Crazy like a fox.

That’s how some are viewing the United States government’s new plan to search out real-life terrorists in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Second Life.

This adventure, called Project Reynard, is brought to you by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), which have put together some research projects involving data mining—and they may be looking at your measly Hordie attack any time.

According to the ODNI report, Reynard will “study the emerging phenomenon of social (particularly terrorist) dynamics in virtual worlds and large-scale online games.” Through these studies, the report says, the project hopes to eventually be able to automatically detect “suspicious behavior” in the virtual world.

While some experts point out that terrorists might be reluctant to use these games for communication and recruitment because of their lack of security, the fact is that the Internet does provide a medium of near-instant communication in a visually-rich environment that lends itself to the distribution of information and training techniques by those wanting to get that information out.

YaleGlobal, in a March article,outlines how Al Qaeda and other groups reach out to “marginalized” people like women and disillusioned youth, operating some 5,600 websites.
Several terrorist groups, YaleGlobal says, offer free online games designed to provide training and radical ideas, such as "Quest for Bush, where the player’s task is to kill President Bush, and Hezbollah's "Special Force," where players become warriors in a terrorist campaign against Israel, practicing with such targets as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli figures.

So is the threat real? Are enemies of America conducting rallies on the beaches of SL and meeting in the bazaars of the Zul’Farrak Instance? The ODNI report is clear that this is an unclassified project, for now, and that data collected will be used to establish “norms” before they determine what’s not so ordinary. There’s a lot of language in the data mining act as well about privacy concerns, which may be why the report is still grating nerves months after its initial release, even making the Bill Moyers Journal report in early June. This will be something gamers will have to watch as the days pass, and be aware when they’re communicating within the game parameters that someone may be watching.

Of course, the other side of the coin comes from the website Gaming Today, where one contributor remarks, “When I think about it, we may actually want Al Qaeda playing WoW. After a while, their entire organization will become addicted to the game and not have time to do anything else.”