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Arrest Of U.S. Citizen For Assisting North Korea In Evading Sanctions (justice.gov)
316 points by jmsflknr 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 284 comments





Here are the main allegations:

1. In or about April 2019, GRIFFITH traveled to the DPRK to attend and present at the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference” (the “DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference”).

2. After the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, GRIFFITH began formulating plans to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between the DPRK and South Korea, despite knowing that assisting with such an exchange would violate sanctions against the DPRK.

3. GRIFFITH also encouraged other U.S. citizens to travel to North Korea, including to attend the same DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference the following year.

4. Finally, GRIFFITH announced his intention to renounce his U.S. citizenship and began researching how to purchase citizenship from other countries.

I wonder if 1-3 basically just amount to speaking in person about technology that is very well documented on public web sites?

As far as I'm aware, 4 isn't a crime or even immoral in any way.

This seems like it's basically just a real-life scenario of what people were worried about in the 1990's "crypto wars", but with a very unsympathetic defendant and an especially evil foreign power.

Although if he was paid to go there then it would seem to violate whatever commercial sanctions are in place.


Let me simplify the accusation further, so we don't need to noodle as much about it:

Griffith asked the State Department if he could attend and present at the Pyongyang Conference on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency, because attendance at the Pyongyang Conference on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency almost certainly violates sanctions on North Korea that are enforced by countries around the world very much including the United States.

Unsurprisingly, the State Department told Griffith he could not in fact present or attend the Pyongyang Conference on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency.

Regardless, Griffith attended and presented at the Pyongyang Conference on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency.

Then he (apparently? and despite previously taking some marginal steps to conceal the issuance of his DPRK visa?) tweeted his visa. That's not a crime, so much as an indicator of the level of opsec at play here. Neither, by the way, is his indication that he might want to switch citizenship; the only criminal count he's charged with is the single one at the top of the complaint, Conspiracy To Violate The IEEP, most likely in the enhanced configuration (conspiring with a state involved with nuclear/chemical/biological weapons); guideline base range 5-6 years.


Volunteering to help out enemies develop sophisticated money laundering schemes is most certainly a crime, you know what they want to do with the information. Just like flying to mexico to present to cartel leaders about how to utilize hlockchain to avoid shipping cash is illegal.

It seems like in this case he didn't so much have to wonder about whether what he was doing was a crime, since he asked and was informed by the State Department that it was.

If that's all true, one wonders about his motivation.

Perhaps Griffith just did it to make a point. I don't know what his point might have been. Maybe just that the laws are unjust, contravene freedom, etc, etc.

Sort of like refusing to register vehicles and display plates. Or dealing in "ghost guns" or whatever.

I'm certainly sympathetic. But I can't imagine doing that stuff using my meatspace identity. For Snowden, having worked for the NSA lent credibility to his actions. But I don't see the point for Griffith.


I'm entirely unsympathetic. He knew exactly what he was doing, he knew that it was illegal and he knew who he was helping out. That's all extraordinarily clear.

Maybe it's as simple as Griffith looking to make a name for himself and jumpstart a criminal enterprise that he knew would inherently involve doing blackmarket deals with bad actors. He certainly knew who he was helping out, re North Korea. Having the North Korean effort on your new criminal resume would be a large resume booster. It also explains why he would be looking to leave the US, where he'd be guaranteed to get nailed by the feds for anything in that arena eventually (and sooner than later). There has certainly been enough of that action in the crypto era and money is a prime motivator for most people.


I guess. But 5-20 years in federal prison is quite the career investment.

5 is the high side, not the low side, according to the sentencing guidelines (which directly capture the fact that it's North Korea he helped; the sentencing guidelines for 50 USC 1705 practically read as if they were written specifically for North Korea).

Where do you see five years as the high end? 50 USC §1705 says "not more than 20 years".

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/1705


That's not how sentences work. Read the federal sentencing guidelines.

Not to nitpick, but it's not like the sentencing guidelines are binding. The judge can still choose to hand down a sentence outside of what the sentencing guidelines prescribe. Case and point, Paul Manafort and his "otherwise blameless life".

I'm just going to say that the sentencing guidelines capture 50 USC 1705 directly and are written in such a way as to suggest that North Korea is exactly what they were thinking of.

