Second Life: Elevating Terrorism Training
A Daily Brief item today pointed out some disturbing developments in the virtual world of Second Life. While at first glance one might be dismissive of developments in the “fake” world, a closer look indicates that Second Life has the potential to enhance the terrorist threat.
The FBI and others recently began pointing out their shift in thinking that terrorist threats to the homeland will come from al-Qaeda sleeper cells such as the 9/11 hijackers and instead will come from self-radicalized individuals and groups. The so-called “Ft. Dix Six” are such a group, having allegedly used (at least in part) various terrorist resources online for motivation and training. Anti-terror raids in the UK and elsewhere note that those arrested are often in possession of computers that contain radical Islamic literature as well as information on how to perform pre-operational planning, use small arms, and conduct small unit tactics.
There are those who dismiss self-radicalized, self-trained groups as amateurs who are unlikely to ever conduct a successful terrorist operation, though events of so-called “sudden Jihad syndrome” over the past five years suggest that even self-taught sad-sacks can kill or maim. Still, there is a big difference between someone who has actually trained to fight an armed conflict or conduct intelligence operations and someone who has merely read about how it is done.
Second Life bridges that gap.
In Second Life you can practice intelligence tradecraft; you can test your elicitation skills, pass off (hopefully unnoticed) notes and packages, and meet in private with co-conspirators. You can sit down in a classroom and learn how to field-strip a rifle or pistol, conduct fire-and-maneuver drills, or run through an urban combat scenario. You can send and receive money to help fund your operation and you can conduct “legitimate” business that ends up funding terrorism. Static online training materials or even interactive-but-text-based Jihadist discussion forums cannot match the rich and substantial – if one may be excused for adopting a marketer’s language – content.
Second Life has the potential to elevate the professionalism of terrorism training. It is not real-life, but it isn’t reading comic books either.