World of Warcraft, Halo, Second Life — it’s more than just fantasy, apparently

Ed Snowden may think he has unleashed another revelatory bomb on the U.S. and British intelligence, but it’s more likely he has given a lot of young people ideas for careers in espionage.
YE-Top 10 Video Games
After all, if there are spies out there whose careers consist of donning fantasy identities and spending all day every day on World of Warcraft, Halo or Second Life, well, clear off the sofa and make room for more of the gang.

A joint investigation by three news outlets — ProPublica, the Guardian and the New York Times — revealed this latest twist in undercover efforts to keep the world safe from terrorism. It’s not all as crazy as it might sound. Such games provide messaging systems that could give players the perfect cover for swapping information.

Terrorists may indeed be lurking in the shadows of fantasy worlds, or hiding in plain sight, as the NSA puts it.

And you can’t overlook one success story uncovered in this investigation. In 2008, British authorities cracked an underground ring sharing stolen credit card information through a fantasy game.

That’s not exactly terrorism, though. The documents apparently don’t contain any evidence of any real counter-terrorisms successes in fantasyland.

But how far does the fantasy infiltration really go? Will that Klingon you encounter at the next Star Trek convention be more than he appears?

And if the pretend dude you’re meeting online isn’t really just some other guy in a lonely basement like you, how can you know whether he’s working for the good guys or the terrorists?

I’d like to think this information would outrage fantasy gamers and make them demand greater security, but I have a feeling just the opposite will happen. People will flock to a make-believe world that might actually be inhabited by real-life underworld characters and spies. What have they got to lose — unless of course someone falsely suspects them of something and is able to figure out who they really are?

The big question is whether the intelligence agencies are committing too many resources to fantasy games. Pro Publica reports that so many agents are playing Second Life the agencies have had to set up a “deconfliction” group in order to keep them from stepping on each other’s toes.

Well of course — if any sort of crime-fighting effort will proliferate, it’s one that requires day after day of intense computer gaming.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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