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The American military and intelligence communities are increasingly worried that would-be bin Ladens might gather in a virtual world, to plan a real-life attack. But the spies haven't given many details, about how it might be done. Now, a Pentagon researcher has laid out how such a terror plot might unfold. The planning ground is World of Warcraft. The main target of this possibly nuclear strike: the White House.
There's been no public proof to date of terrorists hatching plots in virtual worlds. But online spaces like World of Warcraft are making some spooks, generals and Congressmen extremely nervous. They imagine terrorists rehearsing attacks in these worlds, just like the U.S. military trains with commercial shoot-em-up games. They worry that the massively multiplayer games make it incredibly easy to gather plotters from around the world. But, mostly, virtual worlds are nerve-wracking to spies because they're so hard to monitor. The accounts are pseudonymous. The access is global. The jargon is thick. And most of the spy agencies' employees aren't exactly level-70 shamans.
In a presentation late last week at the Director of National Intelligence Open Source Conference in Washington, Dr. Dwight Toavs, a professor at the Pentagon-funded National Defense University, gave a bit of a primer on virtual worlds to an audience largely ignorant about what happens in these online spaces. Then he launched into a scenario, to demonstrate how a meatspace plot might be hidden by in-game chatter.
In it, 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.
Of course the only problem with this plan is that the terrorists actually get way into the game and are too busy raiding in WoW to bother with the real attack.