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NSA infiltrated online games. Was 'World of Spycraft' effort smart or a waste? (+video)

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(Read caption) Snowden: Government spies on 'Warcraft' and other online games
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The National Security Agency and its British equivalent have been spying on virtual elves, orcs, and trolls in massive multi-player online video games such as "World of Warcraft" and "Second Life", according to the latest leak from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Simultaneous stories published Monday by The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica detail spy agency gamer activity, which appears to have begun in 2007 or 2008. At one point so many spooks and agencies were involved in Second Life that they had to set up a “deconfliction” group to make sure they weren’t duplicating efforts or running into each other, according to these reports.

World of Warcraft and other games involve the use of digital avatars, voice and text communications, and virtual financial transactions. Millions of players participate.

The NSA and its British sister agency GCHQ worry that this environment might be useful for terrorists, according to documents leaked by Snowden. Al Qaeda and others could hide operational discussions and actual money transfers in fantasy worlds.

“The [signals intelligence community] needs to begin taking action now to plan for collection, processing, presentation, and analysis of these communications,” said one April 2008 NSA document cited by Justin Elliott of ProPublica and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times.

It’s not clear that this spying has paid off. Documents cited show no counterterrorism successes, although the British did bust a criminal group peddling stolen credit card numbers on Second Life.


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