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By Edward M. Roche, Ph.D., J.D.
The intelligence implications of virtual
world platform will be governed by their
underlying technological infrastructure.
Consequently, an appreciation of the
relationship between technology and
intelligence capabilities in this
environment is based on several factors:
First, what may be done by actors on all
sides within these virtual world platform
is enabled solely through the different
applications and functions on the menu;
Second, how these systems are designed
and provisioned gives a clue as to how
they might be compromised by either
criminals or terrorists; Third, the
underlying technology provides also a
type of landscape through which law
enforcement and intelligence communities
charged with monitoring and responding
to emerging threats can accomplish their
work.

What is the vision for the future? Virtual
worlds require 24x7 monitoring. Agents
must be able to work in a variety of
languages. Many of the same techniques
used to infiltrate criminal groups in the
real world will be used in the virtual world.
It will be necessary to shield the identities
of those involved. For foreign-based
virtual worlds, the challenges are stiffer.
Besides foreign language skills and
concealed identities, the analyst must be
able to communicate well enough to
blend in and socially interact with those
they meet. New types of dossiers and
record keeping systems must be
integrated with social media analysis. A
new art of surveillance and cultivation of
contacts must be leveraged. A watch
system will be set up to trigger alarms
when suspicious activity is detected.

Other countries, particularly the People's
Republic of China are moving ahead. It is
not too late for the United States, but
the clock is ticking.

About Edward M. Roche
Edward M. Roche, Ph.D., J.D., is the
Director of Scientific Intelligence for
Barraclough Ltd.  With more than 30
years of corporate experience in the IT
sector, he had conducted a wide range of
research projects involving information
technology, telecommunications, virtual
worlds, national security, political
economy and industrial policies for
technopolae and microelectronics. He is a
member of the Intelligence and National
Security Alliance (INSA), the Association
for Intelligence Officers (AFIO), FBI
InfraGard and has provided expert advice
to the ODNI. He received his Doctorate in
Political Science at Columbia University
and J.D. at Concord Law; a Masters in
International Relations from the Johns
Hopkins School of Advanced International
Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C.; and
studied at the Fletcher School of Law and
Diplomacy.

In the non-fiction
VIRTUAL WORLDS
REAL TERRORISM, Roche has produced
a blue print detailing how virtual worlds
can be mobilized as an intelligence
collection channel. Based on review of
scientific literature, development of case
studies, as well as experimentation,
VIRTUAL WORLDS REAL TERRORISM
shows how criminal and terrorist
organizations can use virtual worlds to
conduct their activities, including
operation of large fund-raising
operations. Inside these complex and
surprisingly large computer simulations, it
is possible to create a replica of a bank to
be robbed, program in the movements of
security guards, and rehearse their
attack. Roche covers the rise of virtual
worlds in the People's Republic of China,
the Middle East, and elsewhere. He sees a
world in which teams of intelligence and
law enforcement professionals, including
those disabled from duty, work "on the
beat" 24x7 on the lookout for emerging
threats.

A professor of Intelligence Technology at
Henley-Putnam University, he is part of
the university’s diverse and experienced
faculty comprised of seasoned
professionals with extensive hands-on
experience in military, law enforcement,
counterterrorism and intelligence.
Virtual Worlds
and the
Intelligence
Community
If you recently saw James Cameron's new
movie AVATAR, then perhaps you are
thinking of having your own personal
avatar living somewhere in a virtual world.
Many people are doing it, so why not you?

Let’s look at the basics: A virtual world is a
computer-based three-dimensional
simulation intended for its users to inhabit
and interact via avatars. Avatars are three-
dimensional graphical representations of
people, much like video game characters.
They are controlled remotely by their
owner. Inside a virtual world, the one's
avatar expressed the participant's identity
and personality.

Virtual worlds started out as a multi-party
gaming platform. Individuals would be
connected to each other over a network.
They would be able to interact in a
cybernetic reflection of the real world,
complete with buildings, terraces,
roadways, and other people.  Today's
virtual worlds have libraries, universities,
research institutes, facsimiles of the finest
museums, and wonderful demonstrations
of complex scientific phenomena.  
Perhaps like many, you are skeptical
about virtual worlds, but the facts point
in a different direction. Although the
experience at first is strange, you
probably will be surprised at how quickly
your mind makes the adjustment to living
in a virtual reality.

Owners tend to quickly identify with their
avatar.   It has been reported that most
users experience a sense of tele-
presence, particularly when other avatars
are nearby and can be engaged in some
type of social communication. This “mind
meld” effect is so great that some
medical researchers are finding success in
pain therapy for burn patients when they
are plugged in.

Current technology is not as advanced as
seen in James Cameron's new movie
AVATAR, but experiments are being
conducted in treatment of war veterans
and paraplegics who might benefit from
being able to live “whole” again.

Virtual worlds are one of the most exotic
and exciting technologies to come along
in a long time. As measured by both the
number of participants, and the scale and
scope of complexity, they continue to
grow rapidly. The number of participants
has exceeded the population of some
smaller European countries. Some argue
that the virtual world platform is the
richest and most complex collaborative
environment ever to come into existence
in cyberspace. It is the ultimate 3-D
Internet social networking and social
media platform.

Why are virtual worlds important? Are
they merely giant online games, or
something more? What, if anything, do
they have to do with crime and
terrorism? How do they aid the dark
hand of conspiracy?  

The problem is that when globalization,
technology and terrorism are combined,
we see the emergence of new and rather
dark possibilities that must be accounted
for. These “worlds” are full of
pornographic sites, sex dens, recreations
of slave societies, vampire societies,
witchcraft, and criminal activities. Recent
research has suggested a link between
some activities in virtual worlds and
international terrorism.

Virtual worlds, offer government and law
enforcement an important source of
intelligence.  After all, international
criminal syndicates and terrorists are
using virtual worlds to coordinate their
activities.  But in order to leverage this
new source, it will be necessary both to
understand how this new form of social
media technology works, and to possess
the training to exploit it.

The threat of criminal conspiracy and
international terrorism is enough to pay
attention. Crime scenes can be virtual as
well as real. A response from the
government is required. Intelligence and
law enforcement must locate suitable
personnel and integrate monitoring of
virtual worlds into their standard
surveillance and intelligence-gathering
activities.
Virtual
Worlds

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