He Gave a Cryptocurrency Talk In North Korea. The US Arrested Him.


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An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: He was a former hacker from Alabama who styled himself a “disruptive technologist” and believed that he was using his data-mining expertise as a force for good. But then, in April, Virgil Griffith traveled to North Korea with a visa he had obtained from a diplomatic mission in New York City, going through China to circumvent an American travel ban. He gave a talk at a conference in Pyongyang about how to use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to launder money, according to federal investigators. Now Mr. Griffith, 36, faces federal charges that he violated international sanctions. He was arrested on Thursday as he landed at Los Angeles International Airport.

Mr. Griffith, an American citizen who lives in Singapore and works for the Ethereum Foundation, is accused of conspiring with North Korea since August 2018. He appeared in federal court in Los Angeles last week and will eventually be brought to New York. He faces up to 20 years in prison. Though the United States government had denied Mr. Griffith permission to go to North Korea, he traveled there anyway in April and spoke at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Friday. During his speech and in discussions afterward, he provided information about how North Korea could use cryptocurrency to “achieve independence from the global banking system,” the complaint said. He also later made plans “to facilitate the exchange” of a digital currency between North and South Korea.

“We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., an assistant director-in-charge at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary.”

Hacker magazine, 2600, where Mr. Griffith was a contributing writer, said on Twitter that what Mr. Griffith had done — explaining the concept of cryptocurrency — was not a crime. The magazine’s editor, Emmanual Goldstein, said Mr. Griffith was incapable of doing what federal investigators have accused him of. “He would not help a murderous dictator,” he said. “He’s a typical hacker who loves technology and adventure.”

The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be
done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.
— E. Hubbard



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