This post was adapted from a thread originally posted by @Flantoshi on Twitter
Before there was language, and the ability to talk things through, there was violence. Before the first “I love you!” was said, there was some poor shmuck that got his brains bashed in with a rock.
This is not to say that we are necessarily a violent species. Under the right circumstances, we are caring, loving and peaceful. But to not acknowledge our violent streak is simply being disingenuous and willfully ignorant.
Whether in the savannah or in outer space, humans will fight wars and they will use the tools that are available to them, whether they’re rocks or crypto.
In this article, we will be exploring the different uses of crypto as a tool for warfare. We’ll explore how seemingly innocuous features can be used for offensive and defensive means.
But let’s start from the basics and work our way up.
Crypto as BETTER money
In the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, we’ve seen people use crypto as a means to transact, even amidst financial collapse and sanctions. People have bought cars, food and services from each other even while in a warzone.
Of course, the argument could be made that regular cash could have served this purpose, and if you listen to the crazy survivalist at the back, they’ll have said that a much better option would’ve been gold. But these have their difficulties associated with them.
Local paper currency is likely to be devalued overnight, as people realize that there’s a chance the country might no longer exist in the near future in the same structure it had. Needless to say, it might not be honoured when those in power change.
You could solve this issue by having some widely accepted currency on hand, like Euros or US Dollars. But unless you use them for your day to day, you’re unlikely to have stacks of them lying around. And those who do, aren’t exactly in a bargaining mood when shit hits the fan.
Besides that, there’s the difficulty of access. Cash payments are trending towards being digital, so there isn’t gonna be that much physical cash either way. In some countries, they’re even making higher denominated bills illegal, as they are considered to be aiding and abetting criminals.
So, increasingly, chances are that you’re gonna have to be travelling around with a backpack worth of low-level bills, which doesn’t sound particularly appealing. Meanwhile, our gold-bug survivalist friend is licking his lips in anticipation.
Yes, gold is a viable means of storing wealth on an intergenerational basis, even in conflict zones. But If someone walks up to you with a sack of gold coins trying to buy a car, besides thinking they’re possibly a leprechaun, you wouldn’t know what to charge them.
We simply don’t have the practice and experience dealing with precious metals as currency. Hence, trading becomes particularly difficult. How many gold coins is a car worth?
Then, once you get said coins, what are you gonna do with them? They’re heavy, and draw attention to themselves. So you go to the time-honoured practice of hiding treasure in warzones.
The British Museum is full of archaeological finds like that, where Romans and Vikings hid a treasure while fleeing and were either killed or didn’t manage to find it again. Then, it’s found hundreds, if not thousands of years later.
If you’re lucky, you or your descendants might be able to come again and find it. If you’re unlucky, such as with my own family during WWII, then you might permanently lose access to it and it just becomes one of those family legends that grandma tells about lost art and treasure.
This brings us to cryptocurrency, where you can store a nation’s worth of GDP on a post-it note with a seed phrase, a string of random words that underpins all crypto wallets. More interestingly still, you can also remember the seed phrase and move a king’s ransom cross-border entirely in your head whether the authorities want to or not!
As an amusing anecdote, last year a man was arrested for installing malware that mined Bitcoin on people’s computers. The German authorities seized his hardware, and estimate that the whole haul was worth around $60m.
Nevertheless, as he didn’t reveal his password, the police can’t access those funds. It remains unclear whether once he leaves jail the man will simply gain access to those funds with a seed phrase that he had memorized.
At its core, these are the true principles of crypto – being to interact and transact with people on your own terms, irrespective of whether those in power agree with it. So whether there are sanctions, confiscation attempts, or outright theft, if you keep your head down and don’t scream around about your crypto wealth, there’s precious little that can be done to stop you.
Raising Funds for all kinds of Purposes
When the Russo-Ukrainian war got properly started, there was a very unique new entrant into the crypto space: The country of Ukraine.
