Planning a high level raid is tough enough in World of Warcraft, but a Pentagon researcher warns that al Qaeda could plan a nuclear attack on the White House via the popular MMO.
Wired's Danger Room reports that Dr. Dwight Toavs, a professor at the Pentagon-funded National Defense University laid out such a scenario at the National Intelligence Open Source Conference in Washington, D.C. last week:
...two World of Warcraft players discuss a raid on the "White Keep" inside the "Stonetalon Mountains." The major objective is to set off a "Dragon Fire spell" inside, and make off with "110 Gold and 234 Silver" in treasure. "No one will dance there for a hundred years after this spell is cast," one player, "war_monger," crows.
Except, in this case, the White Keep is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "Dragon Fire" is an unconventional weapon. And "110 Gold and 234 Silver" tells the plotters how to align the game's map with one of Washington, D.C.
... details are a little fuzzy. The terminology doesn't match World of Warcraft lingo, all that precisely. There is no "White Keep" in World of Warcraft; "Dragon Fire" is a spell in EverQuest, the old-school role-playing game, not WoW. But the banter is reminiscent enough of World of Warcraft talk, to give outsiders an idea of how such a conversation might go down -- and how hard it would be to identify.
But Steven Aftergood of the Federation of the American Scientists was skeptical:
This concern is out there. But it has to be viewed in context. It's the job of intelligence agencies to anticipate threats and counter them. With that orientation, they're always going to give more weight to a particular scenario than an objective analysis would allow. Could terrorists use Second Life? Sure, they can use anything. But is it a significant augmentation? That's not obvious. It's a scenario that an intelligence officer is duty-bound to consider. That's all.
For his part, Toavs believes that anti-terror operatives may have to go undercover in games like WoW.
GP: This issue comes up periodically from the counter-terror community. Usually, Second Life is the main suspect. But would terrorists really go to all the trouble of using WoW as an assembly area when IMs, PGP-encrypted e-mail and steganography are readily available?
Besides, wouldn't WoW-playing terrorists become addicted like everyone else and neglect their jihad?
Finally, We've reported previously that Middle-East expert Juan Cole has dismissed the MMO terror cell notion:
What's the real game here?
...The notion that wandering around such an imaginary world with a computerized body is dangerous to anyone seems itself cartoonish and calls into question the public hand-wringing by security experts.