New Book Studies How Virtual Worlds Can Help Fight Terrorism

Pixels and Policy reported a few months ago on how the Department of Homeland Security was looking into the effectiveness of terrorism response simulators in Second Life.

Now an academic with an interest in both the War on Terror and the virtual world has written a book outlining the growing relationship between counterterrorism efforts and virtual worlds.

Pixels and Policy takes a look.

Looking at Terrorism Through the Lens of Virtual Worlds

Edward M. Roche, Ph.D., is a noted professor of at the small but powerful Henley Putnam University, an online college focused on providing professional career training for those involved in the counterterrorism and intelligence sectors of the government. Don't expect any keg stands or Animal House antics here – professionals in both the private and public sectors turn to Henley Putnam courses for continuing professional development in everything from cyberterrorism to counterintelligence studies.

Roche's expertise is in counterintelligence and espionage, but he's
hardly an ivory tower academic. Roche served as an expert adviser to
the United Nations
mission in Kenya, and has extensive – and classified
– experience working with defense advanced research and development. His is a voice policymakers can trust, and his book could make waves in the clubby policy circles of Washington, D.C.

Roche's new book, "Virtual Worlds, Real Terrorism" explores not only how virtual environments can be used by government agencies to combat organized crime, terrorist organization and militant recruitment, but also sheds much-needed light on the potential uses of virtual spaces for militant purposes. Roche's premise: Virtual worlds can serve as both democratic vehicles and militant recruitment tools, and the Metaverse will become ground zero for major terrorism operations in the near future.

The book comes at a fascinating time. As CNET recently reported, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence have taken an interest in whether terrorist organizations are using virtual worlds like Second Life for recruitment and propaganda purposes. The Department of Homeland Security is interested in using virtual worlds as test facilities for emergency evacuation and preparedness plans. In short, the policy bigwigs in Washington are turning their eyes to the virtual landscape.

What's more interesting is where the book is coming from. This isn't a research project developed by a first year graduate student looking for a novel subject of study. "Virtual Worlds, Real Terrorism" comes out of a well-respected institution of professional education, written by an acknowledged expert in many of the subjects touched on in the book. The weighty combination of institution and expertise show just how seriously policymakers are taking virtual worlds. 

Roche's work may not open the floodgates of Congressional interest towards the cyberterrorism potential of virtual worlds – not with all eyes on health care – but it's an important step towards legitimizing not only virtual worlds as a course of study, but introducing virtual worlds as a vital tool for the highest levels of government to consider. Fortunately, that's exactly what virtual worlds need.

Catching eyes in government isn't easy – normally it requires a mix of persuasive insiders and heaps of cash. Virtual worlds don't yet have the organization or cash flow to take on Washington with any hopes of success – with the exception of entertainment-based subscription worlds like World of Warcraft. Open-ended projects like Second Life have caught government eyes on a superficial level as yet, but work like Roche's and deep-thinking pieces like Rita King's Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds make the case for a much closer look at the policy uses of the Metaverse.