Middle-East Expert Scoffs at MMO Terror Cell Notion

February 27, 2008 -
While U.S. intelligence operatives are actively developing software to spy on players of online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life, a noted scholar finds the government's cloak-and-dagger approach bizarre.

In a thought-provoking article for Salon, Juan Cole, author and professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, writes:
What's the real game here?

...The notion that wandering around such an imaginary world with a computerized body is dangerous to anyone seems itself cartoonish and calls into question the public hand-wringing by security experts.

It's long been clear that the Bush administration authorized illegal, warrantless wiretaps on the American public, and that major U.S. telecom companies often cooperated... Dick Cheney recently urged making this type of unchecked domestic surveillance permanent.

Cole describes how unimpressed he was by his own recent visit to Second Life:
There were some technical glitches at first in setting up the audio, and the interview was cut short when "Second Life" suddenly announced they were closing down that area.... the week before my appearance, banks in "Second Life" were closed down... The institutional frameworks are to date so unreliable that terrorists likely could not count on a money-launderer...

Cole is also skeptical of using a platform like Second Life as a terrorist training camp:
If the July 7, 2005, bombers of the London Underground could so easily be recruited in a gym in Leeds, why go to all the trouble of creating an avatar?...

One [security] expert... darkly observed that one can find stockpiles of weapons in virtual worlds, without seeming to take note of the fact that those weapons are ... cartoon weapons...

Even the Internet war-game sites... which include "Worlds of Warcraft" -- would probably just make most terrorists overweight and addicted to the Internet...

Finally Cole finds government monitoring of virtual worlds unwarranted and unconstitutional:
The recent alarmism about terrorist activity in virtual worlds seems designed to prey on the fears of the Internet common among the Great Unwired...

Any monitoring by law enforcement of innocuous activity and communication in a virtual world, conducted broadly and without oversight, would be unconstitutional and could invade the privacy of millions of persons.

Comments

Re: Middle-East Expert Scoffs at MMO Terror Cell Notion

Why, because every web site you visit knows your: ISP, IP #, OS, Web browser and oh so much more about you.

Re: Middle-East Expert Scoffs at MMO Terror Cell Notion

I voted for Amy yesterday at the East Town Crossing shopping center. I honestly don't see why everyone thinks the sky is falling because of the new location vs the mall location.

http://www.jihadswarm.com/

They may just be on to something here.

Yes, let us all take our virtual weapons and commence war on American Servers!

I'll get the popcorn. :p

I can see the headlines now.

MMO Guild Arrested by Homeland Security

A guild in the popular MMOG World of Warcraft was arrested yesterday under suspicions of suspected terrorist plots. According to sources in the government the players were quoted as saying things like, "Send in the tank and nuke everything" and "I want you guys to nuke the crap out this mob." Officials believe mob refers to a large group of people.

Sources say this would have included the dishing out of massive damage over a large area as the players also referenced the nukes doing area of effect damage.

I said it before and I'll say it again. If our intelligence community has failed so miserably at searching and gathering Intel on any potential enemies to the point that our best source of information comes from our spies in the Barrens. We are more screwed than I thought.

Oh and a great man once said “he would give up an essential liberty for temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.”

I hardly consider World of Warcraft an essential liberty. You can bet your Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honors that if the governent started taking liberties that are IMPORTANT, like press, speech, religion, etc, I'd be with you all the way. But 'privacy' is not among the liberties enumerated in the constitution, especially if that privacy is being used to plot terrorist actions.

That said, the idea that terrorist are 'training' in WoW or other MMOs is obviously ridiculous. The idea that they're trying to recruit in WoW is far-fetched.

But planning between people who couldn't get together in the real world without risking detection is vaguely possible. Still unlikely, but possible.

@Twin-Skies

America's educational system won't be fixed by throwing money at it. Many public schools waste more money a year on a single kid than private schools charge in tuition. Overpowered Teacher's unions, moronic tenure laws, and apathetic students, among other things, are the main reason the education system is in disarray.

"Even the Internet war-game sites… which include “Worlds of Warcraft” — would probably just make most terrorists overweight and addicted to the Internet…"

Hahahaha! So funny because it's true...*ouch*...

