There's a long-running conspiracy theory among a small number of cryptocurrency enthusiasts that Bitcoin's anonymous inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, was actually the CIA or another three-lettered agency. That fringe theory is having a fresh day in the sun after CIA Director William Burns said on Monday that the intelligence agency has "a number of different projects focused on cryptocurrency" on the go.
Burns made his comments at the tail end of a talk at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Summit. After discussing everything from the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine to the challenges of space, someone in the audience asked if the agency is on top of cryptocurrencies, which are currently at the center of the ransomware epidemic that U.S. officials are attempting to get a handle on and stamp out. Here's what Burns said:
"This is something I inherited. My predecessor had started this, but had set in motion a number of different projects focused on cryptocurrency and trying to look at second- and third-order consequences as well and helping with our colleagues in other parts of the U.S. government to provide solid intelligence on what we're seeing as well."
This is hardly surprising given the focus ransomware is getting from every corner of government. This year, a ransomware attack targeting a pipeline company led to a shutdown, panic buying, and a gas shortage in several states.
Cryptocurrencies "could have enormous impact on everything from ransomware attacks, as you mentioned, because one of the ways of getting at ransomware attacks and deterring them is to be able to get at the financial networks that so many of those criminal networks use and that gets right at the issue of digital currencies as well," Burns said.
Crypto-Twitter had a field day with Burns' comments, with varying degrees of seriousness, which proliferated via—what else?—a tweet from the frequently apocalyptic, "Tyler Durden"-authored blog ZeroHedge.
"damm the CIA made Bitcoin smh. Pack it up it’s over," said one tweet. Another tweet by crypto influencer Crypto Cobain jokingly ranked crypto projects by their likelihood to be CIA plants. (Most likely memecoin? SafeMoon.)
Some posters even took the opportunity to say that even if Bitcoin was a CIA plant, it wouldn't matter.
"If it came out (and was proven) that Bitcoin was created by the CIA, it wouldn’t significantly diminish my bullishness. The only thing it would change is my view of Satoshi. But, crucially, Satoshi is not Bitcoin. That connection was severed years ago," tweeted Spencer Schiff, who is a Bitcoin promoter and the son of stock broker and anti-crypto advocate Peter Schiff.
Of course, (almost) everyone is just having a bit of fun with the joke that the CIA created Bitcoin. But the CIA itself seems pretty serious about its current activities in the crypto space, which no doubt reflects how troublesome ransomware attacks and the like have become.