Stablecoins Such as Tether May Be in U.S. Sights, Top U.S. Treasury Official Warns

Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary of the Treasury, said issuers outside the U.S. need to be forced to prevent abuse by terrorists.

AccessTimeIconNov 29, 2023 at 4:28 p.m. UTC
Updated Jan 24, 2024 at 1:10 a.m. UTC

Without explicitly naming Tether (USDT) as the sector's leader, a top official from the U.S. Department of the Treasury took a shot Wednesday at the dangers of non-U.S. stablecoin issuers that use dollar backing, arguing they need to address their use by bad actors.

Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo issued a wide-ranging warning about illicit finance in the crypto industry in a speech he's set to deliver at a Blockchain Association event in Washington. He aimed some of that attention at stablecoins. "We cannot allow dollar-backed stablecoin providers outside the United States to have the privilege of using our currency without the responsibility of putting in place procedures to prevent terrorists from abusing their platform," he said in the prepared remarks.

Adeyemo referenced his earlier speech at CoinDesk's Consensus 2022 that highlighted crypto as a "tremendous opportunity" for innovation, pointing out he "also made clear the importance of industry proactively taking steps to prevent digital assets from being used by transnational criminal organizations, terrorists, and rogue states." That opening, however, hasn't been fully embraced by the industry, he said today.

"While some have heeded our calls and taken steps to prevent illicit activity, the lack of action by too many firms – both large and small – represents a clear and present risk to our national security," Adeyemo said.

He cited the U.S. authorities' recent settlement with Binance, saying the company was used by terrorists, drug traffickers and perpetrators of child sexual abuse.

"I want to directly address those within the digital asset industry who believe they are above the law, those that willfully turn a blind eye to the law, and those that promote assets and services that aid criminals, terrorists, and rogue states," he said. "My message is simple: We will find you and hold you accountable."

He suggested the crypto sector could follow in the footsteps of the U.S. banking industry in its efforts to set up information exchanges about bad actors.

Also on Wednesday, the Treasury sanctioned another crypto mixing service – Sinbad – saying it supported transactions tied to North Korean hacking.

UPDATE (November 29, 2023, 16:47 UTC): Adds further comments from Adeyemo.

Edited by Stephen Alpher.


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Jesse Hamilton

Jesse Hamilton is CoinDesk's deputy managing editor for global policy and regulation. He doesn't hold any crypto.