"One [security] expert… darkly observed that one can find stockpiles of weapons in virtual worlds, without seeming to take note of the fact that those weapons are … cartoon weapons…"

LOL :)

Was that actually said? Who said it? Are there any sources provided? Very, very funny quote :)

@L42yB

“One [security] expert… darkly observed that one can find stockpiles of weapons in virtual worlds, without seeming to take note of the fact that those weapons are … cartoon weapons…”

News Flash:

US Government to Investigate Suspected Terror-Cell Connections to ACME!

Yeah, I think the US spies are using the whole "terror" thing as an excuse to play WoW during work hours.

Tinfoil hat mode
they is watching us in everything we doooozzzzzz.
/tin foil hat mode.


1984? its already here!!

This goes back to the 'investigation' they did on a terroist training video that turned out to be a guys greatest kills vid he posted on youtube. They dropped, what, something in the area of 3million on experts who swore up and down that it was a terroist training tool, just to find out that it was a video game player tooting his own horn. Methinks GP did an article on it awhile back (probably why I recall it).
Tragically, this is the occupational field I want to get into post-college. Maybe with a few more informed tech-heads in the right places we could see a change in policy via a change in concern by the intel community.

FBI, CIA and all the other acronyms need an excuse to play MMOs for taxpayers' money.

Me: Constitution, can I ask you a question?

Constitution: Go ahead.

M: Is this spying without a warrant stuff legal?

C: Let me check myself... Nope.

M: Isn't violating you when you swore to uphold and protect you like the Bush Administration did lying?

C: I guess so. Yeah it is.

M: Isn't that grounds for impeachment?

C: Yes, it is.

M: Isn't that treason?

C: It is a form of it.

M: Then why doesn't anyone listen to you?

C: I tried and Ashcroft called me quaint. It seems all I am good for is protecting video game content. That is nice and all but I kinda feel like I was meant to do more.

M: Me too.

They're just looking for an excuse to spy on you while playing a game. :p

They're just looking to spy on cybering sessions.

Seriously, one day privacy will be a foreign word. May as well ax it from the dictionary now.

One [security] expert… darkly observed that one can find stockpiles of weapons in virtual worlds, without seeming to take note of the fact that those weapons are … cartoon weapons…



lol what the heck...

i relly want to hear the original quote that came from. Im not even going to make a joke. it just ...wow... that bizaare. i REALLY want to hear in what context that was a valid security issue and why... i mean.. what...?

please...anyone knows if they have half a brain that We terrorists like to Gather on Guild Wars. that way we can finish the story as we plot the downfall of you american dogs! ALL HAIL THOMPSON!!!!

The idea to spy on you while you game is flawed for obvious reasons and is a waste of US tax payer money that could be used for more important things.

I woud limagine terrorists woudln't use pay to play games.

Some people seem to keep forgetting that there's 25 other amendments to the Constitution. Oh sure, they remember the 1st and the 2nd amendment. Hell, you don't even have to leave the Bill of Rights to find out why this is wrong. It's right there on the 4th which means those crippled by the education system can still count to it on one hand! Besides, if anything, we should be encouraging the terrorists to play "Worlds of Warcraft". They'll be too busy planning a raid to get "Phat Lewt" that they'll forget to attack a real city.

His hyperbole about fat internet addicts is silly, but I can see that he's using it to make a point about how absurd the situation is.

Besides, who needs stockpiles of virtual weapons when you can call upon the black incantations of DARK SORCERY!!!!

Do you hear that? It's the government pork-barrel spending their way into oblivion! Now, let's give those Iraqi war veterans some golf equipment so they can enjoy the links on their time overseas!

they want to spy on the "teenage webcam training camps" lol

Asinine.... they monitor virtual worlds, while the US border is beyond porous, and a meager 5% of goods shipped into the US through ports are even inspected. So tell me... where are WMD and/or terrorists more likely to infiltrate? Through some WoW server, or through a porous border or unprotected port?

Bush's solution? Sell port ownership to an Arab nation. LOL. Thank goodness that didn't work out in his favor.

