- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

The CIA is set to spend several million dollars to develop a video game aimed at helping its analysts think like terrorists, The Washington Times has learned.

The agency’s Counter Terrorist Center, or CTC, is working with the Los Angeles-based Institute for Creative Technologies on a project designed to help its analysts, “think outside the box,” a CIA spokesman said. The project is close to approval, but officials wouldn’t comment on the exact cost of the program.

The institute, part of the University of Southern California, works with Hollywood movie and video game specialists.

Disclosure of the CIA video game project follows the Pentagon’s recent cancellation of a plan for an online gambling parlor designed to predict a Middle East terrorist attack. The Pentagon’s gambling scheme led to the resignation of retired Navy Vice Adm. John Poindexter, head of the Total Information Awareness data-mining counterterrorism program.

A military official said the CIA video game is “a ridiculous and absurd scheme that makes Poindexter’s project look good in comparison.”

A second critic of the program said: “These absurd ideas about countering terrorism suggest that the war on terrorism has been a failure, that terrorists are still ahead and that the CTC does not know what it is doing. The key issue here is the CTC misspending funds on silly, low-priority projects, exactly the kind of thing that forced Admiral Poindexter to resign.”

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield defended the video project and called it an “innovative approach” to counterterrorism. The game will select a scenario that could involve analysts playing terrorist-cell leaders or members, a terrorist “money mover” or a facilitator, he said.

“For out-of-the-box thinking, we are reaching out to academics, think tanks and external research institutes that are critical in the fight against terrorism,” Mr. Mansfield said. “If it will help us to prevent terrorist attacks, it is worthwhile.”

A CIA analyst playing the game also could be placed in the role of CIA analyst or operations officer, a U.S. Customs agent or even a cooperative or hostile neighbor living next to a terrorist.

“Analysts would have to think and act inside the character they choose or are assigned,” Mr. Mansfield said.

The goal, he said, is for “our analysts to become accustomed to looking at the world from the perspective of the terrorists we are chasing.”

Richard Lindheim, the institute’s executive director, said in an interview that the goal of the CIA game project is to train analysts.

“They will put their analysts in analytical specialities in one role or another and then change the roles,” Mr. Lindheim said. “It’s a learning tool.”

He said the institute develops simulations, such as the virtual reality simulator that it installed recently at the Army’s Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

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