The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Declassified ODNI Report Explores the Link between National Security and the Virtual World

Cybersecurity OfficialFollowing a 2009 request from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has declassified and released a report resulting from a July 2008 ODNI SHARP (Summer Hard Problem) program on "virtual worlds and their implications." The formerly Confidential-level report, "3D Cyberspace Spillover: Where Virtual Worlds Get Real", explores the idea that "digitally-based virtual worlds and online games…represent a qualitatively new phenomenon that could have profound impacts on culture, politics and national security."

"'This technology has the potential to be an agent for transformational change in our society, our economy, and our efforts to safeguard the homeland,' the report stated.'If virtual world technology enters the mainstream, criminals and US adversaries will find a way to exploit this technology for illegal and errant behavior.'"

While U.S. intelligence personnel have looked into online games and gathered information on their users, the report ultimately finds no strong link between the virtual world and terrorist activity. “Much of the information in the public domain about the alleged terrorist exploitation of virtual worlds has been speculative rather than based upon substantive evidence. Although there is reliable information available concerning extremist and terrorist exploitation of the internet, for example Web 1.0, the same cannot be said of virtual world or Web 2.0…As of this report, there is little evidence that militant Islamist and jihadist groups have begun extensively exploiting the opportunities presented by virtual worlds.”

The report does acknowledge, however, that terrorists may seek to exploit the virtual world in the future for activities such as "recruiting, raising and transferring funds, training new recruits, conducting reconnaissance and surveillance, and planning attacks by using virtual representations of prospective targets." Terrorists may even go as far as creating an avatar of Osama bin Laden in order to facilitate recruiting efforts as well as to keep his image and ideology "current and fresh."

For a more in-depth review of this report, refer to Mr. Steven Aftergood's post, "Assessing the Intelligence Implications of Virtual Worlds", on the FAS blog, "Secrecy News."