More BS fear mongering. Make the people think they are so insecure, that they focus on the outside invader, rather than their own government. Weapons of Mass Distraction. As they destroy the Constitution and trample on your rights, you quiver in fear in a corner, thinking the end is neigh.

Wake up.

International terrorism is just as prolific today as it was 30 years ago. The difference is, today, the US government is using it against its very own people for political advantage. Thank goodness Bush&Co has failed to drive the nation further into despotism than it already has. We can only hope most of the violations can be turned back with time.

"Oh my God, that terrorist has an [Epic Broadsword of Noob Slaying], we are all doomed!"

You really have to watch out for those huge stockpiles of virtual medieval weaponry, automatic weapons are no match for them.

In all seriousness though. Information flows unchecked through chats, as well as video games.

The U.S government doesn't like people opposing it, and wants to stop people from developing ideas that conflict with theirs.

Look at H.R 1995 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wJsovPRTEM

:S

Maybe we're just getting into a MMO-arms race with the Chinese? They shoot down a satellite, so we have to shoot one down as well. They monitor citizens' usage of WoW, so we have to do it as well. It's certainly cheaper to stockpile +10 Swords of Pwnness in a virtual world than building nukes. Although ironically, they'll probably turn to some Chinese gold farmer to buy the weapons from...

It seems that every day that America is losing more of its freedom to the point that its no longer the land of the free. I can picture thousands of innocent people getting arrested because of Government spys. I wish George Bush would stop with his panic attacks.

"Even the Internet war-game sites… which include “Worlds of Warcraft” — would probably just make most terrorists overweight and addicted to the Internet…"

Haha omg...overweight and addicted to the internet. This guy makes sense until this point XD...everything else though, I'd have to say I agree with.

How much training can you get from a terrorist camp on SL anyway? Is it going to teach you how to be covert and agile in the face of danger...no. Maybe you could learn to make bombs but aside from just chatting with someone, which you could do much more eaisly on AIM or a chat room...I really cant see a training grounds being too effective in a virtual world.

Newsflash: terror alert - Wile E. Coyote wanted for attempted murder and possession of cartoon explosives. ACME corporation denies complicity in providing cartoon WMDs to cartoon terrorists. Lawyers for Mr. Coyote claim that "One man's cartoon terrorist is another man's cartoon freedom fighter".

"One [security] expert… darkly observed that one can find stockpiles of weapons in virtual worlds, without seeming to take note of the fact that those weapons are … cartoon weapons…"

epic country fail.

If it weren't going to cost the country money, it'd be amusing as heck to think of government agents sifting through all the garbage that goes on in WoW chat.

[blockquote]One [security] expert… darkly observed that one can find stockpiles of weapons in virtual worlds[/blockquote]

Suddenly, I understand why they are always after policing the internet. There are all these JPGs of weapons on the internet, a massive stockpile of JPGs of weapons. Terrorists could be arming themselves with these JPGs. And then, with CTRL-C/CTRL-V they could have unlimited bullets!

Quik, we must fitar teh internets so teh tarrists don't get are JPGS!!!

Well written article, thank you Juan Cole.

Cole mentions the Australian. I found two articles on "virtual terrorism" there.

Terrorists practise on cyber game: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,22162513-2702,00.html
Virtual terrorists:
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22161037-28737,00.html

The second one contains this gem which I believe Cole is referring to:
"On the darker side, there are also weapons armouries in SL where people can get access to guns, including automatic weapons and AK47s. Searches of the SL website show there are three jihadi terrorists registered and two elite jihadist terrorist groups."

While beside the article is a screencap with the caption: "Pixel-packing avatars: Browsing for weapons in Second Life"

Be afraid!

the only useful thing I see WOW teaching terrorrist is to work together in epic raids :D

SL is a pretty boring chatroom with visual and the ability to fly... OMG they could train themselves to fly into buildings

[...] Middle-East Expert Scoffs at MMO Terror Cell Notion. [...]

