One of the most popular bits of conventional wisdom in recent years has been the notion that Bitcoin and other digital currencies are ideal vehicles for money laundering and terrorist funding efforts. Those claims have been bandied about by government officials around the world, and seem to be accepted as gospel by many in the mainstream media. However, a new report from UK think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) calls those assumptions into question.
While that report acknowledged a recent case where Indonesian anti-terror financing authorities claim to have discovered an ISIS member using Bitcoin to transfer money to other terrorists in that country, the RUSI report suggests that there is no reason to panic. In fact, the report notes that there is little evidence that terrorists are even taking the idea seriously.
The paper does acknowledge that terrorist groups have become increasingly sophisticated in their use of online tools, using social media and other online forums to increase their support around the world. As a January RUSI paper explained, however, localized terror cells have grown adept at funding their activities using other types of financial services like physical cash, payday loans, and even government-provided benefits.
Those types of simple funding mechanisms have proven difficult for governments to monitor or track in advance of a terror attack. They’re also easy to access, require little training, and can be used by even the least sophisticated terrorists. And since there is little evidence that terrorists are struggling to properly fund their local cells, there is little reason to assume that they’re desperate to use cryptocurrencies. Worse, there is a danger in exaggerating the threat. As this most recent report notes:
“Treating cryptocurrencies as an exceptional threat creates the misleading impression that more conventional financial products are not already equally, or more, vulnerable to terrorist exploitation.”