Culture

Warcraft on Terror

Virtual jihad

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Is your game room breeding jihadists? Probably not, but just to be sure the Office of the Director of National Intelligence wants to "study the emerging phenomenon of social (particularly terrorist) dynamics in virtual worlds and large-scale online games."

In other words, they'll be watching for security threats in role-playing games like World of Warcraft and virtual worlds like Second Life, where large populations interact pseudonymously. The office's February report on its data mining activities includes a description of "Reynard," a foxy "seedling effort" to begin such studies.

What, exactly, would video game terrorism look like? The report is vague, saying only that Reynard would "identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms" in such spaces and "then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world." It isn't clear what behavior would qualify as "suspicious" in online games—many of which, after all, center around sessions in which groups conspire to coordinate attacks on their enemies.

Reynard is of a piece with the office's larger data mining project, which aims to "discover or locate a predictive pattern or anomaly indicative of terrorist or criminal activity." Game worlds are just one of many corners of cyberspace being covered. The report acknowledges that "application of results from these research projects may ultimately have implications for privacy and civil liberties," adding that the office is therefore "also investing in projects that develop privacy protecting technologies." This attention to individual rights, it declares, is "a unique research effort within the intelligence community."

NEXT: Men Without Hats

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  1. Thank goodness they are picking on someone else’s game and not mine for a change!*

    *I do not advocate picking on games anyway, but too much limelight makes Montag an irritated fellow.

  2. They have endless tax money to spend; why not investigate anything no matter how stupid or unlikely to produce results? It’s a great way to cover their asses. Also, they don’t seem to have been instructed by their bosses to respect people’s rights or privacy.

  3. the office is therefore “also investing in projects that develop privacy protecting technologies.”

    Why do I assume they want to involve themselves in those privacy protecting technologies in order to gain access to the means to defeat them?

    Am I paranoid?

  4. P Brooks – Given the history of the last thirty years, you’re not paranoid enough (assuming P Brooks is your real name).

  5. Why look any further than the obvious? It was some guy who wanted to play computer games at work pulling a fast one on his management.

  6. Episiarch | July 1, 2008, 9:15am | #

    They have endless tax money to spend; why not investigate anything no matter how stupid or unlikely to produce results? It’s a great way to cover their asses. Also, they don’t seem to have been instructed by their bosses to respect people’s rights or privacy.

    Well, Jeez! You never know when a virtual person might fly a virtual airplane into a virtual building and cause all kinds of virtual death and distruction. Not to mention the virtual cost.

    The government virtually has to protect us from such virtual threats.

  7. The government virtually has to protect us from such virtual threats.

    They’re not doing too good of a job in GTA.

  8. I’ve been playing Anarchy Online for several years. That game actually features terrorist groups that players can join. I like to challenge myself more, and play in an even less realistic role: I play a government goon.

  9. Speaking of video games and terrorism, I was just playing back through that old classic, Deus Ex. It’s always hard to remember accurately just how fucking good it was; it’s better when you replay it.

  10. They came first for the Orcs
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an Orc
    Then they came for the Blood Elves
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Blood Elf
    Then they came for the Dwarves
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Dwarf
    Then they came for me
    and by that time no one was left on the server

  11. FOOLS! Your putrid domestic security agencies are worthless compared to the might of my Arachnos Forces! I managed to take over and entire chain of countries and put them all under my iron will. The superheroes themselves could not stop me! What makes you think that some pathetic agency run by a failure of a man who cannot even eat a measly pretzel can frighten me?

    MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

  12. I would like to propose two new emergency funding bills:

    1. Support our brave men in blue – the LCPD is way underfunded.
    2. Support our troops – we must work to ensure freedom in Alterac Valley against the insurgency threat.

  13. While I am confident that this is make work; there can be a rational reason to do this.

    The only way the state can be thwarted on some policy is if a large enough population decides to resist nearly simultaneously. 100,000,000 tax resisters spread over a century can be dealt with easily. 100,000,000 tax resisters over the course of one year can bring a government down.

    Such simultaneous action requires a degree of coordination – not centralized planning mind you – some form of signaling between the actors that allows individuals to see the breadth of their allies.

    For this reason governments like to monitor and control such networks. The massive crackdon on Falung Gong by the Chinese makes sense in this light.

    Furthermore, once these networks are set up, they can be very hard to penetrate. A newcomer trying to infiltrate the group will not know the history of the group – will be ignorant of tribal knowledge -thing German soldiers in the Ardennes who didn’t know anything about baseball.

    In the past such groups – generally clans or people in a particular profession have been limited in size.

    Online groups can grow very huge. They are like the nucleus of a resistance movement on steroids. And, as Scientology’s travails with Anonymous shows, they can easily muster overwhelming numbers of people.

    So it makes sense for a government whose officers sit uneasily in their offices to try to monitor such things.

  14. Blades Edge Arena is the new terrorist training ground!

    And don’t forget that new raid instance coming out: D.C. I can’t wait to get my phat epixxx! I hear that Pelosi’s not too tough a boss in the House wing, but those waves of Congressmen before her get kinda tedious.

