Yesterday an article published in The Guardian revealed publicly that the CIA and NSA were involved in several virtual worlds, multi-player first person shooters and MMORPGs for the purposes of gathering data on users.
That’s rights, folks. The CIA has all your cyber logs.
In a document obtained by The Guardian, an un-named analyst for the NSA reports in a piece titled “Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments”, that these online worlds are ripe for infiltration by the Hezbollah and Hamas, not to mention Chinese hacker d00dz.
Mothers, hide your sons.
In the wake of 9/11, America’s aging covert infrastructure was clueless about, and arguably intimidated by this new-fangled thing called the Internet. How did the US end up with such out-of-touch geezers staffing the nation’s spy agencies? To understand this, we need to look back at the Cold War where money was allocated for new hires as a matter of course. This is where our spying septuagenarians were first hired.
The 1980’s and 90’s saw great reductions in military and associated governmental spending because they were, simply put, no longer needed. The wall was gone, the USSR was no more, Castro was a raving old duffer who people mostly ignored, and China, once again awarded ‘most favored nation’ trade status, was more concerned about selling the US cheap clothing and medication made of asphalt. Nobody cared that James Bond was now old enough for a walker and a sporty box of Depends.
But the old folks held on and refused to retire, believing they were the castle’s last line of defense against the commies…or whatever other covert threat they felt still existed in their paranoid, McCarthyism addled minds.
Then 9/11 happened.
Obviously, the White House looked to the CIA. The CIA awoke from its second nap of the day to announce it hadn’t a clue. A flurry of hiring happened. A bevy of tech savvy 21 year olds were ushered in to the hallowed halls of secret meetings, laser torch watches, and pens that can kill you. Imagine the amazement the seniors held for the comparatively tech savvy youngsters.
E-mail! We don’t have to sneak operatives across the Chinese border at midnight with coded messages stuffed in their bums anymore? Google translate? We don’t have to search high and low for someone who can actually make it through our vetting AND lacks a soul to translate correspondence for us? You mean we don’t have to have to pay attention to that silly list of rights Americans have when recording every single thing they say or do in mail, in voice, or even in person anymore? What? We can even turn on their laptop cameras and watch them? We can also take control of their vehicles and drive FOR them? Hey, can we watch our wives remotely too? I want to know why the Maytag man is always at the house!
Yes, and so much more.
It’s not surprising, based on rooms full of McCarthy era seniors, and clueless college grads that the recommendations to engage Iraq happened, or that there were false reports of WMDs. Paranoia and cluelessness is a deadly combination, as we now know. Add to that a touch of senility, and a revived sense of justification and meaning to life and we have the spooks of the Bush Administration seeking to prove that they were right all along and that there really were terrible threats that we need to worry about and spend billions of dollars protecting ourselves against.
The “Dusty Fart Brigade” sought to understand, to connect with its junior counterparts, looking for ways to relate to them, learn from them, and more easily teach them. What started out as team building exercises online escalated into full-on spying as they came to realize that the internet was truly free, that the world was available to anyone, that we could talk to one another without fear of governments standing between people and regulating perspective, and the government was unable to spy on one word of it.
Enter the “Reign Of Trolls”. Now we have foreign policy being decided by people without life experience, looking to justify their jobs’ very existence which is comprised of sitting around all day organizing fashion shows and attending sex clubs in Second Life. The CEO of Linden Labs, Philip Rosedale, looking to expand his sphere of influence via virtual worlds was only too eager to work with American intelligence.
Working with intelligence agencies lent validity to a virtual space that the users had turned into one huge vista of luxury homes, sexcapades, and haute couture. The concern about Chinese hackers was naturally blown out of proportion by both sides, especially after Rosedale’s prized code had been stolen to create HiPiHi. Source code was open-sourced resultantly, making virtual platforms available to anyone clever enough to buy a used server on E-Bay and set up a virtual ‘island’.
At the height of CIA/NSA interest in VWs, the most encrypted VOIP was Skype, owned by a German concern that showed no signs of interest in being cooperative with American spooks. This, however, has changed. As soon as Microsoft bought Skype, the codes were handed over to the NSA. Even before Skype’s sale, company reps were working hand in hand with the NSA to collect voice and text data and make it available to Western surveillance agencies as recently as two years ago.
Tech start-ups and nerds seeking to be the next turtle-necked or bespectacled king of the metaverse tripped over themselves trying to be accommodating to the CIA/NSA. The newly employed youngsters whose educations undoubtedly included a 101 course in statistics and psychology opined that human behavior could be studied and quantified if enough metadata were gathered. Of course the veracity of these claims is arguable given that operatives actively suggested to suspects that they engage in illegal activities as well as offered to assist them in acquiring needed materials to attempt to carry out their imagined plots. The question then becomes who existed first – the chicken or the troll?
In all fairness, Hezbollah did develop a first person shooter, “Special Forces 2”, that was used to effectively train and ‘radicalize’ players. Retailing at $10 a copy, “Special Forces 2” was also credited with funding terrorism. This alone should have had the mothers of America running to unplug the family computer. But wait, kids, there’s more.
Hezbollah got the idea from The U.S. Army. For those playing the game “America’s Army”, it seemed to be common knowledge that the U.S. Army recruited from the top players. While gamers couldn’t be taught how to handle a weapon, they could be taught which weapon to use in different circumstances, and how to work as a team. You knew you were up against a group of real live red-blooded, meat eating, bone crushing American soldiers when no matter how good you were, they handed you your backside in-game.
What is sure, is that the level of immaturity displayed by government, left unchecked and unchallenged, even going so far as to call spying on Americans a ‘team sport’, is simply breath-taking.