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Pentagon presents hypothetical terrorist plot in WoW

A number of readers wrote in to tell us about a 'hypothetical WoW-hatched terror plot' from the Pentagon, which Wired posted just last night. The scenario detailed in the presentation given by Dr. Dwight V. Toavs is meant to display how terrorists could potentially use the pseudonymity of an MMO combined with the obscure gamer lingo to hide a terrorist plot within the massive, mostly unmonitored (by them) playerbase. This isn't the first time we've heard about the government looking to virtual worlds for potential terrorist hideouts, but it's the most ridiculous.

The presented scenario is as follows (summarized; full version at Wired): Two WoW players, WAR_MONGER and TALON238 meet up to plot. WAR_MONGER lays out the plan: They will approach via the South East of the Zoram Strand, and assault the 'White Keep' using a 'Dragon Fire' spell in their inventory. They will kill all of the 'castle guards' and when they've entered the keep, they will acquire their treasure of 110 gold, 234 silver.

Translation: These two terrorists will meet South East of the White House (the White Keep) and take out all of the security before sneaking a weapon of some sort through. The 'treasure' is the coordinates for their attack.

My first reaction to this is 'holy crap these are the worst hypothetical terrorists in the world.' I'm sure the 'gamer lingo' was toned down for this presentation but you would think that when you're trying to display just how hard it can be to decipher gamer lingo you would use gamer lingo. It's the Pentagon. I think they can handle the concept of codes and cryptography. If I actually heard two people talking like this in WoW, I would assume they were either a.) terrorists or b.) oblivious spooks trying to sound hip.

"Hey, Talon, we're gonna do Black Temple tonight around 8. Cool?"
"Cool, I'll respec Fire."
"Did you pick up the quest?"
"Nope, what are the coords on that?"
"110,234. It's at the gate there."
"Meet you there."
"We'll probably be PvPing a little beforehand, so be careful."

Black Temple, White House. Fire, explosions. Quest coordinates, rendezvous point. BT raiders... or terrorists!?

I really do sincerely hope that they're taking this a little more seriously than this presentation implies if they're genuinely interested in virtual worlds as potential gathering places for terrorists. I'd really like to think they just made up the lingo as an example to those not studying virtual worlds, but this just sounds embarrassing. Even if I didn't play MMOs, I don't know that I could take this seriously. People simply don't talk that way, gamer lingo or not. If they really feel that virtual worlds have the potential to hide terrorist plots, shouldn't they at least pretend to take it seriously?

Michael Gray and I talked about this subject a little bit this morning, and there's definitely potential ways that terrorists or other criminal groups could use MMOs to their benefit. What was presented here is just not the way it would be done. More likely MMOs would be used for money laundering via gold/account buying and selling. Good luck tracing virtual money that's passed through three different accounts, all of which technically belong to people other than those actually used them for the gold transfer, and are traced to multiple foreign IPs. And the deal was actually made elsewhere on the interwebs, if it was made online at all.

Could criminal activity take place on an MMO? Certainly. Does this presentation intelligently display how? No. Are there people in the Pentagon approaching this issue in a more intelligent fashion? I think so, and hope so.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, News items, Humor

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