015 and ratified by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United States, the UK, Russia, France, China and Germany.

Justice Department pushing Iran-connected charges in HBO hack, other cases,” reads a Washington Post headline, published two days before charges against Mesri were announced. It opens:

“Last month, national security prosecutors at the Justice Department were told to look at any ongoing investigations involving Iran or Iranian nationals with an eye toward making them public.”

The article goes on to cite “internal alarm” over the Trump administration’s efforts to propagandize DOJ cases against Iranian diplomacy, with some anonymous officials that claimed PR manipulation of Iran-related cases could imperil other ongoing investigations by discouraging Iranian suspects from travelling outside of Iran. The HBO hacking case was specifically mentioned as part of the internal Justice Department directive to spotlight Iran-related investigations.

By refusing to certify Iran’s compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal, which President Trump called “the worst deal ever,” the administration left it up to Congress to decide whether or not to place sanctions on Iran and violate the terms of the accord. But anonymous sources within the Justice Department claim Trump and other administration officials are putting a heavy thumb on the scales, including via an ongoing pattern of propaganda that goes far beyond Game of Thrones , exploiting a media environment that will run with almost any anti-Iran story, no matter how inaccurate.

The Justice Department’s alleged PR efforts against the Iranian nuclear deal and toward destabilization is just one aspect of an increasingly propagandized justice system, also exemplified by the efforts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to highlight “egregious cases” of immigrant crime to justify the ongoing crackdown on non-violent undocumented immigrants, revealed in ICE emails leaked to The Intercept.

Any story on the HBO hack and the Behzad Mesri indictment is incomplete without that context: mirroring the violent, manipulative politics of Westeros, Game of Thrones has itself become a propaganda pawn and pretext for escalation of hostilities with Iran.

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