WoW! The NSA dumping chat logs while I game?

I never thought I'd be writing about online gaming, especially first person shooters. Today, I'm compelled to stop chilling with the rest of the grognards and play Paul Revere to the online gaming community's colonial Boston. The manual does not specify how many lanterns this one gets.

According to documents provided by Edward Snowden to the Guardian and other news outlets, the national security state has a long running series of programs designed to spy on gamers. Fearing that terrorists and other bad guys would be secretly communicating through virtual environments such as World of Warcraft and Second Life.

The projects, dating to at least 2007, sought to ferret out terrorists laundering money and planning attacks through virtual meet-ups utilizing online simulation environments, including those provided by X-Box Live. The NSA, and it's English cousin the GCHQ, was also concerned about the potential for virtual worlds becoming centers for recruitment and “radicalization.” Lol Wut!?

Not content to send agents to grind endless orc hordes while talking up jihad with their fellow guild members, the intelligence agencies made hardware level attacks on the actual infrastructure, dumping chat logs involving hundreds of thousands of users. They also acquired profile pages, ip addresses and login times to link online identities to real world people.

It didn't stop with your gaming forum profile page either. Since many virtual environments have the capability for players to coordinate using voice and video chat, those streams were also captured and subjected to biometric analysis. Thus, just playing a game is enough for both the British and American governments to record everything you say, your every keystroke, your face, your profile and link them all in the hopes they might catch you being a jihadist. There was no discussion in the documents of the likelihood of real suicide bombers not caring about leveling up.

Microsoft denied assisting the NSA in hacking Skype six months ago with this statement to the Free Press “To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive,, Skype or any Microsoft product.” This time they declined to comment. After being lied to once by Microsoft's PR firm, I'm not sitting on hold for another two hours to suffer through bullshit again.

Linden Lab, makers of Second-Life, also declined to comment. Documents provided to the Guardian state “In May 2007, the then-chief operating officer of Second Life gave a 'brown-bag lunch' address at the NSA explaining how his game gave the government 'the opportunity to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving US soil.” Apparently to Linden Lab, selling access to biometrics and chats were just another revenue stream, like a Google ad that sends you to prison.

Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft, denied providing any assistance to the intelligence community directly, just as Microsoft did six months ago and Verizon did two weeks before that.

Despite building an inventory of much of the online gaming community's profiles and biometrics, the intelligence community failed to thwart a single plot that was hatched online. At best the intelligence community confirmed that online games were played from the same computers, or at least the same internet cafes that were also used by alleged terrorists. They also discovered that foreign intelligence officers, embassy drivers and Iranian nuclear scientists play video games in their free time.

Billions of dollars were spent spying on the gaming community and what was discovered, at best, is something we always knew. The category labeled “online gamer” contains people from nearly every nation, and nearly every walk of life. They also discovered that the terrorists don't talk about work while they are gaming, because just like the rest of us, they are in the virtual world to take a break from meatspace, get away, relax and kill some goddamn orcs.

Date Originally Published: 
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Article originally published at: 
Gerry Bello