SECOND LIFE, May 7 (Reuters) – As Western governments search the world for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda followers, a new report suggests that wherever he’s hiding, it’s probably not in Second Life.
“Jihadists are likely currently very minimally using Second Life,” according to a report by graduate students in Applied Intelligence at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania, as first reported by Virtuallyblind.com.
The idea of Second Life as a terrorist breeding ground has gained a surprising amount of traction the past year. A story in The Australian dubbed “Virtual Terrorists” kicked off the brouhaha last July with a report that seemed to conflate virtual world griefers with real world bombmakers. And when Linden’s ex-CEO Philip Rosedale visited the U.S. Congress last April, lawmakers expressed concern over the issue.
â€œI am not advocating censorship. But I am asking what we can to to make certain that these glorious tools are not â€¦ changed into tools that facilitate the use of terror attacks on innocent civilians around the world,â€ said Democratic Rep. Jane Harman of California in hearings on Second Life.
“Once you lay the idea out there as a possibility, as an intelligence professional, you have to pay attention to the the question,” said Mercyhurst Professor Kristan Wheaton in a telephone call to Reuters. Wheaton, who oversaw the study, served for twenty years in the U.S. Army in an intelligence role, and now teaches at Mercyhurst’s program to train future analysts for the CIA and other American intelligence agencies.
“Jihadist use of SL is likely to be a perceived threat rather than an actual threat,” the study concludes. “Communication for planning a terror attack is unlikely to be a threat due to the paranoia, suspicion of monitoring, and existing channels of communication such as web forums that are more efficient. Bomb making, weapons training, and other advanced training exercises are unlikely to take place in SL due to the need for in-person, hands-on experience.”
The students didn’t give Second Life a complete pass, however. Loose internal controls on the movements of Linden dollars suggests a possible use for Second Life as a money laundering hub, and the ease of creating anonymous avatars could make virtual worlds an attractive meeting place to exchange information and spread propaganda.
But even those uses are deemed unlikely. “Hawalas are also a more likely avenue for jihadist money laundering than SL due to the lack of a paper trail. A hawala is an unregulated, international money transfer system,” the study reports. “While jihadists will likely explore communication in SL, they are more likely to use web forums to train than SL due to controlled access.”
Doubtlessly, the residents of Second Life will sleep easier tonight.
Full report: Mercyhurst Virtual Jihad Project