North Korea Uses Cryptocurrency Operations to Us Sanctions: Priscilla Moriuchi

Former agent Moriuchi says they know from defector testimony that the country has crypto operations in various countries. She says they do not see the sale of North Korea’s Bitcoin mining operations

Priscilla Moriuchi, a former top National Security Agency official, says U.S.’s sanctions on physical products from North Korea. It won’t stop the country’s activities because the state also uses cryptocurrency to evade sanctions.

She says North Korea earns $15 million and $200 million from cryptocurrency operations. The country then turns the cryptocurrency into hard cash to finance its operations. The amount varies depending on the value of cryptocurrency at the time of money out.

Furthermore, the country, according to her, runs various cyber activity in different countries in the region and away. Although the amount is far from enough to fund the nuclear program, it helps sustain the program to not shut down entirely according to her.

Moriuchi said this while speaking to Vox in an interview. She was formerly charged with overseeing cyber threats from East Asia and now works with a digital intelligence firm Recorded Future.

 He said,

“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”.

She reiterated that the untraceability of cryptocurrencies and the fact that they are not regulated makes them useful in such cases as North Korea’s. Furthermore, she said it is hard to sanction cryptocurrencies because they are merely digital distributed technology.

North Korea is facing myriad sanctions from United Nations, including those affecting iron, coal, and seafood. America also just sanctioned dozens of ships, shipping companies, and other firms related to North Korea missions. This is in an attempt to starve the regime of money that the U.S. says North Korea uses to improve weapons. The sanctions are yet to stop North Korea from running its ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons.

She said,

“The majority of international and US sanctions thus far have focused on pressure points on territorial North Korea and the North Korean regime. Those sanctions have been ongoing for years and years and years at this point. But the regime has not abandoned its drive to develop ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons”.

She said they have learned from defector testimony that North Korea runs cyber operations in various countries although they haven’t tracked down the full list.

“North Korea cyber operators sent to these foreign operations bases have two jobs. One, to conduct the operations that the North Korean regime tells them to conduct. And two, to earn money. The majority of that money, about 80 to 90 percent, is sent back to the regime. And only a small amount is for the operators themselves to keep”.

She also said that they do not know the scale of North Korea’s Bitcoin mining operations. However, she added that North Korea’s use of digital currencies was not as illegal as the many other means the country.  It generates funds including “counterfeiting US dollars and cigarettes or selling wildlife and illegal drugs”.

Asked if any other countries are buying physical products with cryptocurrencies. She said that it is being used to purchase many things including software on the dark web. The fact that we do not hear it being use in buying coal. For instance, does not mean it is not buying any.

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David Kariuki is a journalist who has a wide range of experience reporting about modern technology solutions including cryptocurrencies. A graduate of Kenya's Moi University, he also writes for Hypergrid Business, Cryptomorrow, and Cleanleap, and has previously worked for Resources Quarterly and Construction Review magazines.

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