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article imageOp-Ed: NSA spies on Warcraft, X box — What, no My Little Pony?

By Paul Wallis     Dec 9, 2013 in World
Sydney - New revelations have emerged of NSA agents spying on World of Warcraft and X box. The theory seems to be that the terrorists are “hiding in plain sight.” Another theory is that the NSA has lost it, big time.
The original New York Times story is now doing the rounds. This is the Sydney Morning Herald version:
The spies have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents, disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. Because militants often rely on features common to video games – fake identities, voice and text chats, a way to conduct financial transactions – US and British intelligence agencies worried that they might be operating there, according to the papers.
Online games might seem innocuous, a top-secret 2008 NSA document warned, but they had the potential to be a "target-rich communication network" allowing intelligence suspects "a way to hide in plain sight." Virtual games "are an opportunity!" another 2008 NSA document declared.
But for all their enthusiasm – so many CIA, FBI and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life, the document noted, that a "deconfliction" group was needed to avoid collisions – the intelligence agencies may have inflated the threat.
There’s no indication of any actual results achieved by this excursion into virtual worlds. What’s apparent is that a lot of resources were used up in the process.
The logic of the exercise is hilarious. One word, on any forum in the world, could mean “begin an all-out attack,” yet we have intelligence agents scuttling around World of Warcraft on mystic quests for information?
It’s perfectly natural to assume that terrorists would enter an environment which they would consider extremely idolatrous, to participate in a game they don’t necessarily even understand, for the purpose of creating a quite unnecessary, operationally ponderous means of communication.
The logic of dressing up as a cartoon character and fighting Orcs as a means of carrying out acts of terrorism is impeccable. There’s simply no logic at all.
The logic of going to Second Life and buying wonderful, non-existent property at high markups also makes sense. If you’re a terrorist, you need a mess of pixels to really prove your credentials, don’t you?
Other, equally logical, possibilities occur to me:
A terrorist called Abu Al My Little Pony will strike America after the song finishes.
Dora the Explorer will be the base for a new range of suicide merchandising, including little Dora hats that could be used to beat people to death by fanatical 3 year olds.
(“The base” is the meaning of the words “Al Qaeda,” so that must be right, too, because that’s the way the sentence is constructed. Using this logic, anything called “base,” like a pizza base, is a clear and present threat to everyone.)
Game Spot:
For its part, the NSA in 2008 began to extract World of Warcraft metadata in an attempt to link accounts, characters, and guilds to Islamic extremism and arms dealing groups. Through the information collecting efforts, it was discovered that some World of Warcraft subscribers were in fact "telecom engineers, embassy drivers, scientists, the military, and other intelligence agencies," the documents show.
…Or, as some reactionaries would say, people daring to lead normal lives, which must surely be at least illegal, if not actually treasonous, under the omni-phobic regime of security-think.
A less generous interpretation of this farcical exercise could be to assume that someone in the agencies couldn’t be bothered to do any real spy work, and persuaded the agencies to undertake something they could do from their own homes.
Any fool can write a report which implies terrorist activity might be happening. Bigger fools believe it without checking it. Even bigger fools don’t bother to equate an academic exercise with real operational needs against real enemies.
More likely, some cynic decided to see if the agencies really were that gullible, and wrote a disingenuous, wordy, report pointing out that online games could be used as meeting places for terrorists, aka “people,” those annoying things that never seem to be locked up somewhere where they belong.
One of the stranger historical focuses of intelligence work in the past was seeking real information from people who actually exist about real situations. This bizarre practice was believed to have some relevance to something, back then.
Now, we know better. Non-existent threats are much easier to monitor than real ones. Billions can be spent mindlessly sifting through information to find facts which prove beyond doubt that somebody, somewhere, either is, or worse, might, doing something.
Then all you have to do is guess what it is. Far more productive.
Don’t be surprised if Hooters gets all-out, round the clock surveillance — as soon as someone figures out how to spell it and put it in a report.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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