NSA sent spies into online games to find 'terrorists and informers'
AMERICAN intelligence agencies sent spies into online games to seek out terrorist or criminal chat and even to recruit valuable informants.
It was claimed yesterday that both the US NSA and Britain's GCHQ -- Government Communications Headquarters -- attempted to use the games to recruit foreign embassy drivers who happened to be players, according to newly leaked documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Intelligence operatives feared that games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft could be used to secretly communicate, move money or plot terrorist attacks, all under the radar of existing snooping ability.
The security agencies were already able to intercept emails and phone calls, but many online games were considered possible safe havens for illegal activity.
In response to that perceived threat spies created their own avatars and joined the games, logging communications between other players. According to leaked documents provided to 'The Guardian' and shared with the 'New York Times' and 'ProPublica', Second Life, Xbox Live and World of Warcraft were all targeted, potentially affecting tens of millions of users.
The 'New York Times' reports that GCHQ had sent operatives into Second Life in 2008 and helped police in London break a ring of criminals that were selling stolen credit card information in the virtual world.
Other documents reportedly show that RAF Menwith Hill in Yorkshire was used as a base for American and British operatives to enter World of Warcraft using their own characters.
The minutes of a meeting involving GCHQ's "network gaming exploitation team" had identified engineers, embassy drivers and foreign intelligence operatives as players of the game -- all possible targets for recruitment.
An NSA document reportedly claims to suggest that such infiltration "continues to uncover potential Sigint value (signals intelligence) by identifying accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing."
But, while the NSA claims to have found people of interest who used various software, it is unclear whether or not they were actually using it for any nefarious purpose, or simply enjoying the game.
The leaked documents do not offer any clues as to how many gamers may have been observed by security services.
The makers of World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment, told the 'New York Times' that neither the NSA nor GCHQ had sought permission to access gamers' information: "We are unaware of any surveillance taking place.
"If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."
A 2008 NSA document said that online games were a "target-rich communication network" where spies could "hide in plain sight".
At one point there were so many spies operating in Second Life that a "deconfliction" group was suggested to stop the CIA, FBI and Pentagon from spying on each other, reports the 'New York Times'.
The infiltration of video games came despite evidence from experts that there was little risk of terrorists using them to communicate.
Peter W Singer of the Brookings Institution said: "For terror groups looking to keep their communications secret, there are far more effective and easier ways to do so than putting on a troll avatar."
Yesterday eight of the biggest technology companies united to speak out against NSA spying on public. Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, have formed an alliance called Reform Government Surveillance group to call on US President Barack Obama and members of Congress to reform surveillance laws. (© Daily Telegraph, London)