I've read this story in Wired a couple of times, the Secrecy News blog entry from a few days ago that it came from, and even went and looked at the (unclassified) original report (PDF) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to Congress discussing it. I still don't know what to make of this. From the report:
Reynard is a seedling effort to study the emerging phenomenon of social (particularly terrorist) dynamics in virtual worlds and large-scale online games and their implications for the Intelligence Community.
"[The project will ] conduct unclassified research in a public virtual world environment. The research will use publicly available data and will begin with observational studies to establish baseline normative behaviors."
Perhaps a bit more pointedly (bordering on bizarrely), the report says that
"The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world." [emphasis added]
I have to admit I'm unclear as to what might constitute "suspicious behavior" in virtual worlds, much less behavior indicative of terrorist motivations -- would that be killing as many Night Elves as possible in a battlegrounds session in WoW, emerging as a successful and highly profitable mole in EVE Online, or just using pose balls to role-play anatomically unlikely scenarios with someone using a hedgehog avatar in Second Life?
Is this new seedling program something we should be concerned about (Big Brother in your virtual world, watching your ganking, duping, gold-farming, cybersexing ways), something we should roll our eyes at (checking to make sure this didn't come from The Onion), or something we should hail as an interesting new way for academics to get yet another character to level 70 -- in the name of research?