Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency worked urgently to target Bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013.
The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents.
A March 8, 2013 NSA memo said agency staff were looking at “cybertargets” without defining cybertargets.
A March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated: “Bitcoin is #1 priority.” The documents indicate that “tracking down” Bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining Bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain.
The NSA’s budding Bitcoin spy operation looks to have been enabled by its unparalleled ability to siphon traffic from the physical cable connections that form the internet and ferry its traffic around the planet.
In a November 2013 letter to Congress, one Homeland Security official wrote that “with the advent of virtual currencies… has recognized the need for an aggressive posture toward this evolving trend.”