  15. dx is indeed a classic; the french anarchist who lectures you in the catacombs is worth the price of admission alone.

  16. Why do I assume they want to involve themselves in those privacy protecting technologies in order to gain access to the means to defeat them?

    Am I paranoid?

    No. Ther was this thing called the clipper chip … Any questions from the folks who think I’m paranoid for giving the census minimal* info.

    * Sex and age of residents in household only.

  17. Seriously, do they really think that terrorists-in-waiting are playing World of Warcraft?

    I just don’t see an intersection between the groups “people playing involved on-line computer games” and “people obsessed enough with their religion to kill”. Am I wrong?

  18. Yes very nice, and we came to this conclusion by reviewing our mistakes from pre 9/11 I assume. Therefore Flight Simulator registrants are probably on some list somewhere as well right?

  19. They have endless tax money to spend; why not investigate anything no matter how stupid or unlikely to produce results?

    They try, trust me.

    U.S. News and World Report headline.
    By Marianne Szegedy-Maszak and Charles Fenyvesi. Posted 1/19/03

    Enemies in the mind’s eye
    For more than 20 years, the CIA funded psychic experiments

  20. I think Colin @9:43 has got it right. I wish I could work WoW into my job- oh and /DING lvl 70 Night Elf HUnter FTW

  21. Great. Now we’re going to have those jackasses start a whole new “War on Greifing”.

  22. I don’t play video games much at all, let alone MMORPGs, so I was amused to googol up this oddly familiar logo.

    Kevin

  23. Sounds like someone is a great bullsh** artist. He convinced his bosses to pay him to play videogames all day. Brilliant.

  24. At least the guv has gotten over its Francophobia … what’s next? Renaming the sewage drug analysis program to “Voici est la Merde”?

  25. Goddamn right my warlock is a threat to national security. He did 1.2 million damage in a Warsong Gulch the other day.

  26. I play True Combat Elite. Sometimes I’m even on the *looks around* Terrorist team.

  27. TallDave,

    Playing a Warlock is like having Christmas every day, isn’t it?

  28. Paul,

    Especially when you have 100+ PVP guildies to run with and you lead every game in damage.

    OTOH, we get nerfed every patch now it seems 🙁

  29. Guys, I hate to burst the bubble of state hate (because I agree most of the time), but this is a legitimate program. Second Life and WoW have both already been used by terrorist organizations to exchange planning information and even training materials. There is also a concern that they will be used to launder money.

  30. Second Life and WoW have both already been used by terrorist organizations to exchange planning information and even training materials. There is also a concern that they will be used to launder money.

    Troll post? Maybe? I’ll bite.

    So has the U.S. Mail, so has email and cell phones. So what?

    Oh, and really, I won’t deny it outright, but please cite a specific example of where WoW or Second life were used by terrorist organizations that produced actionable evidence of such planning.

  31. I see what you are saying Paul. And actually, this is probably another stepping stone of power. Who would object to people patrolling a nerdy internet game? Terrorists, maybe, but also conservative, freedom-of-speech types. Besides that, nobody cares. But then this sets a precedent for even further retraction of our privacy rights, whatever we have left of those.

  32. Second Life and WoW have both already been used by terrorist organizations to exchange planning information and even training materials.

    My guess is, the use of these sites is a net loss to terrorist organizations. The guys who are supposed to be exchanging info could probably do it in ten minutes via an anonmyzer services, but it probably takes them days once they log onto WoW.

    “Abdul, I can’t drop off the atomic bomb plans until I get past this dragon! I need to level up at least two more times!”

  33. WoW has built in voice chat and an in game email system, so assuming that the Infidels are monitoring all normal emails, it is a clever way to get around Government snooping.

    I’m not sure how practical it actually is, though.

    Also, WoW is highly addictive, for security reasons, if I were in charge of a terrorist cell, I would not use it to communicate sensitive information nor let my subordinates use (play) it either.

  34. Well at least we know they aren’t plotting Tuesday mornings…

    Anyone read the love letter from a Wow fan in the Onion? http://www.theonion.com/content/node/47492

    I guess the Feds need to play some World of World of Warcraft to penetrate the mindset of The Elders of Bloodsail Reverance And Friends
    http://www.theonion.com/content/video/warcraft_sequel_lets_gamers_play

    …and, Patrick, where is the link to a story about terroists using my beloved WoW?

  35. Sounds to me like one of the feds read the following and didn’t get that it was a joke…

    http://www.forumapex.com/anything_goes/13260-everquest_raid_iraq_style.html

  36. Oh, so THAT was what I was grinding rep with last night. Oops. But they sell some great engineering plans!

  37. Now that I think of it, wouldn’t any game with internet multiplayer capability be a communications tool for terrorists (or others who don’t want the government prying into their communications)?

    I don’t think the Feds realize just how many different multiplayer games are out there.

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