Today marks the 20th anniversary of the deadliest assault on U.S. soil by foreign forces. The September 11th attack, commonly referred to as “9/11,” was a coordinated series of four parallel assaults conducted by the Islamic militant terrorist group known as Al-Qaeda. That day, four commercial airplanes were hijacked with knives and box cutters. The terrorists used those crude weapons to storm and seize control of the cockpits of the planes. Their intent was to conduct suicide missions into populated landmarks that symbolized Amercia’s economic strength and military power.
Two of the jets, loaded with passengers, flew into the Twin Towers in New York City. Both towers collapsed within minutes. Terrorists simultaneously flew the third jet into the largest office building in the world and America’s nucleus of its military might – the Pentagon. On the fourth airliner, there was a passenger revolt against the hijackers. Those heroic individuals had been speaking with loved ones on the ground via mobile phones, learning of the other attacks. Many of the passengers on United Flight 93 regained control of that plane and crashed it safely into a vacant field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania – sacrificing themselves to save the lives of other Americans. It was later determined that the terrorists were planning to fly that fourth jetliner into the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Those attacks killed a total of 2,996 people and injured more than another 25,000 individuals who survived. In addition to the tragic loss of life, the 9/11 attack shocked the world in that this asymmetrical assault did not use traditional military weapons. The terrorists transformed everyday airliners into human-guided missiles. From it, we learned that the only things Al-Qaeda needed to accomplish this horrific disaster was planning, volunteers, and funding.
In recent years, we have heard more and more media stories of how terrorist groups are using cryptocurrencies to fund and carry out their illegal operations.
But is that connection between crypto and terrorist true? The answer is not as clear as you may think.
The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) published a report for the first quarter of 2021 that finds evidence linking elements of terrorism with cryptocurrencies. In fact, the ICT found that terrorists are taking more precautions, making it more difficult to trace their blockchain activities when using cryptos for fundraising and payments as stated in this report excerpt:
“Jihadi organizations continue to use cyberspace to recruit operatives and raise funds, though they have become more cautious in their use of cryptocurrency for fundraising. Since the blockchain is transparent, many terror groups have become more careful about sharing their Bitcoin addresses. They now publicize private contact information and have even begun to shift to cryptocurrencies that are harder to trace, such as Monero.”
Monero and Zcash are privacy tokens that utilize “transparent” addresses that enable the closest thing to anonymized transactions, making them useful tools for criminals. While terrorists may now be moving to privacy tokens to avoid blockchain tracking, it seems they need more than anonymity to carry out their illegal activities.
An in-depth study by the internationally known, nonprofit policy think tank – the Rand Corporation – finds that cryptocurrencies may create more problems for terrorists who try to use this type of digital money to fund and execute their schemes. The report lists six factors, including anonymity, in the table below that must be considered in the terrorist decision matrix.
SOURCE: Rand Corporation – Terrorist Use of Cryptocurrencies: Barriers and Future Threats p. 34
The Rand report makes several conclusions spanning its 99-pages, but perhaps the most surprising is that it states on page 73 that “…concerns about cryptocurrency being a major enabler of terrorist activities are largely overblown…” but vigilance is still required.
“When we consider all our assessments together, including such other important properties as the reliability and volume of the cryptocurrency market, we find that no current cryptocurrency can address all of the terrorist organizations’ financial needs. However, we note that, particularly with improved usability, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin may be appealing to use in fundraising, and some evidence is emerging that terrorist organizations may be using cryptocurrencies for this purpose. Thus, we conclude that current cryptocurrencies are generally not well matched with the totality of features that would be needed and desirable to the terrorist groups examined.”
On The Flipside
- While cryptocurrencies “…are generally not well matched…” for the totality of all terrorist activities, it only takes one terrorist with a dirty bomb or biologic to cause destruction, fear, and havoc.
- Funding for terrorist attacks can come from a variety of avenues.
- We must never forget the 9/11 attack because those who forget history, often allow it to repeat.
Why You Should Care?
Ransomware hacks are the leading type of cyber attack according to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Ransomware funds have made their way to terrorist groups. If you’re a victim of ransomware, notify the FBI immediately rather than paying the ransom. This reduces the chance of paying and playing into the hands of terrorists.