Categories: Rise to Peace blog

Bitcoin: How Terrorist Organizations are Using Cryptocurrency to Fund Operations

© Freedom’s Phoenix: Donna Hancock

Bitcoin is the new talk on the streets these days. You may have heard about it on the news recently or in everyday talk and commotion. It is the new hot commodity that has features similar to Venmo and PayPal but is essentially its own unique type of currency. Bitcoin has been called a cryptocurrency, “that was created in 2009 by an unknown person using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto.” [1] Bitcoin is unique in the sense that there is no official bank of Bitcoin, so trading Bitcoin is as easy as sending it from you to me and vice versa. This means that “transactions are made with no middlemen” but can come at a cost as Bitcoin is not insured by the FDIC [1]. Altogether, Bitcoin’s “hype” has come this past year in multiple accounts of people investing in Bitcoin and over time, have turned into millionaires.

How does Bitcoin relate to terrorism?

Terrorist groups, especially and mainly ISIS, have caught on to the use of Bitcoin and now may be using it to fund their efforts. It seems to be the perfect avenue for channeling money as stated before how loose the regulations are on the cryptocurrency. Essentially, it can operate and function perfectly for what the terrorist organizations need. Anonymous wallet ID’s, no federal insurance, and no limits. A true terrorist organization’s dream has been presented.

© Wikimedia Commons-ISIS propaganda encourages the use of Bitcoin in the form of donations

Back in December of 2017 a, “resident of Long Island in New York, Zoobia Shahnaz, allegedly used Bitcoin and other virtual currencies to launder $85,000 and send it to ISIS.” [2] Although a large amount of money being donated such as this may raise eyebrows as it did in this case, smaller increments of money are not as easily detected. According to The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the “ISIS-affiliated website Akbar al-Muslimin” has posted a link for acceptance of Bitcoins that “are allegedly for the website, but in the ITIC [The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center] assessment they may be used for ISIS broader goals, one of which is rehabilitating its propaganda machine and possibly also for funding terrorist attacks abroad.” [3]

What has been done?

Countries around the world have begun to implement and update their regulations on the cryptocurrency such as Japan, China, and Australia. [1] Malaysia has also begun to place tighter regulations in their country. The “Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), its central bank, has required that conversions of cryptocurrencies into cash must be reported under the strict transactions under anti-money laundering laws.” [4] Measures such as these allow the country to fully oversee the operations of terrorism financing and tracking which is essential in the battle to slow and stop it. [4] The United States Congress has also followed similar measures. New York Democratic Representative Kathleen Rice has pushed for a bill deemed “House Resolution 2433, the Homeland Security Assessment of Terrorists’ Use of Virtual Currencies Act, would require the DHS to conduct a threat assessment on if, when, how, and why terrorist groups like ISIS are using cryptocurrencies to fund violence at home and abroad.” [5] Bills such as these are what will make up the core of the fight against illegal donations and funding to ISIS.  The bill passed the House of Representatives and is currently in the Senate.

What can be done?

It’s simply a matter of understanding what is going on and how terrorist organizations are using Bitcoin to their advantage. Tighter regulations must be put into place and counterterrorism measures must be at the forefront of slowing down illicit donations and funding to ISIS through Bitcoin. As our society has been engulfed in the features and benefits of the technological age of the 21st century, here is a firsthand problem faced by intelligence and cyber analysts. The more measures and standards that are put into place, the harder it is for the trafficking of Bitcoin. There will always be loopholes and channels that terrorist organizations can move their funding, but tightening Bitcoin standards is a key to resolving this problem.



Austin Ludolph

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