Wednesday, December 11, 2013

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Why Cory Ondrejka (Probably) Told the NSA of Second Life: To Prepare It for Mainstream Acceptance as the 3D Web

Cory Ondrejka

Among the many revelations around the news that the NSA had a surveillance program in Second Life, this item in particular has caused a lot of concern, and (in my view), unnecessary alarm:

In 2007, as the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies were beginning to explore virtual games, N.S.A. officials met with the chief technology officer for the manufacturer of Second Life, the San Francisco-based Linden Lab. The executive, Cory Ondrejka, was a former Navy officer who had worked at the N.S.A. with a top-secret security clearance. He visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement. It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”

This fairly innocuous topic description has somehow been interpreted to mean Cory (full disclosure: I consider him a friend) was encouraging the NSA to spy on Second Life users in a nefarious way, which is somehow connected to his past as a Navy officer. I haven't talked with Cory at length for a year or two, but I do remember the broader context of Linden Lab's strategy at the time -- I was still working as a contractor with the company in 2006 when that strategy was already being executed. So I think there's a much likelier explanation: Cory was at the NSA to help prepare Second Life for mainstream acceptance, and preempt government regulation or censorship that would hurts its growth.

Here's what I mean, though it's actually also suggested by a paragraph in the same original New York Times article that broke the story, which people generally miss:

Mr. Ondrejka, now the director of mobile engineering at Facebook, said through a representative that the N.S.A. presentation was similar to others he gave in that period, and declined to comment further. (Emph. mine)

And, in fact, Linden Lab executives including Cory were taking many meetings with all kinds of government officials back then -- most prominently, Philip Rosedale before Congress -- for the primary purpose of promoting virtual worlds like Second Life as a legitimate, important new medium which deserved the same respect and hands-off policies from the government as the broader Internet itself. (Remember, Linden Lab at the time was promoting Second Life as "the Web 3D".) As opposed to being a haven for sex perverts, criminals, and terrorists, which was the gist of stories that started to emerge during Second Life's 2006-2007 hype wave. (Cory strongly refuted the notion of virtual worlds as a hotbed for money laundering/terrorism on his blog.) Thanks in great part to their outreach, many branches of the US government set up a presence in Second Life, and they made it part of their official Internet activity. In retrospect, it was way too early for them to do so (and still is), but if it had worked as planned, these efforts would have contributed to the foundation of a 3D web. But that would not have been possible without all that outreach -- including to the NSA.

Cory photo by Joi Ito.

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JAn

For me Second Life was founded by an NSA agent with the purpose to spy on people and control them. I don't trust anybody in SL anymore, my best friends may work for the NSA. I am quitting!

Arioch

Bullshit, Hamlet. Cory knew what the NSA was getting up to. If he respected SL residents' desire for privacy and (relative) safety for self-expression, he'd never have gone to talk to the NSA about it.

Hamlet Au

You're missing that the NSA would have investigated Second Life whether Cory talked to them or not. Blizzard didn't talk to the NSA, and yet the NSA got all up in WoW.

Kim Anubis

The way the invitation was worded by whomever at the Lab wrote it comes across badly. You know, sort of, "Come to SL and study our foriegn customers like bugs under a microscope!" If it wasn't an invitation to the NSA, and just to some random organization of any sort, it would still be offensive.

I doubt Cory wrote it himself -- it's probably from Marketing. The Lab used his past military service as a foot in he door that helped them to reach potential military customers, just as they used other connections and histories of early Lindens to pursue customers in other fields.

As for the NSA, I cannot condemn harshly enough their unconstitutional activities, which fill me with rage and disgust.

Kim Anubis

You know, having another look at the article, I see the quote about coming by to check out the foriegners was from an "internal agency announcement." No telling, then, if the wording in its entirety was grabbed from a Lab invitation. Could just be that this was the stand-out use case someone at the NSA thought would get all the other spooks excited.

Cat Boccaccio

Shameful, Hamlet. How can you possibly defend LL allowing the NSA to invade our privacy? I love your blog, but lately it seems a wee bit slanted as in, apologizing for inexcusable LL behavior.

Pienaar

Do you know why your argument about "3D web" makes me laugh? Because no professional web company was so STUPID to go to the NSA and tell them proudly what a great idea it would be to SPY on their users. Is there any indication that Google, Facebook or Yahoo did that? Furthermore in 2007 it must have been already very clear that the feeling of privacy is a very important asset for SL. I don't think that the news will damage the product for existing users. This is another inconveniance that they will accept for being able to access their beloved world. But it will be a major factor of bad reputation holding back potential new users. "SL, isn't that this world with furries and sexual perverts that might talk to me and the NSA will record it all. And god knows when they might remind me of it and for what purpous..."

