OTP22: Are The Dead Drops Outside the U.S. Real?

March 14th, 2013

I read the recent IRC transcript of the user with alleged ties to GCHQ and thought that, while entertaining, it was the happiest bunch of horseshit I’ve come across in awhile.

And that’s when it hit me: OTP22 is probably not a government recruitment operation or social engineering experiment because the dead drops are all over the world; U.S., Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Norway, Finland. If a government was behind this, it would amount to running espionage operations in multiple foreign countries. There is zero chance that such an imbroglio would feature a publicly accessible front end (the message desk) with a bunch of greasy nerds posting all of their antics on the Internet.

Unless… Those foreign dead drops aren’t real.

If the foreign dead drops are just being fabricated and posted by the controllers, OTP22 is probably something like this: U.S. Spies Want to Play Alternate-Reality Games:

Alternate-reality games are no longer just for geeks and corporations that want to sell you stuff. America’s intelligence agents now think these interactive games could make for a better way to study human psychology and social behavior.

The intelligence community’s blue-sky researchers, the Intelligence Advanced Research Agency (IARPA), announced they’re seeking designers for alternate-reality games, or ARGs. It’s for work, they swear. The project, which goes by the name UAREHERE (as in “you are here”), “may provide capabilities that allow for high-quality, externally valid social, behavioral and psychological research in near-real world contexts,” according to a request for information released this week.

Alternate reality games emerged in the last decade as a form of transmedia storytelling, or the practice of using multiple forms of media — particularly the internet — to craft a narrative structure. The directors of an ARG typically start by developing a story, litter clues on the internet, and when the players solve them, the players are led to further clues or a staged event featuring live actors. Many ARGs require dozens or hundreds of people to play out, and the games are interactive: Players can shape the course of a story by their actions. It’s also become a means to market products, whether musicians teasing a new album, or a movie studio promoting a new film.

While the ostensible purpose of the game is to research human behavior, the specific intelligence function served here is a mystery. Nor does the agency specify who the players would be: The info request notes that recruiting and screening players will be a challenge. Another: determining whether an ARG would even work as a research tool, let alone how to design an ARG.

No big deal. U.S. spooks wasting borrowed Chinese money again. Move along, nothing to see here.

If, however, those foreign dead drops are real, this thing is very, very weird. I don’t know, man… Break out the Theremin weird.

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