Today’s Washington Post reports on the intelligence challenged posed by virtual worlds like Second Life, in which millions of participants use “avatars,” computer-generated personae, to interact in an global role-playing game. The research arm under the Director of National Intelligence, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, has been studying such computer environments and finding potential dangers.
One intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had no evidence of activity by terrorist cells or widespread organized crime in virtual worlds. There have been numerous instances of fraud, harassment and other virtual crimes. Some computer users have used their avatars to destroy virtual buildings.
In addition to the threat of more virtual buildings getting blown up, there is also the danger of virtual terrorist training grounds, and other possibilities yet to be dreamed of. The immediate problem is that virtual worlds offer a channel for surreptitious terrorist communication. Second Life has some 12 million users with approximately 50,000 people logged on at any given moment, making it very difficult for the CIA to track al Qaeda operatives playing the game from virtual caves.
In a world of multiplying threats, Connecting the Dots wants to know of it would make sense to create a virtual CIA to monitor this world? And if so, who should be in charge? Is this a good moment for the agency to call Michael Scheuer back from retirement?