He’s a resident of Singapore, so “looking to leave the US” was not really relevant. Seems he should have stayed away, though.

I don't know what his motivation was. But the first thing I thought of when I heard the news was that it will be interesting to see what sort of case law is developed as a result of this case.

Can math be classified as a weapon? Can talking about algorithms be made illegal? If talking about an algorithm in one place legal and in another place illegal? What if you video present where the speaker is in a jurisdiction where it is legal, and the audience is in a jurisdiction where it is illegal?

Back in crypto-wars I on the coderpunks mailing list there was an interesting thread about the hypothetical question of getting a tattoo with the diffie-hellman and RSA algorihms written out, and then driving to Mexico in an effort to get arrested for exporting crypto code outside the US in violation of ITARS laws at the time.


This isn’t about the legality of math. It’s about what you are doing, or helping others do. Goals and intended outcomes matter. Knives aren’t generally illegal, we all have them in our houses, but stabbing someone with one generally is.

Calculating equations isn’t itself illegal, but for example calculating the ballistic profile of a missile aimed at a city and passing those results to an enemy state might be a crime. Similarly teaching their people to calculate such profiles, knowing what they intend to use that information for, could reasonably be criminal.


I don't disagree, what I hear when I read this comment are the same points I brought up but phrased a bit differently.

As a huge disclaimer, the charges may simplify to "we told you you couldn't go, and you went, so we get to put you in prison." And if that were true then the only question that would be answered here is whether or not the government has the right to lock you up for attending a conference without their permission. The complaint reads like their going for a more "material assistance to the enemy" kind of theory but I don't know and I'm not a lawyer.

That said, hopefully you don't mind me using your two statements as the foundation for questions they bring up.

"This isn’t about the legality of math. It’s about what you are doing, or helping others do."

I agree with that statement and I recognize that things I sometimes think should be true, turn out not to be as clear cut as I would like.

So lets say his paper was "Comparing different proof-of-work algorithms for the foundation of a crypto-currency."

That would be pretty much pure math. Algorithms where you couldn't "cheat" and get to the answer sooner than anyone else running the same algorithm. So should 'doing' that, or helping someone else 'do' that rise to the level of illegality? If so case law helps define tests for when something should be considered "bad" and when it is "ok." Let's step to your next point.

"Goals and intended outcomes matter. Knives aren’t generally illegal, we all have them in our houses, but stabbing someone with one generally is."

There is the "thing" and there is the "intent" to use the thing to do something bad. There are three "persons" in the above statement, the person that made the knife, the person that owned the knife, and the person that used the knife to do harm to another person or property. And yes, they could all be the same person) but which of those three persons are the criminal? In the USA we tend to lean toward the third example, the person using the tool to do harm. After all, you can do property damage with a baseball bat, and it isn't the bat makers fault right?

So if you talk about blockchain to someone does that make you a criminal? Or are they a criminal when they try to use it to do some illegal act? Now if you knew that was what they were going to do, again in the USA, you could be charged with conspiracy. But if you didn't know, you were just talking in a hypothetical way like "I bet that bat would totally smash those 'unbreakable' windows on that cybertruck." Are you conspiring really?

"Calculating equations isn’t itself illegal, but for example calculating the ballistic profile of a missile aimed at a city and passing those results to an enemy state might be a crime."

The challenge here is that in the US there is a presumption of innocence. So calculating a ballistic missile profile of a missile that launches from some place and then impacts some place else, is something you can easily do in the Kerbal Space Program. As far as I can tell its pretty dang accurate. So if someone shares with the news network the game files to show where a purported ballistic missile could hit if fired from the DPRK, are they doing something illegal? Even if knowing how Kerbal works, you could play with that file to figure out what parameters your rocket would have to meet if you wanted to hit a specific target?

"Similarly teaching their people to calculate such profiles, knowing what they intend to use that information for, could reasonably be criminal."

Agreed, it is all in the "knowing" part. It is clearly conspiracy if someone asks you to tell them how much peanut is needed to kill someone with a peanut allergy because their enemy is allergic to peanuts and it seems like a good way to get rid of them. But if they just ask out of the blue with no context and you answer, are you conspiring?

