Another day, another unhealthy dose of mainstream media FUD. This time, it’s Vox Magazine – which will undoubtedly enjoy some brief notoriety in the crypto world as a result of an interview on North Korea with Priscilla Moriuchi, an ex-NSA official who candidly said almost nothing at all in an interview with the publication.
While it is likely to be seized upon with glee by those who misunderstand the purpose and nature of Bitcoin and other digital currencies, the article is more of an exercise in journalistic persistence than revelatory information.
Consider the $64 million question posed by Vox reporter Alex Ward: “How big is North Korea’s cryptocurrency operation?”
Answer: “We don’t know the scale.”
How about this gem: “Would you place a bet that North Korea is using digital currency in some way to improve its nuclear program?”
“I would bet that these coins are being turned into something – currency or physical goods – that are supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program”.
So there you have it! Except… wait. Moriuchi does not actually say to Ward, at any point, that there ARE in fact coins. She referenced this in a different interview with ForeignPolicy.com during which she admitted that North Korea could have made between $15M and $200M through digital coin thefts.
In fact, when pressed on how “sketchy and illegal” Ward considered a small-scale mining operation that Moriuchi said she had seen, Moriuchi noted that “…it’s not illegal in any way, unlike a lot of the things that North Korea is doing today to generate funds: counterfeiting US dollars and cigarettes or selling wildlife and illegal drugs.”
To put the number “$15M” into perspective when it comes to nuclear weapons development, it’s estimated that North Korea spends something between $1.1B and $3.2B annually on the technology.
The numbers suggest that cryptocurrency theft has accounted for as little as 0.0047% of the annual cost of a North Korean nuclear plan. The USA is estimated to have spent trillions of dollars on nuclear weapon development.
The problem is not so much that another entity – in this case, a pariah nation shunned by most of the world – is possibly using digital currencies for nefarious purposes. (And they don’t get much more nefarious. Surely the next Bond villain will be a crypto-millionaire?)
Instead, it’s that the media will seize upon this nugget like a ’49er in a gold rush, and proclaim triumphantly that this illustrates that criminals and terrorists are the primary users of digital currencies like Bitcoin. It’s a theme that echoes through the halls of government buildings around the planet, and it’s given credence by naysayers like Bill Gates (who, incidentally, doesn’t appear to be holding the Internet to the same standard, despite all of the wonderful things it’s done for his company – and underage sex trafficking).
Yes, some bad actors use Bitcoin. And they also use dollars.
In fact, the sanctions we take against these bad actors are MEASURED in dollars, to make us feel that we are being serious – and taken seriously. One BILLION dollars! That’s how much the latest round of sanctions should hurt North Korea according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Digital currencies are not the only bad guys in the world – and even though Alex Ward of Vox never got a useful quote out of the ex-NSA official, and had to rely on “Pyongyang’s skill at using cryptocurrencies” as a hook in the absence of anything concrete, you can bet that the media will have a field day with this one.
NORTH KOREA BUILDING WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION WITH BITCOIN!
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