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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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