The original question was "What could possibly be his motivation for doing this?"

It is an important question because motivation is required for there to be a crime. Understanding and proving that motivation is going to be key to getting a conviction. From the coverage so far it does not seem like it was money (I haven't read anywhere that the guy was paid some outrageous speakers fee or anything.) I also haven't seen anything to suggest it was a treasonous thing.

I struggle to think like a criminal mastermind, so I rely on thinking like an engineer; knowing that in politics, relational, and legal questions my thinking will be flawed :-).

So the interesting questions here for me are the ones that define what is, and what isn't, a criminal act with respect to algorithms.


Motivation is not required for this to be a crime, at least in the sense you're using it.

What you're referring to is the "mental state" requirement for criminal liability. Mental state requirements vary with the statutes, and fall generally into buckets like "knowingly" or "recklessly" or "willfully" or "intentionally".

For 50 USC 1705, the standard implicated is "willfully". You can read all sorts of things about what the "willfully" standard requires, but here's a good trick when you want to use Google to quickly parse a criminal law question: Google your search term along with [model jury instructions]. These are the templates used as a starting point for the "rules" given to juries to reach verdicts.†

For "willfullness" in federal court, you'll find something like this:

    The offense(s) of (state offense or offenses that include willfully)
    charged in the indictment require(s) the government to prove that
    (name) acted “willfully” with respect to an (certain) element(s) of
    the offense(s). This means the government must prove beyond a
    reasonable doubt that (name) knew (his) (her) conduct was unlawful and
    intended to do something that the law forbids. That is, to find that
    (name) acted “willfully,” you must find that the evidence proved
    beyond a reasonable doubt that (name) acted with a purpose to disobey
    or disregard the law. “Willfully” does not, however, require proof
    that (name) had any evil motive or bad purpose other than the purpose
    to disobey or disregard the law. [“Willfully” (does) (does not)
    require proof that the actor knew of the existence and meaning of the
    statute making his conduct criminal.]
Note carefully: "“Willfully” does not, however, require proof that (name) had any evil motive or bad purpose other than the purpose to disobey or disregard the law.".

This standard is presumably why the complaint takes the time to point out multiple instances at which Griffith makes it clear that he's ignoring the sanction rules.

I have no legal training at all, but it's my understanding that jury instructions are one of the fronts that a criminal trial is fought on, and so the template model jury instructions might not ultimately be the ones given to the jury; with that said, it seems unlikely that basic matters of law, like what a statute means when it refers to someone committing an offense "willfully", are really likely to budge much.


FWIW that is an excellent process (Googling the jury instructions), thanks for that!

I know, it's been one of my secret tricks for HN legal debates for years. :)

and now its my secret trick for /r/legaladvice :)

It is an important question because motivation is required for there to be a crime

The legal terminology for that is “mens rea” literally “guilty mind” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mens_rea


I don’t see why there “illegal math” is any more illogical a category than “illegal nuclear physics” or “illegal rocket engineering”

This seems like a great example where “ask forgiveness, not permission” would be helpful.

The fact he was told “no”, then did it anyways puts him in a very difficult position.


> This seems like a great example where “ask forgiveness, not permission” would be helpful.

How about don't do it at all?


That’s an obvious option.

> since he asked and was informed by the State Department that it was.

But what did Griffith see when he asked for permission from the State department, though? Did he know violating sanctions was criminal, or something potentially that'd be an infraction? Couldn't it be a civil penalty?

Is there an official form for what asking to visit a country under embargo (e.g. North Korea or Iran) looks like?

Is there a template/example for what a denial to visit an embargoed country looks like?

For instance if there's something involving classified information, I'm to understand there is SF-312 (https://fas.org/sgp/isoo/new_sf312.pdf). It's all about explaining who / what / where / why and that there are criminal penalties for mishandling info / leaking / etc.

So, do we know how much Griffith knew of the implications of what he was doing?


Wait, in your first description I assumed you were saying that it was a crime because the State Department said he couldn’t go and he still did. Now it sounds like that’s not why you mentioned that part.

An element of this particular crime is that he had to commit it willfully.

You’ve moved rather quickly from reductively summarizing the accusation to accepting it as fact.