In essence, they were asking for donations in all manner of cryptocurrencies and many projects tripped over each other to use this as a marketing opportunity. Ukraine even started to offer NFTs in exchange for donations, but they backed out at the last second, which prompted some to humorously comment that they got rugged by a nation-state.
Most commenters left it at that, but I think they forgot to highlight the most important bit: foreign private citizens are funding a war effort independent of their own government’s geopolitical wishes!
Of course, this is not entirely new and has likely happened since money was a thing. Most recently, there were Irish-American citizens funding the Irish American Army (IRA), which international organizations have branded as terrorists.
It bears saying though, this was done somewhat covertly, as with non-profit organizations, or charities, such as with NORAID. So while not new, there was a certain level of obfuscation that needed to happen. Furthermore, when people wanted to support nations or organizations that weren’t particularly popular, there might not have been an easy means of doing so.
For the most part, playing in international politics used to be the domain of the ultra-wealthy and politically motivated. Now, for better or for worse, it’s the domain of everyone with a crypto wallet address as there are no means of blocking transactions happening.
This does not mean that funding organizations your government disapproves of will be devoid of consequences. But crypto is doing for financial transactions what email did for disseminating information.
Whether this power gets used for good or ill remains to be seen. What we can say with certainty is that this technology can (and likely already has) been used to fund terrorists. And this won’t stop anytime soon, if ever.
Shortly after the fall of Afghanistan, Charles Hoskinson, founder of Cardano, made a video where he commented that crypto would be used by nefarious actors, this was unavoidable.
I don’t think the smith that crafted a kitchen knife has blood on his hands if it ends up being used as a murder weapon. If you give a man a fish he may eat for a day, if you give a man a fishing rod he might smack someone with it.
A curious example of this happened a few years ago. Early in the creation of Augur, a prediction market platform built on Ethereum, developers realized that when you can place bets on a public person dying during a specific period, you’ve accidentally created a means of crowdfunding assassination markets.
Assassination Markets are not some fringe use case, it’s one of the primary uses for the technology of prediction markets, other than insurance. The reason for this is that people can pool their financial resources together and bet for a specific time period where a person should live.
Now, if you pick any relatively near term date, the vast majority of people are likely to be alive. It doesn’t take a statistical genius to say that most people alive today, will be alive next month, for instance.
In other words, even if there’s a heavy financial weighting on one side of the equation, it would be foolish to take the other side of the bet (that a specific individual would die) UNLESS you can make sure of the result happening.
So, a would-be assassin could take the opposite side of the bet, kill his target, and legally get paid via the crowdfunded bounty. On paper, it would just look like he got really lucky at gambling, thus he could very easily acknowledge the income in his taxes, and unless he was caught, there isn’t anything tying him to the murder scene.
The same broader principle could be used to place bounties on potential terrorist targets, or even to fund mercenary groups to take over key objectives. The ability to shape violence is no longer the realm of the elites, soon it’ll be available to all.
War is about more than just shooting bullets at each other until one of the sides stops breathing. The vast majority of soldiers are never involved in the killing bit – after all, there are maintenance jobs, reconnaissance, logistics, etc.
And all these roles can in one form or another be taken over by blockchain operations. Take spying as an interesting showcase. When people think about spying, they think of a James Bond character who smoothly goes undercover (yet somehow never even bothers with a fake name or disguise) and performs some sort of secret mission.
Unfortunately, spying is often far less glamorous than all that, especially in the age of the internet. Sometimes it’s about making specific bits of information fit into the broader framework.
For instance, a few weeks ago, a Ukrainian soldier shared video footage of himself in the barracks during downtime. Long story short, this was posted on Reddit and some Russian asset managed to piece together where exactly this video was taken. A few moments later, the location was airstriked and everyone in the area died.
The Ukrainian authorities have taken this to heart and have started warning people on social media:
The Russian government even banned soldiers from using smartphones some years ago. Precisely because they’d gotten into trouble in the past for allowing them for on-duty personnel.
The broader point is that we don’t exactly know what information can be used for offensive purposes until it’s used against us. Back in WWII, the Americans had a propaganda slogan that said “loose lips sink ships.” Innocuous bits of information said in a casual conversation have the potential to be dangerous, especially in a war setting.
This is what makes data collection by decentralized means so dangerous and intriguing.
In the crypto world, there’s a type of application called “an oracle.” Despite its ominous name, it’s fairly straightforward to understand. Oracles are a third-party service that connects smart contracts with the outside world, primarily to feed information about the analogue world to the crypto world.
At its core, it’s a means of collecting random bits of information to make algorithms spit out results and predictions that we deem useful. Is it such a stretch to assume that these decentralized means of collecting information won’t be used for offensive purposes when they’re widespread enough?
The danger of this is that suddenly it turns the base assumptions of war on their head, and it’s truly terrifying. Civilians are no longer civilians, they’re assets that might be dangerous to be left running around, as they might be helping the enemy.
This is Total War, the full-scale deployment of a society’s technological, creative and social capacity, at a level that was hitherto unimaginable. Everyone becomes a target, there will be no such thing as civilians when this becomes commonplace – the Geneva Convention be damned!
Imagine, for instance, that we’re a few decades into the future. Cardano has succeeded in onboarding many nation-states, and they operate a good portion of their data infrastructure from the blockchain.
Now, consider in our fantasy scenario that other countries are at war with the Cardano nations. Does it not stand to reason that the stakepool operators themselves could be seen as targets that might be threatened, coerced or damaged?
After all, they’re painting a target on their own back by being responsible for the data infrastructure of an enemy. Taking out a handful of nerds and irreparably damaging the data and logistical infrastructure of an enemy seems to be a no brainer.
Perhaps I’m being overly paranoid in saying this, but on the other hand, it might be an inevitable consequence of crypto. In its ideal form, cryptocurrency and permissionless Dapps, give you a level of autonomy and sovereignty that might have been impossible for the vast majority of humanity for most of history.
Yes, the surveillance state might have been in its infancy in the feudal era, but owing to undeveloped financial markets, and the commoner’s lack of any measurable degree of wealth, their influence was limited to their immediate living area. But then, as our reach increased, so did the arm of the state.
As other forms of control receded, such as social norms, the Church, etc. the state just grew in power over the centuries. It might not seem like it, but the overwhelming power of the government now would’ve been intolerable in other eras. There isn’t any aspect of one’s life that isn’t in some way been codified by some edict somewhere.
Crypto strikes all that away and gives individuals back their autonomy irrespective of the wishes of the elites who had wielded the collective power of their serfs for centuries. Whether this power is wielded responsibly, or to the benefit of humanity is a different matter altogether.
But the individual is suddenly being relevant on the geopolitical chessboard. Normal people can affect how the game is played, and it remains to be seen whether the established players won’t try to checkmate their new rivals.
Crypto is a revolution, and it’s rare that revolutions are bloodless.
I don’t support war, I don’t support violence when it can be avoided. But it’s safe to say that giving back sovereignty to the individual won’t always be a peaceful affair.
I believe that our current era, where we break the communication and transaction barriers, will be compared to the invention of the printing press. For all the benefits it had on the dissemination of knowledge and culture, it also directly caused the Protestant Reformation and thus the European wars of religion where millions died.
There’s a certain sense of inevitability about these things when a new and powerful tool is discovered. It seems like the fabric of society might be irreparably damaged. But then, more often than not, society finds a way to adapt and our lives are improved.
We should not fear progress out of a stubborn determination for the present to remain like the past. Progress is scary and uncertain but also necessary.
It takes courage to accept the risks and still find a means of making it work. This is a story as old as the discovery of fire two million years ago. We made it work then, and we’ll make it work now!
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