The US Justice Department has charged an Iranian national with leaking unaired Game of Thrones episodes as part of the Trump Administration’s effort to press forward with its anti-Iran agenda.
This Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced that they have opened the case against Behzad Mesri, whose aliases include Skote Vahshat and Mr. Smith.
Mesri is charged with hacking into the HBO cable network and stealing a significant amount of sensitive company information, such corporate emails and new episodes of a number of the network’s TV series.
The stolen data also reportedly included unaired episodes and scripts of the fan-favorite Game of Thrones, an epic medieval fantasy show.
Court documents seen by the BBC state that Mesri began spying on the media giant’s computer networks and its employees in May and after a couple of months he successfully broke into a number of user accounts, obtaining unrestricted access to the HBO servers.
“Through the course of the intrusions into HBO’s systems, Mr Mesri was responsible for stealing confidential and proprietary data including… scripts and plot summaries for unaired programming, including but not limited to episodes of Game of Thrones,” the documents read.
Mesri then supposedly stole 1.5TB of data and began blackmailing the network, demanding $6m in exchange for not leaking new episodes and scripts to the public.
“Hi to All losers” Yes it’s true! HBO is hacked!” an email allegedly originating from Mesri read.
It is unclear if HBO paid any part of the ransom to the hacker.
An important element in the case was the supposed connection between Mesri and the Iranian government, a line being pushed by the Justice Department.
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Speaking at a press conference in New York, Acting US attorney Joon Kim said that Mesri is “an experienced and sophisticated hacker who has been wreaking havoc on computer systems around the world for some time,” alleging that he is linked to the government of Iran.
“Mersi allegedly organized his hacking scheme from halfway around the world, in Iran,” Kim said.
“He now stands charged with federal crimes, and although not arrested today, he will forever have to look over his shoulder.”
“He will never be able to travel outside of Iran without fear of being arrested and brought here,” he added.
No substantive proof of the link between Iranian officials and Mesri, who has now been added to the FBI’s most wanted list, has been offered in the statement.
However, an earlier report by the Washington Post indicated that the Trump Administration has tasked the Justice Department to search for any Iranian connection in the on-going cases with the view of making them public in an attempt to foster anti-Tehran sentiment.
According to the sources in the US law enforcement cited by the Washington Post, senior Justice Department figures hope to publicize those cases in order to bolster President Trump’s efforts to convince the Congress to re-impose sanctions on Iran.
“A series of criminal cases could increase pressure on lawmakers to act,” the Post’s sources said.
Last month, the US President refused to certify that Iran is complying with the conditions set under the 2015 nuclear deal that seeks to limit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in exchange for the relaxation of economic sanctions that were imposed on the country for almost 40 years.
READ MORE: New US Sanctions on Tehran May Boost Position of Iran’s Conservatives
Trump, who famously called the agreement “the worst deal ever” and promised to “tear it up” if he was elected, did not unilaterally withdraw from the framework agreement.
Instead, he passed responsibility to Congress, leaving it up to lawmakers to determine whether the sanctions regime should be re-imposed on Iran.
Nevertheless, Trump keeps publicly pressuring the Congress to reintroduce sanctions against Iran and Mesri’s case may well be a part of his anti-Tehran campaign.