Last I checked, not everything federal prosecutors say turns out to be true.


It is not my general inclination to believe that the DOJ routinely manufactures simple statements of fact out of whole cloth. Others on HN do have that inclination, sometimes powerfully. Regardless: (1) this is an unusually straightforward criminal complaint; it is short, spare, and composed principally out of simple falsifiable assertions, and (2) we're just randos on message boards talking and have no obligation to continuously and tediously disclaim that the DOJ has the burden of proving its assertions at trial. We all know it does.

[flagged]


Please don't edit your comments in ways that change their original meaning.

Rare upvotes from me on your comments, but regardless, do you have the original comment text e.g. from HN Replies in your inbox? (so that we can understand context)

> It is not my general inclination to believe that the DOJ routinely manufactures simple statements of fact out of whole cloth.

I thought this as well for a while, until I had some (thankfully limited) contact with the federal machine during weev’s trial.

What happens and what is said as truth in federal criminal court has very little to do with objectively measured reality.


It would not just have to prove the facts, but also convince a court of its interpretation of the law, on which the DOJ does not have the final word. Of course, we also know this. In fact, none of us needs to bother to comment, because whatever the courts decide is the law, is the law, and nothing else matters.

Except of course that these are normative arguments; you clearly feel that, fundamentally, someone speaking at Pyongyang blockchain conference deserves to be prosecuted and possibly convicted, and you feel that this would be just regardless of what a court might ultimately decide on the matter (since you ultimately don't know the outcome).

Some people apparently feel that the guy should not be prosecuted or convicted based on the actions he has been accused of; if there is a law that says otherwise, then maybe the law is wrong.

Others might fear that what they feel can be an inhumanely cruel system will come down on a person in a way that will not serve justice. And who can blame them. Frankly, those people are the ones with a functioning moral compass.


The other side of the coin is, teaching North Korean leadership (an infamously brutal regime) about how to evade international sanctions via cryptocoin technology.

How many millions of people have they "come down on in a way that did not serve justice". Aiding such a brutally repressive regime should absolutely be a crime.

And yes, the world is not perfect, and many nations get away with similar sorts of crimes (although almost universally on a smaller scale), that doesn't make him some sort of good guy.


Wasn't this just a presentation providing generic blockchain information? I don't think he's being accused of advising on how to use the blockchain for any specific illegal act, let alone a "sophisticated money laundering scheme".

From a brief read through of the government's case, it seems their case rests on the accused doing the presentation despite having privately admitted to his friend that North Korea is likely interested in cryptocurrency to avoid sanctions.

See this:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EKkbzzYWwAAdAqa?format=jpg&name=...

tl;dr: In a response to a question about why he thought NK was interested in cryptocurrency, he is alleged to have said "probably to avoid sanctions ... who knows".

So it was his alleged belief that they would probably utilize the general information on the blockchain that he would be presenting for illegal purposes that made his giving of the presentation illegal, according to the government.


The current law regarding North Korea forbids providing technical training that would support their money laundering or evasion of sanctions, and they've apparently got Griffith talking about sanctions evasion directly, so they've got what seem to be multiple predicates to pursue this on.

NK doesn't need help developing this. NK has been hacking various cryptocurrency exchanges and websites stealing hundreds of millions of USD worth of crypto via their APT aka the Lazarus Group.

Whom are you calling "an enemy" here? Is there a war between US and that "enemy" now?

North Korea. Is this an actual question?

Since technically the Korean War never ended, yes, there is a war.


The United States is not formally a party to the Korean War. Congress never declared war.
tmsh 13 days ago [flagged]

Have you browsed his Twitter? Does he strike you as a criminal?

People like Eric Schmidt’s daughter tweet and post about NK in maybe less than legit ways? Should they go to prison for five years?

In all sincerity: why are you cavalierly apologizing for the US government (just 5-6 years guys and he did bad things! no need to worry!)?

I’m being harsh with you because you’re defending a government that’s about to destroy this guy’s life (to send a “message“) and based on his Twitter he’s like you and me and I don’t think you realize that.


> and based on his Twitter he’s like you and me and I don’t think you realize that.

