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Bitcoin for Bad Guys: Virtual Currency as an Anti-Terrorism Tool

One of the big bitcoin stories making news lately is related to a report issued from Combating Terrorism Tactical Support Office. Titled: “Advanced Planning Briefing for Industry”,issued on Jan 30, 2014. It’s being discussed by some of the mainstream press because it reports that virtual currencies may be seen as a potential threat. The reference to virtual currencies in this report was buried a small section on page 46 of an 81-page report. They brought up virtual currencies among a host of new emerging technologies they must consider. This seems to be reasonable and prudent if they are doing their jobs correctly. Digital currencies are a new and should be addressed as they are tasked with designing contingency plans for all that can be imagined. Some in the media might have blown it out of proportion, adding it to the scandalous thread they continue regarding virtual currencies. This latest inclusion by the media seems to be just more of the same.

US Treasury Denies:

However it doesn’t yet appear that all government agencies are on board with the bitcoin terrorism threat idea. The US Treasury Department has also studied bitcoin and has found No Widespread Criminal Bitcoin Use. David S. Cohen, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence commented terrorists need “real money” for bribes, weapons, safe houses etc. They advise that terrorists are still relying on good old fashioned cash and help from complicit big banks. The amount of money involved with money laundering and their fines are astounding, dwarfing any potential use of bitcoin by magnitudes.

Since 2008, over 4.8 billion just in fines has been issued to banks for money laundering charges. In all, over 60 TRILLION (with a T) was traveling through these banking systems. Much of the time, they traced the money directly linked to terrorist organizations. During the New York and Congressional hearings on the subject of digital currencies, the matter of bitcoin was discussed to find its possible role used for money laundering terrorist financing. They almost appeared to smirk when they spoke about the size of bitcoin in relation to the problem. These experts are accustomed to thinking in terms of trillions. Bitcoin’s “float” of available money has until very recently been measured in a few hundred million at most. The supposedly “huge” Silk Road scandal was a relative mosquito on an elephant in comparison.

When it was time for FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery to speak, she seemed almost dismissive of bitcoin’s role in financing used for money laundering when compared to traditional currencies which must be traced through trillions in transactions.

Pentagon on watch for disruptive technology worldwide:

USA Today ran an article in January 2014 where bitcoin enthusiasts might be offended as bitcoin was never mentioned – as if the Pentagon was leaving us out. They were reported to be on the lookout for new disruptive technologies that could change the rules of military engagement. They seem to be scouring in all areas that might concern them. They discussed their scrutiny of the patent office’s submittals, military records, and use of all manners of algorithms for tracking emerging trends. They admitted to be focusing trends coming mainly out of China and it noted that China’s military related patents have increased 35% over the past decade. Using a program called “Horizon Scanning,”They’ve created expensive algorithms to do specialized searches for buzzwords. Yes really.

We already have this; it’s called “Google Trends”.

Some say the term “Military Intelligence” is an oxymoron.

Disruptive Thinkers:

Some military groups seem to be on the right track though. An article dated back in April 2012 called: “The Military Needs More Disruptive Thinkerswas posted on the website “Small Wars Journal”. This small group of quasi-military specialists think outside the box, although they appear to be relatively powerless within major military circle elites. They posit the idea that it would be wise for the military to devise plans to train new disruptive thinkers that would be needed to utilize new technologies. This brings all the ingredients together for what may come for a future use for the Anti-Terrorism group. The CTTSO department seems to realize that virtual currencies are a possible emerging threat, The Pentagon seems to be out in left-field running fancy “Google searches” that don’t seem to be finding hits on “virtual currencies” but that will change. There seems to be only one small department in the US of forward thinking disrupters trying to recognize the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) before anybody else.

Turning the Tables:

The “Dark Market” has established crowd funded websites featuring “hit man for hire” schemes. These sites might be nonsense and I’m not promoting the idea of a free-market hit man to start advertising their services for nefarious purposes. This idea sounds creepy and I’m not advocating it in any possible way. However, it might just be a matter of time before somebody connects the dots. Is it not possible to use the disruptive nature of bitcoin to turn the tables and create a “Bitcoin for Bad Guys” strategy?

Military or governments may see strategic opportunity using “Game Theory” for virtual currencies to be a “disruptive” new technology fighting terrorism. How hard would it be to place a bounty paid in digital currency paid to an anonymous wallet? Some may wonder how tempting would it be for a sleeper cellmate to “go for the gold” and finish the job themselves? At some point somebody’s going to pull out a calculator and figure it’s possibly more accurate and cheaper than a drone strike. Terrorists would have to continually look over their shoulder and wonder which among them is REALLY committed to the ideal verses who is picturing a new beach house.

Our community is custom to thinking ahead of the curve and we are a creative in ways both good and bad (subjectively). In this vein, is it difficult to imagine that in some conference room some day, there will be a military sub-committee looking at this very issue? It seems likely that some military council will eventually get around to asking … “Can this technology reduce spending hundreds of billions on tanks, missiles, warships and jets”?

They might look at the costly after-effects of war including Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and high military suicide rates and consider all options versus having to make that dreaded knock at the door to face the victim’s family. Somebody’s likely going to come around to the fact that this technology might eventually be adopted by some country or organization in the world. It may just be a matter of fate. The price of bitcoin, or other virtual currencies would have to continue to skyrocket for this to be monetarily feasible and liquidity resistance would also need to be a thing of the past. But with new incentives to consider, perhaps that is an item for consideration some time down the road.

It is likely that the majority of readers of this magazine will consider this idea controversial, as they should. Somebody is going to raise questions about these ideas at some point and they will be debated in public and will likely be debated in private military circles as well. As the technology won’t be uninvented – the roads leading to the possible outcomes of the technology will not simply be closed.

Bitcoin Magazine recognizes the importance of encouraging thought leaders in the community to identify emerging trends and roles of virtual currencies and discuss them publicly. We take the role of being an established leader at the forefront of this technology seriously. Regarding the ideas of “Bitcoin for Bad Guys”; perhaps we should ask ourselves the common scientific question, ”just because we can, does it mean we should?” One day we may be at the crossroads of that question for bitcoin bounties, hopefully we’ll have had time to prepare for the answer before we get there.

What do you think?

Mark Rees


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