NSA Unable to Tie Your Guild to Al-Qaeda

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.

The Hellscream Dream

Garrosh Hellscream would have gotten results

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?

10 thoughts on “NSA Unable to Tie Your Guild to Al-Qaeda

  1. bhgapuss

    The mainstream media still seems to use Second Life as the defining archetype for online gaming, virtual worlds and cyberspace in general. Can’t say that surprises me – mainstream journalists still seem to find The Beatles and Abba useful benchmarks for discussing popular music, after all.

    Remember when SOE sent the entire chat log history of EQ2 to “a collaborative group of academic researchers at a number of institutions” ?


    I wonder who else got that data?


  2. Knug

    The reality of it is simple: The “Alphabet Agencies” are afraid that if they tried to infiltrate EVE Online, that they’d : end up getting Awoxed ; discover that their entire budget had been stolen; their spies got turned; their drones all got stolen; and that their new spy satellite system spends its days focused on certain internet cafes during the Alliance Tournament.


  3. carson63000

    Anyone who has seen “Four Lions” knows that Puffin Party is the online game of choice for sekrit terrorist communications.


  4. jjerikson

    I have to wonder if the reason so many spies were trying to “infiltrate” games was because they jumped at the chance to play their favorite MMO on company time.


  5. Whorhay

    What is funny to me is that it sounds like they were running entrapment schemes and ultimately unable to get much action. Why else would they need a deconfliction group unless some of them were actively pushing for terrorist actions.


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Whorhay – Well, that certainly wouldn’t be new ground for them. There has been a pattern of finding some disgruntled half-wit, convincing him to strike against America, giving him a plan and selling him the explosives (inert), and the arresting him at the scene just so they can crow about catching a genuine terrorist.


  7. Noizy

    I had to get home to find the name of the project. It’s called the Reynard program. Apparently a couple of the contributors over at Terra Nova were involved. I saw Dmitri Williams and Nick Yee listed in a news article.

    The thing I didn’t see mentioned in the ProPublica article was the role that RMT plays. Since Second Life uses Linden dollars, it makes a good conduit for laundering money. And with the amount of illicit RMT concerning WoW, the same holds true for that game as well.


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