On the same evening that bitcoin advocates Jerry Brito and Patrick Murck went to testify on Capitol Hill alongside Jennifer Shasky Calvery from FinCEN, a report published online by Forbes underlines the sinister challenges that lie before law enforcement when dealing with the threats posed by virtual currencies, and bitcoin in particular.
The report is about Assassination Market, a disturbing site that enables people to contribute bitcoins towards a bounty on the head of one of a number of government officials.
While assassination markets are not a new idea, and were initially proposed by crypto-anarchist and cypherpunk Jim Bell in his essays entitled ‘Assassination Politics’ in 1992, they have never had quite the public exposure that they got today in online media; exposure which could perhaps instil panic on Capitol Hill in the trail of the bitcoin hearings.
The founder of Assassination Market, an anonymous crypto-anarchist going by the name of Kuwabatake Sanjuro after the ronin Samurai in the film Yohimbo, launched the site just four months ago and, according to Forbes, six targets have already been submitted, and donations made for their assassinations.
The targets include NSA director Keith Alexander, President Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, the current bounty for whom stands at approximately $80,000 in bitcoin.
Bernanke, who today offered muted interest in bitcoin in a letter to US Senators declaring "bitcoin may hold long-term promise" is famously included in the bitcoin source code, and has long been the target of some of the most extreme elements of libertarian ideology.
So his inclusion on the hit-list should come as no surprise, but it is sad bitcoin will now be associated with this kind of radical politics, while also being starkly indicative of the dissatisfaction felt widely about Bernanke's continuing policy to increase QE thereby devaluing the US dollar.
Equally, the hacker who created the site has grand ambitions, stating that he wishes to "destroy all governments everywhere ... I believe it will change the world for the better”. He said:
“Thanks to this system, a world without wars, dragnet panopoticon-style surveillance, nuclear weapons, armies, repression, money manipulation, and limits to trade is firmly within our grasp for but a few bitcoins per person.
I also believe that as soon as a few politicians get offed and they realize they’ve lost the war on privacy, the killings can stop and we can transition to a phase of peace, privacy and laissez-faire."
Needless to say, many people have observed huge flaws in Sanjuro's argument that assassination markets would make the world a better place.
Sanjuro notes that he will only accept targets “who have initiated force against other humans. More specifically, only people who are outside the reach of the law because it has been subverted and corrupted, and whose victims have no other way to take revenge than to do so anonymously”.
On the face of it, it’s unclear as to whether a market for assassinations like this can work in practice, as the method of claiming responsibility is a little obscure, with would-be assassins submitting ‘bets’ on when a hit might take place, and then claiming the bounty once the target has been eliminated.
Although it may prove to be a viable system, in light of Silk Road’s alleged founder Ross Ulbricht’s arrest, a black market for assassination may simply be the next on the FBI’s hitlist.
Bell, who served time in prison for tax evasion and harassing a federal agent, has apparently declined to comment publicly, but has denied any involvement with Sanjuro.
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