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NSA spycraft mixes it up with World of Warcraft

So many agents dabbled in World of Warcraft and Second Life to keep tabs on terrorists, the Guardian reports, that a mechanism was put in place to ensure they weren't spying on each other.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
World of Warcraft Brawlers Guild
The Brawlers Guild in World of Warcraft Blizzard Entertainment

The National Security Agency, along with its UK counterpart, the GCHQ, has taken to video games to spy on alleged terrorists, according to a new report.

The Guardian reported on Monday that leaked documents obtained from Edward Snowden show that the NSA several years ago determined that online games could be a breeding ground for terrorist activity. In response, the US and UK set out a plan to monitor activity on popular games, World of Warcraft and Second Life. Xbox Live gaming was also targeted in that effort.

Monday's leak is the just latest in a string of revelations that have come out of Snowden's massive data bank. Last week, an editor at the Guardian said that the news outlet had released about 1 percent of the information it had gathered, though he wasn't sure how much more would be revealed.

The plan to monitor online gaming was hatched in 2008, according to the records, with an NSA document entitled "Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Virtual Environments." The note set off a whirlwind of activity in the online-gaming space, with so many agents piling in, a directive was sent down on how to avoid inadvertently spying on each other.

Based on the records obtained by the Guardian, no terrorists plots were foiled during these efforts. However, the NSA was able to tap into user profiles to access everything from buddy lists to biometric data when playing a game on Xbox Live and listening in to a person's voice. And the agents did take down a site allegedly used to peddle stolen credit cards.

According to the Guardian, the companies behind the online games were unaware of any government surveillance. Still, the NSA was active, tapping into metadata and trying to link any relevant information to terrorist groups. It's unclear how those efforts fared and whether they're continuing today.