December 10th, 2013
10:30 AM ET

Report: Spies Snoop Online Games

Spies with surveillance agencies in the United States and United Kingdom may have spent time undercover as orcs and blood elves, infiltrating video games like "World of Warcraft" in a hunt for terrorists "hiding in plain sight" online, reports CNN's Brian Todd.

That's the finding of the most recent round of documents released by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to British newspaper The Guardian.

Agents from the CIA, FBI and Pentagon and England's Government Communications Headquarters infiltrated WoW and virtual world "Second Life," as well as collecting information on the Xbox Live gaming network, according to the documents.

A 2008 NSA memo called online gaming a "target-rich communications network" where terrorists could communicate "in plain sight."

"And conceivably, terrorists could plan real attacks through these fantasy games," Todd says.

"Experts say, the fake identities, voice and chat capability, the ability to speak to others in real time, are all features of game play that terrorists find attractive."

None of the newly leaked documents, published this time in conjunction with ProPublica and the New York Times, mentioned specific terrorist activity foiled via the projects.

But apparently so many agents were engaged in playing video games for national security that a "deconfliction" group was created to make sure government agents weren't accidentally spying on each other.

Unlike traditional console and desktop games in which players compete in a closed environment, massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) allow players from around the world to team up and play together, often in real time using in-game communication tools.

"World of Warcraft" is the most popular online role-playing game ever. It peaked at about 12 million subscribers in 2010 and still has more than 7 million, according to Blizzard.

It's unclear whether the agencies had surveillance capabilities within the massively multi-player games that normal players would not. A spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment, which owns "World of Warcraft," told The Guardian it is unaware of any surveillance having taken place.

"If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission," the spokesman said.

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