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Snowden’s 2013 Leak Exposed NSA’s Bitcoin Monitoring Tricks

That NSA would launch the program overseas to track targets is “pernicious” according to a professor. Not only such extensive moves violate privacy but also reveal the extent to which some government-backed institutions and individuals with vested interests can go.  

Some of the programs in the web and crypto world that promise users huge user privacy and anonymity are not necessarily offering what they promise. At least that is there for long time now.

But a document by Edward Snowden dated March 2013, reveals what tricks National Security Agency may be playing for those of you looking for anonymity and privacy in the crypto world. The program uses to track Bitcoin users was called MONEYROCKET but advertises as a as a “non-Western Internet anonymization service.”

It was part of a program code-named Oakstar, to track flow of money between terrorist organizations. NSA also targeted Liberty Reserve which is now defunct.

According to the document, Moneyrocket tapped into the fiber-optic lines in Europe and siphoned the information directly to the European Technical Center in Wiesbaden, Germany. Additionally, there were corporate partnerships in the U.S. and meetings Northern Virginia between telecom partners and NSA affiliated agents.

The trick basis on the fact that criminals and terrorists look for deeper levels anonymity, so essentially, they look for tools to help them do that. It is already aware that advanced terrorist networks build their own tools . Thus follow all legal procedures and do their trades, all without hiding! But at least that was five years ago.

Anyway, the tool allowed NSA to collect passwords, user sessions and media access control addresses. They also collected information such as IP addresses and billing details. They sought to make connections between their Bitcoin targets and data processed.

Illegally gathered evidence

When SilkRoad’s operator Ross Ulbricht was arresting in 2013 for money laundering and drug trafficking. His defense said FBI obtained some of the evidence against him illegally.

Moneyrocket was siphoning Bitcoin user data about six months before his arrest. Civil libertarians argue that governments use these types of programs to convict citizens in a process called “parallel construction.”

The program was using for counter-terrorism but later branched to use in international crime and narcotics.

An assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute said that this is “bad news” for privacy. This is because it shows that in addition to making the actual transactions private. Therefore one has to ensure all network connections are secure. He said that NSA would launch the entire operation overseas to track targets was “pernicious”. The move, for instance, could spread distrust of privacy software in general.

Not just privacy issues, but some governments and government-backed institutions and people with personal vested interests seek to control how money moves for their benefits. For instance, two officials of even stole some Bitcoins during investigations in the Ross Ulbricht’s case.

In fact, most of the claims about use of crypto in money laundering and terrorism activities are not only simply biased. Although, untrue meant to sway the focus of the true story, and this is what many Bitcoin’s fierce advocates believe.

What do you have to say about the tricks that NSA considers? Lets stay connected on Twitter and Telegram.

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David

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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