The Wall Street Journal reports allegations by an Indonesian official that terrorism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation has been financed with Bitcoin and PayPal:
Among the alleged donors is Bahrun Naim, a Syrian-based Indonesian who police say is involved with Islamic State and has helped coordinate attacks back home, said Kiagus Ahmad Badaruddin, chairman of the Indonesian Financial Transactions Report and Analysis Center, an independent agency that reports directly to President Joko Widodo.
“They used virtual money because that would make it harder for us to track the transaction,” Mr. Badaruddin said. He didn’t disclose the amount that had been sent into Indonesia to fund terrorist activity.
According to Badaruddin, the number of terror-financing cases doubled from 12 to 25 last year, as Islamic militants sent money to terror cells all across Indonesia — including rural areas which lack Internet access. In those cases, the electronic currency was sent to nearby operatives, converted to paper money, and transported to the cash-hungry terrorists.
Indonesian authorities also cited the use of encrypted messaging applications like Telegram by terror masters to direct their forces, confident that law enforcement could not intercept their orders.
PayPal issued a statement about its commitment to battle terrorism and criminal activity, offering assurances that it would take “all appropriate actions” and work with Indonesian authorities.
Bitcoin is, by design, more problematic. It was intended to be a virtual currency no government could control. By the same token, it’s very difficult for the authorities to prove claims that Bitcoin has been used to finance illicit activities.
Reporting on the Indonesian claims, CoinDesk argues that Bitcoin has “emerged as a way for the media to bring added attention to government actions against a broad selection of payment tools given its strong online community and following.”
In other words, advocates feel the digital currency and its imitators have been scapegoated to some degree. Similar objections have been raised to law-enforcement claims about the use of encrypted messaging systems by organized crime and terrorists. American officials are increasingly concerned about the use of digital currency to untraceably finance illegal activities and perhaps even attack our financial system; digital currency enthusiasts argue these concerns are largely a pretext for maintaining government control over money.
One area of criminal activity where Bitcoin has unquestionably become the exchange medium of choice is ransomware hacking. Los Angeles Valley College just became the latest victim to pay a ransom in Bitcoin to hackers who took control of its computer system and threatened to destroy its data if they weren’t paid $28,000 within a week. The hackers even provided detailed instructions and a demo of how to purchase and forward the digital currency.