Dear Player,

It has recently come to our attention that you play a Human Paladin in the murder simulator "World of Warcraft". Our research shows that individuals affiliated with terrorist activity are most likely to play as a Human Paladin. Furthermore, we have intercepted a message sent to your guild leader at 8:58am this morning which read, in part;

"OMG ROFL THOSE NUBS @ UBRS GOT PWNT".

After devoting many hours and thousands of tax payer dollars to cracking this code, we believe it to be a confession to an as yet unidentified terrorist attack committed some time in the last week, most likely in Iraq.

Please stand by for an all expenses paid trip to Guantanamo Bay. We here the water boarding is lovely this time of year.

Yours sincerely,

The Administration.

They need to wait until a Dune MMO comes out and people RP as Fremen. Then at least they'd have a point, as toons run around yelling "kill the infidels!" "death to unbelievers" etc.

This in unreal.

Wouldn't the constant monitoring cause lag amongst the games? Is the government allowed to do that? It reeks of some of the finest BULLSHIT, I've ever seen. There might be terrorists in the general population so spy on them there might be terrorists in the virtual population so spy on them to, who cares about evidence or privacy laws.

Perhaps we can create an MMORPG based around 1984.

[...] via GamePolitics [...]

Waaah, the evil Bush Administration is at it again! The Constitution is in tatters! Waaaah!

Please. Give it a rest, Mr. Middle East Expert. This is probably a pointless and thankless job, but I'd rather the government waste a little time and money being thorough than risk some home-grown terror cell blow up a building because we weren't paying attention.

Chalts:

I'd rather the FBI and CIA use proven methods to track down terror cells. I mean, like by using undercover agents.

Oh wait, I forgot, Dick Cheney just blows people's covers whenever he feels like it which dramatically impedes their progress.

"Waaah, the evil Bush Administration is at it again! The Constitution is in tatters! Waaaah!"

oh god I hope your being sarcastic.
Not only do they violate the constitution like lonely inmates they waste billions on pointless projects just so it looks like their keeping busy Canada is kicking the usa in the crotch money wise and they have universal healthcare which last I checked wasn't cheap! Who knows? maybe when we have a president who wasnt arrested multiple times for drinking related charges we wont suck so much, But that day is at the very least 1 year off.(So close yet so far)

I think ignoring the very thing that defines what your country is in order to 'save' it is somewhat defeating the point, I must admit. Terrorism is a terrible thing that needs to be defeated, but there are other, equally terrible things that can happen to a society, I personally think too many people lose sight of that. The surrender of Liberties to the government is a major thing to do, at least when they are taken, you have a grievance, there is impetus to actually do something about it, but when you are told it is 'for your own good', where do you stand then? That's a path a great number of countries have taken in the past, and it's never, ever ended well.

Yes, there are situations where the safety of a group of people is more important than the privacy of a single one, but there is a difference between targetted, information-led monitoring and over-arching surveillance, and that's a difference not just in action, but in governmental policy itself.

@Chalts

I really REALLY hope you're being sarcastic.

Seriously, what terror cell would use an MMO for anything?

Training? Keyboard and mouse don't count as a simulator.

Recruitment? Most would go "STFU noob"

SO in reality it's just more government busy work.

"but I’d rather the government waste a little time and money being thorough than risk some home-grown terror cell blow up a building because we weren’t paying attention. "

So you'd rather them waste time and money that could be spent elsewhere on something that not only violates the right to privacy but has a very low chance of actually turning up anything?

I'm glad you're not in politics because you clearly don't have your priorities in order.

Oh and a great man once said "he would give up an essential liberty for temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety."

@Chalts

"Waaah, the evil Bush Administration is at it again! The Constitution is in tatters! Waaaah!"

Bush isn't evil. He's just an idiot. At least evil dictators actually get things done. It's the concentrations camps and gassings that I don't agree with.

"Please. Give it a rest, Mr. Middle East Expert. This is probably a pointless and thankless job, but I’d rather the government waste a little time and money being thorough than risk some home-grown terror cell blow up a building because we weren’t paying attention. "

"A Little time and money..." If it's a gov't project, expect even a "little" to sum up to several thousand. That money could have easily gone on to more important projects like, say, America's messed up educational system?

Oh Nu, the government wants to peep on me cybering between leveling!
 
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