American and British spy agencies are operating in a world full of monsters - only it isn't quite the real world.
The NSA and GCHQ have infiltrated the worlds of Second Life, World of Warcraft (WoW) and Xbox Live, hoping to unmask terrorist networks among the online community of orcs and space warriors.
Apparently concerned that criminals and militants could use the games to communicate or move money anonymously, spies from both agencies invented their own avatars to participate in the games, which are played by tens of millions of people worldwide, according to documents leaked to the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica by ex-National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. Once inside, the moles conducted surveillance, collected data, and tried to recruit informants.
The leaked documents suggest so many operatives from different agencies were at work in Second Life that a group was set up to keep them abreast of each other's activities there.
There is scant evidence that militant groups used WoW or Second Life to communicate, and the spy operations appear to have yielded little if any proof of terrorist activity on Xbox Live games such as Fifa Soccer 2013 or Halo. But a document suggests in 2008, GCHQ recruited an informant within Second Life, in a police investigation into a group distributing stolen credit card data.
Meanwhile, GCHQ learned numerous potential intelligence assets, including foreign spies and scientists, were WoW gamers.