So many C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life that a “deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions.
ProPublica Article, Word of Spycraft
One of the stories floating around at the moment is a report from ProPublica, The Guardian, and the New York Times about the various security agencies in the US and the UK conducting surveillance and collecting data on players inside games like World of Warcraft and Second Life. You can read the ProPublica story here. It has links out to the other two sites.
That the various alphabet soup of agencies were interested in online games as a potential communications channel for terrorists has been known for a while now. (At least I remember this coming up a few years back. Oh yeah, this.) But now, with the documents stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden, we are getting a sense of how much effort went into this and what sort of returns were achieved.
Cutting to the chase: A lot and not very much at all.
There is that quote at the top of this post for starters. The article goes on to talk about ongoing efforts to infiltrate groups, recruit informers, and steal data to allow the various agencies to discover the real life identities of players. The government even went to the private sector to fund studies of online games, which eagerly jumped to get on the government funding teat, and yielded up such gems as the fact that “players under age 18 often used all capital letters both in chat messages and in their avatar names.”
Meanwhile, the results seem rather modest. The agencies discovered that a wide swath of the population plays online games, including people who might be potentially be recruited by various parties. But while there were plenty of “We’re in!” sorts of memos about getting data, documents showing that intelligence collected lead to terrorists, or any plots thereof, seem to be missing… or were never there in the first place.
Our government(s) in action.
I do find it interesting that Second Life seemed to get such focus. The tales seem to spin around World of Warcraft, Xbox Live, and Second Life, at least two of which were/are very popular. The security agencies seemed to believe the media hype of a few years back that Second Life was the future and that we would be doing business, conducting conferences, and attending concerts in a virtual world. Remember those days? Somebody at the CIA must have read Snow Crash as well.
On the flip side, there was no mention of EVE Online. Of course, Glenn Beck showed us that EVE is controlled by the CIA through Goonswarm, so they may be diverting attention from that, right?