Masami

Do you remember the Emerald viewer drama? Do you remember that there was someone uploading embarrassing voice and text chat recordings of the Emerald team's internal discussions to YouTube? Did you ever wonder how they achieved that, considering that text and voice are transmitted over separate systems operated by separate companies? Do you think some SL script kid managed to hack both Linden Lab and Vivox and then was just lucky enough to always listen to the right people at the right time? Phox talking to Fractured, Arabella talking to Jessica, Skills typing on the keyboard... the timing was always perfect to pick up the juicy stuff.

Who's got the time and resources to pull off that kind of stunt, and who would waste them on SL?

Now you know.

iisingh

again yawn

Pussycat Catnap

"As opposed to being a haven for sex perverts, criminals, and terrorists,
.
.
.
(Cory strongly refuted the notion of virtual worlds as a hotbed for money laundering/terrorism on his blog.) "
***

2 for 3 ain't bad. :P

So he recognized that it WAS a haven for sex perverts? :P

/grin

Pussycat Catnap

My stance on this is that its two-sided...

Yes tech has lied to us and been in bed with the NSA for years. Everyone else in tech but Cory openly lied and said they were not.

That's actually to Cory's credit. He held up the V-for victory hands and said "I AM a crook!" Better than Nixon. ;)

(Theory of: best place to find an honest man is in a den of thieves.)

On the other hand, the NSA didn't give any of these people a choice. Tech moguls were given the 'hooded trip in a van to a remote gravel pit by a couple of men in black' speech.
- Open the doors, or try on these new cement shoes.

That's what's behind their new Open Letter to the government thing. Its a "stop making us be crooks, we like being crooks, but not crooks for you" angle.

******

That said, if you look through the history of policing you will find police agencies throughout history and across the world have often employed dragnets. They have NEVER been a successful tactic.

A dragnet seeks to control a population through fear and intimidation - hoping to suppress dissidents and criminals.

It works under a flawed theory that a given segment of the target population are by nature dissidents or criminals - so blanket targeting them en mass will protect and secure the society for the desired elements.

So it starts with a flawed premise.

And the over-execution: a dragnet... consumes an undue amount of policing power, preventing resources from being used more effectively.

Dragnets always come to an end in reform eras.

With retraining and refocusing, policing can learn to be more precise in targeting, and waste fewer resources for greater results.

But with every dragnet era you end up with a generation of police labor that has been indoctrinated into unprofessional thinking. Folks you need to push out or retrain, who will be highly resistant to admitting everything they have been doing for years is wrong and ineffective.

We need to reform the NSA, and its system of oversight, or it will keep going on useless, expensive dragnets, that intimidate mass segments of the world population.

All of this work they've been up to for the last decade has more or less had no results. Its been useless. But it has lowered the prestige of America both within and without, hurt us economically, and endangered our sense of freedom.

zzpearlbottom

Sadly and so true, Cat!

Pussycat Catnap

Re: Emerald Conspiracy:
"Who's got the time and resources to pull off that kind of stunt, and who would waste them on SL?

Now you know."
******

Someone on the inside. One of the Emerald people who could see the others were freaking insane.

The NSA? Seriously... Its not that they couldn't... but that they wouldn't care. If you're the "Men in Black" you're concerned about Aliens from planet X, not Cheech Marin sneaking into LA...

If the NSA had cared about them, they'd have been Leavenworthed away. Waterboarded somewhere.

They were middle school drama...

The NSA has an overeaching dragnet that sees all of that... but anytime they look into it and become aware of what they're collecting - its going to be hitting things with more typical threat profiles than some geek-drama.

What you're referring to had to be posted by someone who actually understood what they were posting. Once someone like the NSA actually understands their target on that level - posting vids of it on youtube is not their procedure... and for something like that, if they understood it, they would laugh at it. The danger would have been them NOT understanding it - and then they would have gotten 'real world lethal' with a SWAT team.

But... the NSA is just not likely to get involved in middle school playground politics...

There is something wrong at the NSA, but pointing to tin-foil conspiracies is just... silly...

Ciaran Laval

"Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!"

That is innocuous, it sounds like a nice pitch.

