Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden to The Intercept last month lent startling vindication to a conspiracy-centric notion that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been trying to frustrate the digital currency marketplace since 2012. While competing cryptocurrencies were also under investigation, Bitcoin had been their primary target.
Under the code name OAKSTAR, and using a “non-Western Internet anonymization service” dubbed MONKEYROCKET, the NSA funneled user data for analysis under the false pretense of protecting their users’ online activity.
Tapping network equipment to gather data from the Middle East, Europe, South America, and Asia, the agency harvested and forwarded metadata to backend repositories in totality as it passed through MONKEYROCKET. One document noted the “Collection of full-take data sessions” along with “user data such as billing information and Internet Protocol addresses” of their selected targets would be a “key piece” of a “long-term strategy by seeking to attract targets engaged in terrorism” which “the NSA can then exploit.”
The NSA in March of 2013 supplied an update to their efforts on both Bitcoin and a secondary target, Liberty Reserve, “hoping to use the access for their mission of looking at organized crime and cyber targets that utilize online e-currency services to move and launder money. These illicit finance networks provide user access to international monetary systems, while providing a high-degree of anonymity.” There appears to be a vast margin for the term, as the documents fail to elaborate further on cyber targets.
This is not a surprise to a plethora of folks online coming from the agency associated with conducting surveillance activities in the name of law enforcement. But this method of bulk data collection presents as a glowing reason for many Internet users to distrust the United States government, especially with accusations of a “parallel construction” of trial cases based on information collected from the OAKSTAR project.
The Intercept reported that Patrick Toomey, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said about the documents; “If the government’s criminal investigations secretly relied on NSA spying, that would be a serious concern. Individuals facing criminal prosecution have a right to know how the government came by its evidence, so that they can challenge whether the government’s methods were lawful. That is a basic principle of due process. The government should not be hiding the true sources for its evidence in court by inventing a different trail.”
We must once again condemn the NSA’s methods and wholesale violation of privacy. A bogus service like MONKEYROCKET—which allowed the United States federal government to borderline entrap users under the pretext of privacy—damages legitimate private-sector VPN services like VyprVPN in an Internet climate where users are already assumed guilty for securing their connection from prying eyes simply because it’s nobody’s business which websites they visit.