The NSA Has Been Infiltrating Online Games

Looking for terrorists in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft

Blizzard Entertainment (via)

The National Security Agency, still under the microscope because of leaks from former employee Edward Snowden, has been straddling the line between terrifying digital panoptican and almost comically inept government institution. Now, in the latter category: a report that the NSA infiltrated the dark world of online gaming.

In a report jointly published by the Guardian, New York Times, and ProPublica, a leaked report shows the NSA's reasons and strategy for playing games like World of Warcraft and Second Life. From the Guardian:

The NSA document, written in 2008 and titled Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments, stressed the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored, describing them as a "target-rich communications network" where intelligence targets could "hide in plain sight".

Games, the analyst wrote, "are an opportunity!". According to the briefing notes, so many different US intelligence agents were conducting operations inside games that a "deconfliction" group was required to ensure they weren't spying on, or interfering with, each other.

(Emphasis on bizarre use of exclamation point mine.)

The NSA paper argues that online gaming--a huge market of tens of millions--could be a medium for terrorist communications. Even better, from the agency's point of view, systems like headsets could provide useful biometric information for tracking them down.

How far did this program reach? That we don't know, although the leaked report does note that the agency succesfully made its way into Xbox Live, Microsoft's sprawling online gaming system.

But if the NSA's activities in the field led to stopping terrorists, the documents leaked to the Guardian don't mention it.

Read the Guardian's full story here, and see the leaked report here.