The Bitcoin Spy Operation
“I have a really silly question,” an academic specializing in computer security told me via email not long ago: Might the archive of files supplied by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden contain material relating to bitcoin?
I handed the query off to Westley Hennigh-Palermo, a software engineer on The Intercept’s research team, who was surprised to quickly find Snowden documents that showed the NSA had targeted users of the cryptocurrency and hinted it had successfully unmasked some. The only problem was figuring out how this was accomplished. Details were scattered across many documents and behind code names like OAKSTAR and MONKEYROCKET.
Wes, soon joined by tech reporter Sam Biddle, figured out that the NSA was exploiting an overseas cable tap and what it called a “non-Western internet anonymization service” — and for some reason, the agency sometimes discussed all this with a corporation in Virginia. Sam outlined the discoveries in a story, sending waves through the bitcoin community.