This is what happens when you give the kids an unlimited budget for toys and no adult supervision. In fact, as Ball notes, the spooks had to go out of their way to invent a reason to spend their days drinking demon blood and beheading goblins.
One problem the paper's unnamed author and others in the agency faced in making their case -- and avoiding suspicion that their goal was merely to play computer games at work without getting fired -- was the difficulty of proving terrorists were even thinking about using games to communicate.
It was apparently a popular idea in the late 2000s, and not just with the NSA. All kinds of spy agencies decided to get in on the fun:
Meanwhile, the FBI, CIA, and the Defense Humint Service were all running human intelligence operations -- undercover agents -- within Second Life. In fact, so crowded were the virtual worlds with staff from the different agencies, that there was a need to try to "deconflict" their efforts -- or, in other words, to make sure each agency wasn't just duplicating what the others were doing.
Given how sparsely populated Second Life was at that time (and still is), it's very likely the spooks were spending most of their virtual time spying on each other. Witness: Your tax dollars at work.
Apparently, there was at least one successful outcome to all this virtual role playing. The British secret service managed to crack a crime ring that was selling stolen credit cards inside Second Life: not global terrorism, not some vast dark cabal conspiring to destroy our freedoms, but run-of-the-mill cyber crime. This is why we let them eviscerate due process?
I'm sure as more Snowden documents are revealed, our vision of how the spy complex operates is going to get even more absurd and Strangelovian. What's next? If you discover you've been fined $10,000 for reckless driving in Grand Theft Auto, don't say I didn't warn ya.
The only concept possibly more absurd than undercover Orcs is the notion that writing a letter to Congress and the president will do anything at all to rein in the NSA. I'm not convinced that even the great eight have much sway inside the beltway. The only thing that seems to talk there is money. Maybe it's time to take the NSA's toys away, or at least the tax dollars it uses to buy them.
If you were a spook inside Second Life or WoW, what would your avatar look like? Post your virtual alter egos below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "Trolls, orcs, and spooks: The breaching of World of Warcraft," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.