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Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team Announced as White House Mulls Oversight

October 13, 2021 by Reece Nations
The White House, July 9, 2021. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is taking steps to address the growing threat of cybercrime while considering whether to issue an executive order on issues surrounding the illicit use of cryptocurrency.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters that the National Security Council and the National Economic Council are “coordinating across the interagency to look at ways we can ensure that cryptocurrency and other digital assets are not used to prop up bad actors, including ransomware criminals.”

The Department of Justice recently announced the initiation of a “National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team” to investigate and prosecute criminal misuses of cryptocurrency. The team will merge the capabilities of the DOJ criminal division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and other divisional sections in the agency.

“We are also partnering closely with nations around the world on these shared threats, including our NATO allies and G7 partners,” Biden said in a statement detailing his administration’s cybersecurity practices. 

“This month, the United States will bring together 30 countries to accelerate our cooperation in combating cybercrime, improving law enforcement collaboration, stemming the illicit use of cryptocurrency, and engaging on these issues diplomatically. We are building a coalition of nations to advocate for and invest in trusted 5G technology and to better secure our supply chains.”

Although the plans are still under consideration, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg the Biden administration is looking to sharpen national security defenses by tasking federal agencies with offering recommendations on potential regulations for cryptocurrency. If enacted, the White House plan would coordinate agencies throughout the executive branch to focus more on crypto-related issues while appointing a crypto czar to oversee the matter — potentially through executive action.

In May, President Biden issued an executive order to modernize the national cybersecurity strategy for critical infrastructure sectors. Biden also directed private citizens and companies to utilize data encryption techniques and multifactor authentication to help bolster protections against cyber threats.

“The criminal division is already an established leader in investigating and prosecuting the criminal misuse of cryptocurrency,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite said in the DOJ’s cryptocurrency enforcement team announcement. “The creation of [the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement] team will build on this leadership by combining and coordinating expertise across the division in this continuously evolving field to investigate and prosecute the fraudulent misuse, illegal laundering, and other criminal activities involving cryptocurrencies.”

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said at an Institute of International Finance conference on Monday that he believed government regulation of cryptocurrency — whether to prevent money laundering or for Bank Secrecy Act and tax purposes — is inevitable. Although a vocal critic of Bitcoin, Dimon’s company started accepting buy and sell orders on cryptocurrency funds from its wealth management clients over the summer, according to Reuters.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a report in August warning of indicators of compromise from Hive ransomware actors seeking to extort funds from infiltrated business networks, TWN previously reported. Hive actors have demanded victims pay their ransoms through cryptocurrency because the decentralized blockchain ledger encryption makes it impossible to trace.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team had been established to “draw on the department’s cyber and money laundering expertise to strengthen our capacity to dismantle the financial entities that enable criminal actors to flourish — and quite frankly to profit — from abusing cryptocurrency platforms.”

Monaco continued, “As the technology advances, so too must the department evolve with it so that we’re poised to root out abuse on these platforms and ensure user confidence in these systems.” 

Reece can be reached at [email protected].

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