Saturday, March 24, 2018 by Lance D Johnson
According to an internal NSA memo dated March 2013, the National Security Administration (NSA) has been systematically targeting any Bitcoin users they want, by tricking them into giving up personal information through privacy protection software and by tracking their computer activity and financial transactions.
People who want to preserve the privacy of their financial transactions gravitate toward cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. As a digital currency, Bitcoin uses encryption to regulate its units. This encryption conceals the financial transaction from being monitored and controlled by banks, financial institutions, and law enforcement. The drawback: The anonymity of Bitcoin allows organized crime a means to launder money.
The U.S. National Security Administration knows this, and they equate the desire for privacy as a desire to conceal illicit activity. In the search for terrorist activity, the NSA indiscriminately breaches the privacy of any Bitcoin users. This includes monitoring web activity and stealing passwords through covert means. The problem with the war on terror and the massive surveillance state is that it inadvertently puts innocent people in the crosshairs, while shredding away privacy for all.
Internal NSA documents confirm that data was gathered in the Middle East, Europe, South America, and Asia under the program OAKSTAR and reveal that the NSA used a program alongside OAKSTAR called MONKEYROCKET, which allowed the NSA to track and target Bitcoin users around the globe. The NSA was able to do this by tricking Bitcoin users into using privacy software that was actually an information dragnet that sent user’s private data directly to the NSA. The NSA deceived Bitcoin users into using a virtual private network which encrypts and reroutes user’s internet traffic to mask what they are doing online. Instead, the virtual private network sent the information directly to the NSA. The NSA’s MONKEYROCKET program was conducted on senders and receivers of Bitcoin and followed Bitcoin users around the world. The findings, revealed by ex-CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden and first published by The Intercept, are a blow to privacy advocates and regular users of Bitcoin who do not engage in illicit activity.
The NSA’s massive tracking operation of Bitcoin users was conducted indiscriminately, not based on a warrant or suspicion of crime. The agency’s internal memo alerted that “Bitcoin is #1 priority” of all the cryptocurrencies that they monitored. The tracking was done en masse and collected personal information from Bitcoin users including internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps. The information collected includes personal information taken directly from user’s home and business computers, all the way down to passwords, internet activity, billing information, and user’s unique device identification number.
The privacy of a financial transaction “is something that matters incredibly” to the Bitcoin community, says Emin Gun Sirer, associate professor and co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts at Cornell University. “People who are privacy-conscious will switch to privacy-oriented coins” after finding out about the NSA’s crypto-currency spy programs, he said.
Bitcoin users should be furious that the NSA is indiscriminately targeting them for wanting to maintain privacy, but they should have seen this coming. Monstrosities such as the NSA are designed to help control the flow of money and monitor people’s activity to look for potential terrorist activity. The NSA helped shutter Liberty Reserve, a cryptocurrency that began in Costa Rica to help finance the dark web and the trafficking of narcotics and other illicit activities. While the intentions of stopping crime are noble, the power of the NSA’s surveillance state can readily be abused. (Related: If you bought Bitcoin, you may have accidentally funneled money to the CIA.)