As part of the trove of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, The Guardian and Pro Publica are now reporting that some pertain to a years-long effort to infiltrate potential terrorist networking in the virtual worlds of Second Life, Xbox Live, and World of Warcraft.
A 2008 document from the NSA declared that such games could give spies access to a potentially "target-rich communication network," and 2008 would have also been around the time that there was a Second Life plot on Law & Order, and when the hype about the virtual reality world was its peak.
It seems that the FBI and CIA dispatched many spies to playing games and roaming Second Life in silly avatar costumes, so many that they needed a “deconfliction” group to keep the spies from treading across each others' turf in the online world.
Blizzard Entertainment, the Irvine-based company that sells World of Warcraft, said they were unaware of any surveillance by any agencies in their game.
As the NYT reports, though the agencies found little to none of the exchanges of terrorist money or information that they hoped they might through surveillance of the games, they did find that there were high-level engineers and foreign operatives playing the games who might make good recruitment targets as agents. Also, "One N.S.A. document said that the World of Warcraft monitoring 'continues to uncover potential Sigint value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing.'"
A couple of years ago, the Palo Alto Research Center was commissioned by the federal government to do a study of player activity and the habits of different types of users. They were specifically asked "not to speculate on the government’s motivations and goals" in their report, and instead they came up with such brilliant revelations as "players under 18 tend to use all caps in their communications."
How do we get a government contract for this shit?