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Could The US Government Pay Anonymous in Bitcoins to Mount Cyber Attacks against The Islamic State?

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:44 PM
Justin OConnell
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:44 PM

isisThe Islamic State (IS) might be trying to use bitcoins to fund its operations. According to a well-respected journal, Foreign Policy, the US government should try the same in the fight against IS.

An individual called “Abu Ahmed al Raqqa” appealed to supporters of the Islamic State to send funds to the militant group in bitcoins to expand its “caliphate” in Internet messages posted last May.  The messages were posted on the darknet.

IS has used online propaganda  to further its cause, in particular with social media and other marketing blitzes to gain attention.

As Washington Post writes of Bitcoin:

The service [read: Bitcoin] has been used by drug dealers and pedophiles, so why not extremist groups? In January, Ido Wulkan, an analyst from S2T, a Singapore-based cyber-intelligence company, warned that a U.S.-based cell appeared  to be raising money for the Islamic State using the dark Web.

Documents purportedly released by IS outline how Bitcoin  could be used by the group.

As Washington Post states, “It has a balance of zero Bitcoins ($0).”

There have been many such articles written about Bitcoin’s potential to be used for international terrorism. At the end of 2011, ISIS announced a gold, silver and copper based Dinar currency.

Both the Washington Post article and Motherboard’s Joseph Cox cite Haaretz, which published findings in January from Ido Wulkan of S2T, a cyber-intelligence company based in Singapore. As Cox writes for Motherboard,  “Wulkan claimed to have found evidence that the Islamic State were using the deep web to source funding, and were taking donations via Bitcoin”

The site, according to Wulkan, said its owners “live within the United States, and some are prominent with the community on both coasts.”

In March 2015, Foreign Policy – which enjoys 1,000,000 subscribers – suggested that the US government pay the group Anonymous in bitcoins to continue the hacker group’s “furious online offensive against the Islamic State.”

Counter Current News reported on Anonymous’ #OpISIS , which exposed more than “6,600 Islamic State-linked Twitter accounts, along with 2,000 email addresses and about 100 IP/VPN channels. Several of the group’s major recruiting sites were also knocked offline.”

Foreign Policy highlights  in its article the effectiveness of IS to use social media to promote its cause.

“The Islamic State’s June 2014 offensive into Mosul, for instance, was accompanied by a well-choreographed social media campaign, sowing terror and confusion far in advance of its fighters,” Emerson Brooking writes.

“Tellingly, when the Iraqi government finally acted, it did so by banning its own citizens’ access to Facebook and Twitter,” the author continues.

“Within the last month, videos of the Islamic State’s atrocities have resonated so strongly with citizens of Jordan and Egypt that they’ve provoked armed escalation and retaliation by these Arab governments. This is arguably exactly what the Islamic State wants.”

Employees in government, the article argues, are best suited for countering attacks of rogue nation-states and “sophisticated non-state actors.” However, for IS, perhaps a better group is better suited to counter the threat.

The U.S. government should look to those unaffiliated, socially minded hackers (“hacktivists”) who have their own reasons to despise the Islamic State. This includes self-declared, underutilized  “white hat” hackers, who use their expertise to test and improve the cyber-defenses of companies. It also includes those individuals and hacktivist collectives like Anonymous who have had a traditionally antagonistic relationship with the U.S. government.

How could those bounties be paid?

Such bounties could be paid in Bitcoin, an anonymized, volatile cryptocurrency that’s understandably “suspect ” to the U.S. government, but that remains popular among secretive online communities. By authorizing the use of Bitcoin, officials would be extending an olive branch  to the world’s hacktivists, respecting those critical hacker values of freedom and anonymity. Any other system — involving traceable payments or even potential registration as federal contractors — would almost certainly combust in a storm of paranoia and lightning accusations of government surveillance.

IS has dealt costly blows to the US government’s fight against international terrorism.

The Foreign Policy article comes at a time when law enforcement across the world are looking to crack down on dark net illicit activity, including the funding of terrorism. British Special Forces, for instance, have been mounting cyber attacks on IS, warning its commanding officers, “We’re coming to get you.”

Some have commented that while it might be true some IS supporters accept and use Bitcoin, this is akin to IS supporters using the Internet. With brief research, one can see that IS supporters use any means to fund their “caliphate,” including western government welfare systems .