NSA and GCHQ agents spied on online gamers using World of Warcraft and Second Life

No evidence of successful counter-terrorism operations thanks to in-game surveillance has emerged, despite agents going 'undercover' in game

The latest documents leaked by ex NSA-contractor Edward Snowden have shown that the US government infiltrated online games in order to spy on potential militant targets.

As well as collecting bulk data from games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, intelligence operatives also went undercover, taking on fantasy identities such as elves and gnomes.

A top-secret 2008 document from the NSA titled ‘Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments’ warned that online games might offer suspects “a way to hide in plain sight”, providing unmonitored communication channels as well as potential methods for laundering money via in-game currencies.

“Al-Qaida terrorist target selectors and … have been found associated with XboxLive, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [Games and Virtual Environments]," an NSA document obtained by The Guardian and shared with the New York Times and Pro Public notes .

"Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members."

However, although both British and American agencies were able to link game data with known targets and militant groups, the documents do not record any instances of successful counterterrorism operations emerging from this surveillance.

Another documents notes that monitoring of World of Warcraft “continues to uncover potential Sigint [Signals Intelligence] value by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing," but does not specifiy any terrorist activities being conducted through the game.

The potential resource of online games became so popular that a “deconfliction” group was set up to ensure that CIA and FBI agents did not overlap in their duties.

As well as virtual worlds the agencies also monitored Microsoft’s Xbox Live, an online service that currently boasts more than 48 million gamers. The UK spy agency GCHQ reported that they had "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live.”

In 2008 GCHQ also set up its “first operational deployment into Second Life” under the codename Operation Galician, notes The Guardian. By contacting an informer “who helpfully volunteered information on the target group’s latest activities”, agents were able to crack down on a criminal gang selling stolen credit card information in the virtual world.

Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life did not offer comment on the spying, although a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of World of Warcraft, told the New York Times that they were “unaware of any surveillance taking place,” and that “if it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.”

The revelations come just as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and five other leading US technology companies issued an open letter, calling on the US to dramatically reform its current surveillance operations.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Lead FE Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, jQuery, Knockout)

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead FE Softwa...

    Quality Assurance Engineer (Excellent education, Manual, Automa

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Quality ...

    CRM Developer (MS Dynamics 2011/2013, JavaScript)

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: CRM MS Dynamic...

    Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor