In April, Virgil Griffith a self-styled “disruptive technologist” 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 the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency 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. The charges come after the Trump administration raised concerns over the summer about the national security threat cryptocurrencies pose because of their potential to be used to finance illicit activities. During his speech and in discussions afterward, Griffith 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.
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.
“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, issued a statement on Twitter on Friday saying that his arrest was “an attack on all of us.” The magazine’s editor, who uses the pen name Emmanuel Goldstein, said on Twitter that what Mr. Griffith had done — explaining the concept of cryptocurrency — was not a crime. He added, “He’s a typical hacker who loves technology and adventure.”
A self-described ex-hacker, Mr. Griffith earned a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in computational and neural systems, then went to work in Silicon Valley, where he developed a reputation as a tech-world rebel.
[The New York Times]