The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The military thinks Bitcoin could pose a threat to national security

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Does Bitcoin risk endangering the nation's safety? The Pentagon thinks it might.

According to a Defense Department solicitation, virtual currencies represent an emerging technology that could help terrorists and criminals evade law enforcement and launch attacks against the United States. To prepare, the Pentagon's Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office asked companies in January to help study virtual currencies' potential role in "threat finance." (The study would be conducted as part of a wider investigation into evolving threats, including facial recognition and Web monitoring.)

"The introduction of virtual currency will likely shape threat finance by increasing the opaqueness, transactional velocity, and overall efficiencies of terrorist attacks," according to a CTTSO memo obtained by Bitcoin Magazine.

One reason would-be criminals find Bitcoin so attractive is that it makes anonymous transactions over long distances a cinch. Like cash, it's the perfect financial tool if you're trying to cover your tracks.

While the memo itself doesn't call out Bitcoin explicitly, the Pentagon's call for outside help mentions it as a keyword tag:

Responses to the solicitation were due last week.

The military suspicions of Bitcoin should hardly come as a surprise — lawmakers have expressed concerns about its potential to facilitate the illegal trade of drugs and weapons. The Justice Department's crackdown on Silk Road led to authorities seizing tens of millions of dollars in bitcoins from its alleged operator, Ross Ulbricht. And regulators are currently working out how to integrate virtual currencies into the nation's tax and banking systems.

The memo doesn't end there, though. Drug smuggling represents just one aspect of a broader "dark Web" that has the military worried. The shadowy corners of the Internet are precisely where trafficking in weapons of mass destruction could happen, CTTSO reasons. So it's asked for an automated solution that can "intuitively visualize geographic and functional areas of latent and/or emergent instability in the Dark Web."

Sounds a lot like what the folks over in Fort Meade spend their time figuring out.