It’s no secret that Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are rife within the criminal underworld. The likes of silk road and Bitcoin’s involvement in the dark web has meant that for years, cryptocurrencies have been used to fund various criminal activities from drugs, to weapons manufacture, human trafficing, money laundering and even terrorism. Whenever we write about this sort of thing I always like to make the effort to point out that yes, whilst it is true that criminals use Bitcoin, it’s also true that criminals use FIAT currencies too, in fact, FIAT currency is a far greater asset to criminals and has been around a hell of a lot longer. So, in the same way you don’t stop using US Dollars just because of their association with crime, please don’t let this put you off Bitcoin, it’s not the currency itself, it’s down to the infrastructures that exist around it that often allow crime to thrive.
An article by Brenna Smith in Bellingcat has recently been published and discusses in detail some instances of terrorist based activity that has made use of Bitcoin’s anonymous and private blockchain. It seems that ever since cryptocurrencies arrival to this world, terrorism has had a view to take advantage of it, though early exchanges between terrorists on the blockchain did not go to plan:
“Terrorists’ early attempts at using cryptocurrencies were filled with false starts and mistakes. However, terrorists are nothing if not tenacious, and through these mistakes, they’ve grown to have a highly sophisticated understanding of blockchain technology.”
This is because of the open source nature of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is something that anyone can learn about and anyone can access, so long as they have an internet connection, a bit of time and the willingness to learn. According to the article, even though Bitcoin is used by terrorists in order to carry out anonymous transactions, some terrorist cells have taken this to another level and have recently carried out campaigns that have been designed to encourage Bitcoin donations to their own wallets and accounts:
“One particular group out of the Idlib region of Syria, Malhama Tactical, started publicly soliciting BTC donations in June 2018. Malhama Tactical, a self-proclaimed jihadi paramilitary group, was seeking donations to fund its operation for training soldiers against ISIS and the Assad regime. The group posted several banners on Twitter soliciting donations for their efforts. Donations weren’t exactly rolling in for this obscure group in Syria.”
That being said though, the investigation carried out by Smith does conclude that despite terrorists actively using and accepting cryptocurrency payments, the truth is that this is still a very small minority and that, as with most crimes, FIAT cash is still the terrorists favoured form of finance:
“Due to the lack of purchasing power and anonymity, experts have deduced that cash is still king in the world of terror financing, declaring that bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies in general, are not an immediate threat.”