Terrorists already are using cryptocurrencies to fund their attacks, support jihadists and subsidize their families, according to the Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor of the Middle East Media Research Institute.
MEMRI said the report, prefaced by retired Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, former deputy commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, is the first significant research of its kind to show the scope of cryptocurrency use by terror organizations and their supporters.
“MEMRI research has found that the main platform for terrorist fundraising today is the encrypted messaging app Telegram – terrorists’ ‘app of choice,'” MEMRI said.
“Terrorist groups regularly publish their bitcoin addresses when they solicit donations on online platforms –Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, and others – and also share detailed instructions via these platforms, in video, PDF, and other forms, to show potential donors how to donate in cryptocurrencies.”
Stewart explained: “As ISIS’s Caliphate has crumbled, and as it and other jihadi and terrorist organizations increasingly depend on the internet, the most significant and dangerous recent development in global terrorism is their embrace of cryptocurrencies to fund their activities. This has quietly become part of their cyber arsenal, and to date there has been a lack of understanding of how to stop it.”
An increasing number of companies are using cryptocurrencies, and that means “it is understood, and expected, that criminal elements, including terrorist groups, will move even more quickly than they are today to use them.”
He called for the immediate implementation of “clear policies banning criminal cryptocurrency activity on their platforms, with repercussions and penalties for companies that do not do so.”
“Such companies include, for example, Facebook, which on June 18, 2019, unveiled its Libra cryptocurrency, set for launch next year, which is backed by Visa, Mastercard, PayPal Holdings, and Uber Technologies; Samsung, whose new Galaxy phone includes a cryptocurrency wallet; Apple, which recently revealed its new software release with a ‘cryptographic’ tool; Amazon, where purchases with cryptocurrency will soon be possible; and Airbnb, where rentals with cryptocurrency already are,” Stewart said.
He said the concern about the use of cryptocurrency by terror groups “is absolutely warranted.”
The focus shouldn’t be on Facebook, he said, but on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that is “known for some time to be a favorite of terrorists and jihadis, including ISIS.”
“This threat is now growing exponentially, as the platform is about to launch its own blockchain, TON, and cryptocurrency, Gram, reportedly by October 2019. Counterterrorism officials need to be prepared for the coming explosion of terrorist use of Telegram’s cryptocurrency,” he said.
Further, government and other officials don’t yet have the tools to battle the new development.
He said MEMRI staff members already have briefed U.S. and Western government agencies on the study’s conclusions.
One of the results was a congressional letter to Telegram CEO Pavel Durov “insisting that he take immediate action against the well-known, well-documented widespread terrorist use of his platform by terrorists.”