New York Times Says Cyber Criminals Are Using Bitcoin to Get Around Sanctions


  • Bitcoin is not an anonymous asset and can be tracked.
  • A promotional video from Hamas encourages individuals to donate to their cause with Bitcoin.

The traditional finance market has been worried about a few of Bitcoin’s attributes, but proponents have largely focused on the blockchain’s lack of anonymity as a reason that criminals would be dissuaded. However, changes in the sanctions between the US and other countries have led cyber criminals straight to Bitcoin’s doorstep, applying the digital currency to their various funding efforts, according to reports from Decrypt and the New York Times.

The militant group in Palestine – Hamas – is considered to be a terrorist organization, and it has been largely kept out of the traditional financial system. However, as Bitcoin is not controlled by a single entity, the military wing has developed a way for their campaign to raise money through Bitcoin. In the latest version set up by the Qassam Brigades, every person is provided with a Bitcoin address where funds can be sent. In doing so, law enforcement can’t exactly track the funds. This website also includes a video that shows senders how to evade the authorities and prevent the transaction from causing an alert.

A screen shot from a Qassam video that explains how to acquire and send Bitcoin without tipping off the authorities.

Bitcoin has been involved with drug purchases, money laundering, and more. However, the increase in the number of terrorist organizations using Bitcoin and other digital coins has attracted the attention of the authorities. While individual campaigns don’t appear to gain much funding, the authorities have pointed out that there is little funding necessary for terrorist attacks.

Former CIA analyst Yaya Fanusie, who now acts as a consultant on rogue actors who use cryptocurrency, explained that more of these circumstances will arise, and “it is something that people should pay attention to.” Even the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, mirrored these comments during an interview, even though the concept is new to these terrorists.

Steven Stalinsky, the executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, said, “They seem to be reacting to all the economic sanctions by saying, ‘We are going to try using Bitcoin.’” Stalinsky’s organization, known as Memri, will soon be publishing a report with over 200 pages, explaining the signs that cryptocurrency is being used by terrorist organizations. The report will specifically reference groups in Syria that are already on the run.

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