You can never trust a Halfling again.
The National Security Agency (NSA) and UK sister agency GCHQ sought to infiltrate the massive virtual worlds in online video games such as "World of Warcraft" and interactive environments like "Second Life," according to the latest secret documents stolen by Edward Snowden and jointly released by the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica.
According to a document titled “Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments,” the secretive spy agencies were concerned by potential terrorist use of such games and felt an immediate need to begin analyzing in-game communications as early as 2007.
“[Certain] games offer realistic weapons training (what weapon to use against what target, what ranges can be achieved, even aiming and firing), military operations and tactics, photorealistic land navigation and terrain familiarization, and leadership skills,” the document notes. “Some of the 9-11 pilots had never flown a real plane, they had only trained using Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.”
“The Hizballah has even hooked up a PlayStation controller to a laptop in order to guide some of its real missiles,” it notes.
According to the Guardian, real-world agents were deployed into those virtual worlds to extract communications, recruit potential informants and keep tabs on potential terrorists.
“So many different U.S. 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,” wrote the Guardian.
The documents don’t indicate whether the push led to any usable information, nor whether any terrorist plots were detected or foiled in "World of Warcraft" or other virtual environments.
The NSA, Microsoft and Second Life creator Philip Rosedale all declined to comment, the paper noted. But Blizzard Entertainment, the creator of "World of Warcraft," said it was unaware of any attempts to monitor terrorist activity in its game.
"We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," a spokesman said. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."