However : It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”

That is not innocuous, it's horribly creepy. Was that Cory's angle or did someone at the NSA decide that was an angle they'd spotted?

Wolf Baginski

I had somebody asking me if I'd worked on missiles for the USAF today.

No, I just remember odd facts from Wikipedia.

Dartagan Shepherd

Paving the way for acceptance to mainstream? Just heh.

Masami

Pussycat wrote:

Someone on the inside. One of the Emerald people who could see the others were freaking insane.

Considering that their team was small and the mole must have been in chat range all the time, it's funny that they never figured out who did it.

The NSA? Seriously... Its not that they couldn't... but that they wouldn't care. If you're the "Men in Black" you're concerned about Aliens from planet X, not Cheech Marin sneaking into LA...

No, I'm not saying that "the NSA" was on a mission to dismantle Emerald, as if the order came from the very top. That would be a crazy conspiracy theory. The NSA's mission is to monitor SL for terrorist activity.

Oh wait... that sounds even more crazy!

You have to consider that "the NSA" is made by people. Imagine you're working there, and one day your superior officer, with a totally straight face, assigns you to the job of looking for terrorists in SL. They give you access to chat, IM and voice. You quickly find out that SL is the most boring game in the world and that it would be so much more fun to hunt terrorists in WoW, which is what your colleague next door is doing. Yet you have to spend your days somehow. What about using your powers to become the pixel world's mysterious superhero? Not like the JLU clowns but with REAL superpowers.

And then you find out about the Emerald viewer, which in theory allows foreign adversaries to encrypt their chat and IMs to hide them from YOU. Hey, doesn't that make Emerald a legitimate target? Let's have some fun...

Pussycat Catnap

You have to consider that NOBODY CARES about the drama of some internet geeks except those internet geeks.

And face it: crooks rat each other out as a matter of course. One of those tight knit people, not somebody in chat range, anonymously turned on the others. And for good reason since they were all more or less freaking nuts. One of them was sane enough to see the whole affair needed to end.

It wasn't the Men in Black, it wasn't the CIA's Operation Furry-Porn, it wasn't Operation 'Blingtard Baby Girl' at the NSA...

It was just the usual pedestrian variety "my friends are losing it, I need to stop them, time to open this thing up."

When there is no obvious explanation, looking for the machinations of a Time Lord, Borg Spy Operation, the Mafia, James Bond, and a pack of rogue smurfs...

Is NOT the rational place to look.

Usually people just... do it to themselves.


And the Emerald viewer as a way for foreign agents to encrypt their chat... seriously? You give it way too much credit...

zzpearlbottom

Liden Lab needed an excuse to end the most popular viewer and try to push the V2 interface that most nobody was accepting!
Also needed to show Tpv developers that in the end it was LL that dictates the rules!
As simple as this, all the rest is noise!

Han Held

"Liden Lab needed an excuse to end the most popular viewer and try to push the V2 interface that most nobody was accepting!"

The one that became Phoenix and then morphed into Firestorm?

Is that the viewer that they ended?

Mikyo

Welcome our new Overlords from Ft. Meade. Long live the N$A!

Gaga

The more I read about all this stuff the greater the sense of threat I feel from our own governments. I feel more threatened by them than the so-called terrorists since the chances a terrorist will hurt me is probably less than the chances a meteor will fall on my house. It's like they need to keep us all in a state of fear in order to control us and anyone that helps them do that is no friend of ours. Cory, who is the same guy at Cloud Party I assume, helped them so he is their man which ever way you paint it or try to excuse it.

This gives me even more reason to be glad I discovered Opensim so I can run my own virtual server in another country or on my own computer and be able to see what is going on. In my view small Opensim worlds are a good way to stop the spooks hiding in the crowds or get assistance from the grid operator. You get to know your people and where the spooks try to blend in and "play the game" it must be lot harder for them not to get suspected - even if they're Hypergrid visitors too.

Potential spooks should be treated as a threat just as griefers are.

Gordon

This gives me even more reason to be glad I discovered Opensim so I can run my own virtual server in another country or on my own computer and be able to see what is going on.

You still believe in Santa Claus, right?
A private virtual server is the most easy target for an intelligence like NSA. They do not come as 'visitors' in the form of an avatar. They simply log everything that goes through the internet connection. :)

The only advantage of OpenSim is, that it is too insignificant for the NSA to care for it.

