Last week the US Government secured a guilty plea from 17-year-old Ali Shukri Amin, on charges of aiding Islamic State recruiting in the US.
Basically, he has been advising jihadis on various cyber technologies, including the use of Bitcoin or similar cryptocurrencies. I can’t really speak to the merits of the charges, though I have to assume that there was fire where there is smoke (or else Amin was really poorly advised).
In the never ending drumbeat of negative coverage, the press loudly reported the supposed use of Bitcoin by terrorists, implying that this is surprising news.
Well, duh! This is actually nothing different from the money laundering so popular with the “let’s move offshore” libertarian crowd. Bitcoin was designed to illicitly transfer funds. Of course Bitcoin will be used by reasonably savvy “conspirators” of all types, that’s what it was created to do.
At the same time, a US Treasury Department report on “The National Terrorist Financing Risk Assessment” is cautiously concludes “the degree to which this presents a residual TF [terrorist financing] risk is unclear.”
Personally, I think the Treasury’s assessment is probably understating the issue, though I appreciate that they are taking a prosecutorial stand—they can’t rely on what “everyone knows”. I also note that the report is replete with plenty of other ways for people to secretly and illicitly move money around, so cryptocurrencies are not necessarily the top of their list to worry about.
For myselkf, I’m not so interested in the details of exactly who is doing what with Bitcoin, nor whether authorities understand, let alone can deal with it. I’m interested in the tangled skein of stories that is “the Bitcoin narrative”. At the moment, cryptocurrency technology is a kind of Rorschach test, and people feel free to claim whatever parts of the story they like or need, and ignore the rest.
But the whole story is really complex and messy, and full of trade offs and competing interests. Which makes it very interesting.
- Department of the Treasury, The National Terrorist Financing Risk Assessment 2015, Treasury, Editor. 2015: Washington, DC. http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Documents/National Terrorist Financing Risk Assessment %E2%80%93 06-12-2015.pdf