Andrew Bustamante, a former CIA intelligence officer, has revealed that he has a number of concerns about blockchain technology and its implications for national security. During a Q&A session on Reddit, he detailed his thoughts on the intelligence community and a number of matters relating to technology.
In one subthread, Bustamante casually remarked on issues surrounding blockchain technology. When asked what he thought would become “the biggest threat to [American] national security in the coming years,” Bustamante replied that he had concerns about “blockchain technology”:
“No joke. Super powerful stuff, and the first one to figure out how to hack it, manipulate it or bring it down wins.”
However, untangling exactly what Bustamante meant by this statement is not exactly straightforward. Admittedly, Reddit’s /r/AMA subreddit has a casual atmosphere, but Bustamante’s claim isn’t entirely without substance. So, what might Bustamante have meant when he decided that blockchain technology represents a threat?
Blockchain technology has frequently been described as a threat to national security due to its capacity to bypass regulations and its potential uses in terrorism, money laundering, and crime. In other words, national security concerns usually arise from the misuse of blockchain technology by foreign actors.
Bustamante’s statement, however, seems to imply that a significant failure in blockchain integrity is the problem at hand. In other words, blockchain technology is a vulnerability rather than a threat. And indeed, 51% attacks, price manipulation, and multi-million dollar vulnerabilities have already been exploited several times over.
But Bustamante’s fear that something could “bring down” the blockchain suggests a more comprehensive threat. When one user suggested that quantum computing was in fact the issue, Bustamante concurred. Quantum computing could potentially break the encryption schemes that are used to store cryptocurrency — though it’s anyone’s guess if this is in fact what Bustamante originally had in mind.
In any case, Q&A sessions on Reddit’s /r/AMA threads are fast paced and should be taken with a grain of salt. Although they feature verified participants with relatively high credentials, those participants do not necessarily provide definitive insights in every comment. Bustamante’s views certainly do not represent the views of the CIA itself.
The CIA, perhaps not surprisingly, has been mostly silent on the topics of the blockchain and cryptocurrency. At most, one blogger has managed to coax the intelligence organization into neither confirming nor denying that it has collected information on Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto.
Former CIA members, on the other hand, are fairly active in the blockchain sphere. Ex-CIA analyst Yaya Fenusie, for example, writes regularly on crypto topics. Fenusie has expressed concerns that cryptocurrency could be used to prop up authoritarian regimes in Iran, but remains confident that crypto does not pose a threat in and of itself.
Other ex-CIA members have also moved into the crypto world, involving themselves with regulatory compliance and investment platforms. These individuals, additionally, seem to be more specialized in crypto-adjacent areas than Bustamante is. Essentially, the CIA — despite its legendary status — has produced former members with various areas of expertise, just like any other large employer.
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