Gaga

@Gordon
Thanks for agreeing with me "too insignificant for the NSA to care about". Exactly, and there are thousands of them now - each one insignificant on it's own just like most of the sims in Second Life are insignificant on their own. Lots of people in SL with their eyes open have their own private Opensim world now because it's cheaper and safer. They can open and close it at will which makes it safer from copybotters so is a great work space as well as a virtual home for friends to visit. I would not be surprised if half of the active Second Life folk (not the mass of bots, alts and campers) are in Opensim already or at least are considering it as a viable alternative to the Linden Lab monopoly. Opensim has advanced beyond all recognition so the haters don't have much of an argument any more. There are just so many advantages in Opensim now and not least the new export perms and Hypergrid teleport connectivity so it makes no sense to keep the blinkers on.

Gordon

"I would not be surprised if half of the active Second Life folk (not the mass of bots, alts and campers) are in Opensim already or at least are considering it as a viable alternative to the Linden Lab monopoly."

This is wishful thinking. :)
I think it is definitely not like that. And I think you know the latest figures from the HB statistics as well.

"They can open and close it at will which makes it safer from copybotters so is a great work space as well as a virtual home for friends to visit."

lol
Why should someone copybotting something copybotted again?

"Opensim has advanced beyond all recognition..."

Sure, like the latest amateurish joke from the OpenSim devs:
GIt master is broken until further notice

Emperor Norton

Good to see the sexual fetishes of some nitch community are of major concern to my nation's intelligence agencies. Small wonder it took them over ten years to find Ben Landen. Then again dirty fornicating hippies don't shoot back at our nations heroes.

This puts me in mind of this conversation between Karl Rove and Ron Fournier of AP:

Mr. Rove asked, "How does our country continue to produce men and women like this," to which Mr. Fournier replied, "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight."

David Cartier

Considering that almost everyone involved in the creation of Second Life has worked directly or moonlighted for either the NSA itself or for some contractor like SAIC, you could almost think that SL was created with spying in mind. It is, after all, little more thyan a pretty dependable FREE VOIP with pictures. I came into SL as a military customer, albeit in a roundabout way as a beta tester. The entire US Army Office of Simulations staff ("Team Orange" now)invaded SL in May and June of 2003. I was working there at that time and I joined in for a quick look. There has always been a huge military presence in SL. What remains of it, the "Coalition Island" complex of sims is just a fragment of what was once a pretty active operation. It mostly died when the Enterprise operations ended and OpenSim became available. Now there are close to fifty thousand sims being run by military operations and private contractors. Linden Lab themselves were never very accommodating or friendly to the military or to military contractors. As for the NSA, there were certain episodes going on in SL that definitely raised flags. The heavy political activity of French and German "right-wing" groups in SL is well documented. There were constant attacks being made by apparently Islamic individuals and groups against in-world Synagogues and Coptic Churches. You may have noticed that there are almost as many people from Islamic countries in SL as there are Brasilians. In any case, SL was definitely opening a window and offering a cheap and SAFE method of gathering man on the street intelligence and gauging public opinion. It would have been insane for national intelligence agencies to not jump in and take a look. But I am guessing, though, that for every NSA person logging in, there were - and likely are - many more Germans, Saudis, Russians and Argentines at the same game. These recent revelations in the news will only have brought in even more security people from Ukraine and China.

anon

Pole in the attic.... They know whom they are... And they will not forget. They will dance before it's all said and done. And praise be to the powers that be that have enlightened us to whom will dance.

anon

All,

Mark the roads, mark the signs, mark them "red" white and "blue", show up with the ear plugs and follow around as you will and have for years. Show up in court and display your higher authority as you have.

And make sure you seat us in the back row next to a pillar with no one else. We won't notice. Make your lists, and check them twice... because the majority already knows whom is naughty and nice.

Create what never existed, and then create the fix and savior for each and every bad or good based on what you view and see. In the end, it will do you no good and you wasted my tax dollars doing so.

I didn't know that this was what all this was about until now. But I rebuked this spirit far before knowing. I do understand more now. What will not change is the pole in that attic still exists for those whom did what they did. No matter whom they are. Your mind games played against us will be all over you. And you will not be left alone until you dance at what you created for others.

There are always ways to make another feel smaller. But there are ways the are exceedingly great to raise up for the positions that were chosen by that which is much greater.

For those watching... Keep watching... And behold ....

Well, you know. Sometime people take things like this as a threat. But a promise is much greater. Whether they understand or well... not.


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