The role of Bitcoin in terrorism is of concern to the US authorities

Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images (3)

The preacher who? He called himself Azim Abdullah. He did not need a lot of money to create a website for ISIS that would spread horrible videos of beheadings. He needed privacy, so in 2014 he reportedly turned to cryptocurrency.

He paid just over $ 1 bitcoin, then about $ 400, to register a domain name in Iceland and place it on servers around the world. His website asked visitors to donate to cover the costs. They were also in bitcoin.

Sending donations thus allows its donors to protect their identity in letters and numbers. Preferred techniques that make it difficult for banks and law enforcement agencies to “slow down the flow of money to support the US Treasury Department”.

Abdullah’s dependence on bitcoin is proven in 2017. In the intelligence assessment of the Ministry of Finance, which was received by BuzzFeed News as part of the document cache, which includes internal letters և reports on passwords. The intelligence assessment reveals evidence of nine other incidents in which terrorist supporters used cryptocurrency to fund their activities. From buying air tickets to polluting a political website to traveling to Syria.

The vast majority of cryptocurrency transactions are used for legal purchases. The documents provide insight into the US government’s ongoing, sometimes protracted, fight against terrorism, the use of covert technology to promote crime, and the variety of covert methods, with its alleged anonymity, easily transmitted around the world. can be used for insidious purposes.

For example, in 2016, analysts at the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, sounded the alarm about so-called mixers, companies that break down cryptocurrencies into smaller pieces to further protect the owner’s identity. When these companies operate in the United States, they must register with FinCEN և provide information on suspicious customers և transactions. But a report released to BuzzFeed News found that “none of the 30 largest mixed services were registered or showed any evidence of compliance.”

Almost four years later, the government took action. Last year, FinCEN was fined One of the mixers is $ 60 million to “check the names and addresses of customers of more than 1.2 million transactions without collecting other identifiers.” The government has found that these deals help criminals involved in illicit drugs, fraud, child abuse, as well as neo-Nazi and other white-dominated groups. FinCEN: he said It tracked more than $ 2,000 worth of transactions from a mixer to a site called Welcome to the video! who hosted child sexual abuse material.

Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News trace the treasury to concerns about cryptocurrencies at least 10 years ago. FinCEN is now trying to do that change its rules so that any cryptocurrency company will have to get more accurate information about its customers and their transactions.

FinCEN և The Ministry of Justice did not respond to requests for comment.

Alex Fradkin for BuzzFeed News

Financial Crimes Network, based at the US Treasury Department in Vienna, Virginia

Yaya Fanusi, a former CIA analyst and national security expert on cryptocurrencies, said he believed US officials were ahead of their European counterparts in addressing the issue. But like other experts at BuzzFeed News, he says there needs to be a new class of financial analysts to stop cryptocurrencies from being misused by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals.

“Cryptography is more difficult for locals to understand when compared to more traditional money laundering methods,” said Fanousi, now a senior fellow at the New American Security Center. “Only recently have skills and resources been deployed at the field level.”

As regulators and industry slowly adapt, the lure of cryptocurrencies remains strong, with terrorists finding that they can use it to fund donation operations. Last August, the Ministry of Justice announced The investigation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, seized millions of dollars in “ever-large confiscations of terrorist organizations’ cryptocurrency accounts.”

One: indictments described how al-Qa’eda’s affiliated groups carried out money laundering operations that demanded the donation of cryptocurrencies to social media accounts. They then used the network for donations “to further their terrorist goals.” One al-Qaeda-linked network, backed by the government, received more than 15 bitcoins worth thousands of dollars in 187 transactions between February 5 and February 2019. .25, 2020 թ.

Crypto technology is squeezing the same weaknesses in the financial system that were first studied in D. FinCEN files:, A global project by BuzzFeed News վերջին an international consortium of investigative journalists in late 2020. News agencies have found that major Western financial institutions allow dirty money to flow around the world in the eyes of US authorities. As with traditional currencies, bitcoin և other cryptocurrencies can test the ability of financial institutions to track their transactions կանխ prevent crime in the US the capacity of the authorities.

Upcoming Secretary of the Treasury et Anet Yellen’s hearing before the Senate Finance Committee he said This cryptocurrency can “improve the efficiency of the financial system.”

“At the same time,” he said, “it can be used to finance terrorism, to facilitate money laundering, to support malicious acts that threaten the national security interests of the United States, and the integrity of the international financial systems.”

Swimming Pool / Getty Images:

Janet Yellen at the Senate Finance Committee hearing on January 19

Cryptocurrency is much easier to transfer than other financial instruments, which allows criminals to quickly transfer assets to different parts of the world. This is an advantage when trying to avoid US law enforcement surveillance or when detection seems inevitable.

“You can run away from the authorities or those who do not care,” said Powell Kuskowski, CEO of Coinfirm, a cryptocurrency analysis and compliance firm. “It is a mechanism designed to protect them, knowing that they are going to receive illegal means. «

Thousands of different virtual currencies are currently being sold in the emerging secrecy market. Typically, cryptocurrency owners acquire these funds on the stock exchange, store them in virtual wallets with addresses that are assigned only a unique arrangement of letters and numbers. Another layer of anonymity that hides who these funds really are.

Just as banks are responsible for monitoring the transactions of their clients, cryptocurrencies also have legal obligations. They even send suspicious activity reports or SARs to the government, the same as when banks use a transaction that presupposes criminal activity.

But some exchanges are pushing back FinCEN’s proposals for stricter regulations, describing the requirements as more burdensome than those facing the banking industry. Square, Twitter CEO Jack E. Dorsey, a payment company founded by investment companies like Andreessen Horowitz, also said the new rules would be burdensome and could violate customer privacy rights.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a public comment letter earlier this year that it believed the regulations proposed by FinCEN would “violate the civil liberties of cryptocurrency users” and “allow the government to use a sensitive financial database.” ●:

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