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FBI Director Corroborates Capitol Hill’s Crypto and AML Concerns

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United States regulators and policymakers have long expressed their fears about cryptocurrencies, with many of them believing that the inherent characteristics of these assets make them more of a problem than the solutions they profess to provide. Among the list of crypto skeptics in Washington is Christopher Wray, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

On November 5, the intelligence boss, as well as heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center, sat before a hearing organized by the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, where they spoke on their perceived threats concerning cybersecurity, border protection, counterterrorism, election interference, and cryptocurrencies.

A threat that can only get bigger

In the hearing, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) questioned the intelligence agency chiefs on their recommendations concerning the right approach to dealing with cryptocurrencies and their propensity for being used to skirt global anti-terrorist activities. While he alluded to having limited knowledge of how cryptocurrencies work, the Senator made a point that tracking cryptocurrencies are difficult, which raises a challenge for investigators to develop methods that will ensure surveillance.

Responding to the Senator’s inquiry, Wray claimed that his agency already considers cryptocurrencies as a threat.

“For us, cryptocurrency is already a significant issue, and we can project out pretty easily that it’s going to become a bigger and bigger one. Whether or not that is the subject of some regulation as the response is harder for me to speak to,” he explained. 

The agency chief assured that Committee that the FBI is already keeping tabs on cryptocurrencies, as they have begun applying tools that will help them track asset movements. He concluded by warning that the government risks getting “walled off” if it doesn’t adequately keep up with new technologies.

The progress that should be celebrated

The tools in question weren’t mentioned, but given the success that law enforcement officials have had in cracking down on crypto crimes this year alone, it doesn’t come as so much of a shock that certain specialized tools are being used. If there is anything that 2019 has proved, it is that crypto isn’t the haven that criminals and Dark Web dwellers used to have.

The FBI scored a big win in May 2019, when it partnered with Europol and other law enforcement agencies based in Germany and the United States to take down the Wall Street Market, the second-largest illicit marketplace on the Dark Web at the time. Like other Dark Web platforms, this one relied on selling drugs and weapons, and the chief payment method was crypto.

Other security agencies have done their bit to keep track of crypto crimes. In July, the United States Army Contracting Command (ACC) of New Jersey posted a pre-solicitation notice asking for firms that could help deploy blockchain in tracking crimes. The required investigation tool will be non-reliant on software or hardware, and it will be able to provide details such as transaction records as proof of a suspect’s involvement (or otherwise) in a crime. It should also be able to run analyses on Bitcoin and other major altcoins.

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