"Make no mistake, bitcoiners are revolutionaries.” -Nic Carter, Castle Island Ventures So this happened over the weekend: "The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the FBI announced today that it has arrested and charged Virgil Griffith for violating the U.S. sanctions laws and traveling to North Korea to 'deliver a presentation and technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions.' 'As alleged, Virgil Griffith provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions,' U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said. 'In allegedly doing so, Griffith jeopardized the sanctions thatboth Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.’" Griffith is a research scientist for the Ethereum Foundation. Back in April, he took it upon himself (on "a personal vacation” against the advice of some of his friends at the EF) to head to North Korea for a crypto conference and present to attendees on "Blockchain & Peace." This was despite an official denial of entry from the U.S. State Department. He also seems to have aimed to facilitate a symbolic transfer of ETH from the DPRK to South Korea afterwards, a unilateral "act of peace”, but one that unfortunately violates the type of U.S. laws that can get you up to 20 years in prison. It’s a sticky situation, as Griffith is a U.S. expat who lives in Singapore and has been apparently seeking to change citizenship. He seems to have known that he was breaking the law by attending in the first place, but it hardly looks like he was sharing state secrets that would warrant such a heavy handed charge. Most all of the information he presented during his time there was publicly available. Vitalik came to the defense of his friend, saying: "I refuse to take the convenient path of throwing Virgil under the bus, because I firmly believe that that would be wrong...Geopolitical open-mindedness is a virtue. It's admirable to go to a group of people that one has been trained since childhood to believe is a Maximum Evil Enemy, and hear out what they have to say. The world would be better if more people on all sides did that. In fact, this virtue of his has paid off in multiple other contexts; improved relations with Ethereum Classic, Hyperledger, and others [Ed note: Virgil has been working most recently to certify ethereum as Sharia-compliant, so he's been a big general proponent of financial inclusion]...I don't think what Virgil did gave DRPK any kind of real help in doing anything bad. He delivered a presentation based on publicly available info about open-source software. There was no weird hackery "advanced tutoring"...So I hope USA shows strength rather than weakness and focuses on genuine and harmful corruption that it and all countries struggle with rather than going after programmers delivering speeches parroting public information." Where’s the clear red line he crossed? Disobedience to the U.S. most likely. Indeed, the complaint notes that Virgil was (naively) cooperative with the FBI during an interview following the conference, and that he had even showed agents photos and documents from the gathering, claiming he’d like to return to the conference again in 2020. Virgil hardly seems like the type of guy who deserves a lengthy prison sentence for naivety, and I hope he gets a good lawyer. But let’s step back and think about the practical line he crossed. That is, picking a high-risk, low-reward battle by even heading to North Korea in the first place. We’re just starting to fight a long-term war to ensure crypto survives, and this wasn't a smart move for anyone representing the broader crypto community. Meanwhile, crypto journalist Laura Shin had a good practical take: "I see a lot of misconceptions about North Korea. It's important to understand what makes this country different before you form an opinion on Virgil's situation. North Korea is essentially a prison masquerading as a country. People are not allowed to leave, they aren't allowed to travel out of their own towns without permission, they're not even allowedto think their own thoughts aloud. If a North Korean verbalizes a thought not in line with the regime's propaganda or commits some other perceived crime, they risk not only being sent to a prison camp, but also having their entire family sent there andthe next two generations being born, living and dying there. You can be punished for watching a foreign movie, talking to a foreigner, for basically doing anything that doesn't show 100% loyalty to the Kim family. There is actually a loudspeaker in every North Korean home that spouts North Korean propaganda all day. I see people saying it's not a crime to help the North Korean people. But the only way to help North Korean people is in secret. Any public activity between North Korea and a foreigner is with the dictatorship, NOT with everyday people. The regime craves outside relationships with foreigners because it legitimizes them. And it NEVER lets everyday North Korean people interact with foreigners, because that introduces the possibility that the citizens would have proof that everything the regime tells them is lies. I also see people saying sanctions hurt the NK people. That may be so but Virgil was allegedly helping the regime avoid sanctions. And if you think the regime is going to get money from cryptocurrency and turn around and feed its people, then you know nothing about North Korea." In other words, this simply wasn’t a smart political calculation. The battlegrounds matter when you are the insurgent fighting much larger and more dangerous powers. You can’t help the insurgency if you’re stuck behind bars for 20 years, or even two of crypto's formative years. This should make a lot of people think about the high stakes game we're playing in building an information technology that strips the state of a core power. Nic Carter captured this sentiment perfectly in his post a few months ago “A Most Peaceful Revolution”, which you should read TODAY if you haven’t already. If you take the view crypto is the last line of defense against a global surveillance state, and ultimately, global authoritarianism (as I do, unfortunately), then the precedents set in cases like this are critically important. We need to be 10x better than the systems we aim to replace if crypto is to have any chance of succeeding. If we lose the high ground, we have absolutely, positively no shot. -TBI P.S. On a lighter note, if you haven't tried Messari Pro yet, you can get an annual subscription for $20 bucks a month using the offer code TURKEY20 . Offer expires at the end of the day so better get moving. :) Subscribe to our free newsletter to get Unqualified Opinions delivered to your inbox each morning.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://messari.io/article/make-no-mistake-bitcoiners-are-revolutionaries