CIA Director admits the agency has “projects focused on cryptocurrency”
The Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), William Burns, said during an interview at the Wall Street Journal CEO Summit that the agency has “a number of different projects” focused on cryptocurrency.
In response to a question asking if the CIA was able to limit ransomware attacks from overseas, Burns said his predecessor “had set in motion a number of different projects focused on cryptocurrency and looking at second and third-order consequences as well and helping with our colleagues in other parts of the U.S. government to provide solid intelligence on what we’re seeing.”
He added that building knowledge on crypto was “an important priority” and plans to dedicate “resources and attention” to it. Burns also said that the CIA was looking to add to its team of intelligence analysts to include experts in cryptocurrencies and blockchain, whilst communicating with industry experts. “The challenges from the cryptocurrency space could have an enormous impact” he said, in commenting on what he has seen regarding ransomware attacks.
Burns did not mention specifics on what the CIA is actually doing in the crypto space, and this has caused speculation among pundits, ranging from the idea that the CIA may be studying networks, attempting to disrupt them, or even creating their own cryptocurrency.
“One of the ways of getting at ransomware attacks and deterring them is to be able to get at the financial networks that so many of those criminal networks use,” Burns shared. “That gets right at the issue of digital currencies as well.”
Earlier in the year, former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell wrote that blockchain technology is a “boon for surveillance” in a report published by the Crypto Council for Innovation, an advocacy group headed by an alliance of crypto industry leaders. The report defended Bitcoin, stating its use in illicit finance activity is “limited and orders of magnitude lower than what has been cited by government officials,” adding that the blockchain ledger makes it an “underutilised forensic tool that can be used more widely by law enforcement and the intelligence community to identify and disrupt illicit activities.”