U.S. military meets with bitcoin industry insiders

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Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/100239928@N08/

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/100239928@N08/

Could bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies be used to aid terrorist groups? That’s the question officials from the U.S. Special Operations Command asked members of the bitcoin industry this week in a meeting Tampa, Florida. While not an entirely secret event, the Virtual Currency Workshop was a closed-door conference seeking to determine the potential for anti-American forces to make use of bitcoin’s unregulated, largely anonymous nature to fund their operations. The issue is of significant interest to the military, which relies on the international banking system to freeze funds of suspected and known terrorist groups and their patrons.

Bitcoin’s distributed, decentralized, cryptography-based structure makes seizing such funds considerably more difficult, and all but impossible in areas where the U.S. and its allies have no physical presence. With the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) becoming an increasingly large problem for U.S. forces, there has been some concern — seemingly unfounded — that rebels could use bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies as a means of funding their operations.

In a report on CoinDesk, Bitcoin Foundation global policy counsel Jim Harper revealed some details about the workshop. Harper was one of the bitcoin industry representatives on hand for the conference, and said that his message to the U.S. military was largely aimed “demistifying bitcoin” and demonstrating that it wasn’t “magic cloak for evil behavior.”

“The military has an interest in knowing everything it can know about how the world works, and bitcoin is a big part of how the world is going to work,” Harper said.

Harper also noted that the global bitcoin community “doesn’t necessarily endorse US foreign policy,” and that while the meeting was important from an information-sharing perspective, the Bitcoin Foundation’s role is largely to educate law enforcement and the military, just as it would any other group.

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