Why does this matter? People like your or me can't be prosecuted for violating sanctions on NK? This is a crime that I wouldn't expect to be committed by anyone other than a white collar professional of some sort.

My read of the guy's twitter tells me he has been blinded by his ideology, and therefore prone to doing something stupid. I doubt that is anything like you or me. But we're both making snap judgements based on very little real information.


Good points. Agreed.

I just think (like you say with very little real information) that there’s a risk in being biased by the government’s complaint.

Occam’s razor suggests a person, who is good at ethereum development, might tweet his NK visa out of ignorance about the consequences of what he’s doing v. some elaborate criminality worthy of 5 years in prison. And maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt v. defending the government given its track record of sometimes missing things.


In or about April 19, VIRGIN GRIFFITH, the defendant, traveled to the DPRK to attend and present at the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference” (the “DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference”). The US State Department denied GRIFFITH permission to go to the DPRK to attend the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference due to the DPRK Sanctions, but GRIFFITH nonetheless traveled to the DPRK, via China, to participate.

The statute he violated has a "willfully" mental state requirement, meaning Griffith would potentially have a defense at trial if he could convince a jury he had no idea what he was doing was prohibited by sanctions. From the complaint, it seems unlikely he'd be able to do that.


Is that egregious name-mangling in the original? Wow.

I typed it out by hand, so it's almost certainly my fault. I'm too lazy to confirm, but just assume it's me.

Even the press release from the accusers says he allegedly violated the statute. It is not established he broke any law until he is convicted in court. And court != justice.gov != ycombinator.com.

Is it really your impression that readers of HN threads need to be reminded that HN threads aren't binding legal process?

They always say allegedly. It does not reflect a lack of strength in evidence or belief that they said that in this case.

You can do something foolishly that is worthy of jail time. But in this case he appears to have asked ahead of time if this behavior was problematic, was told that it was, then did it anyways.

To me that's the kicker. He's plainly had doubts, confirmed those doubts were real and yet went ahead regardless.

Without that he'd surely be finding a lot more sympathy, regardless of personal opinions on NK.


> Occam’s razor suggests a person, who is good at ethereum development, might tweet his NK visa out of ignorance about the consequences of what he’s doing v. some elaborate criminality worthy of 5 years in prison.

Did you not read the post you originally replied to?

> Unsurprisingly, the State Department told Griffith he could not in fact present or attend the Pyongyang Conference on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency.

> Regardless, Griffith attended and presented at the Pyongyang Conference on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency.


What does it matter what we think of him? He is being accused of a crime, and presumed innocent. If it goes to trial, then the jury will have access to all the evidence. You and I don't.

He's presumed innocent legally. The presumptions of the legal system are not binding in most other contexts, internet discussions being one example.

Edited to reply to other comments:

Good points. But yeah US AG would allege more severe violations if they had occurred so we can presume they didn’t. Ie they insinuate he was ‘warned’ about going to NK. But what was the nature of the warning?

It’s wrong to charge someone for up to 20 years if the warning you made wasn’t clear on the penalties and we can presume that was the case because they would have stated if that were the case (ie we warned him he would face up to 20 years in prison).

It sounds like he has been nothing but cooperative with authorities. And again Occam’s razor says they’re taking their frustrations with controlling him out via this complaint (meant to also deter others from doing similar things).

But yeah my problem is the rush to judgement. There is no reason to believe he was aware of the laws he was violating and the consequences and that’s scary to me as us citizen.


In this case it seems like you're the one on the wrong side of the razor here, unless one of the relatively straightforward factual assertions in the DOJ's complaint is simply false.

Perhaps yeah. I just sense a lot of genuine ignorance on his part (otherwise why wouldn’t he lawyer up or why tweet his visa). He strikes me as an engineer who believes in crypto and didn’t even realize the severity of what he was violating. When you also consider he re-tweeted Trump’s endorsement of NK etc. I could see how he might’ve been genuinely confused. But yeah I guess the court might discover more of what’s going on.

This is the kind of stuff people used to say about Hans Reiser. We have a powerful rooting interest for computer software nerds.

Two things I find plausible: He was under public and private surveillance, if not for his work, then for his first-degree contacts and targeting by other countries. Imagine the US state coming to you for a friendly chat: "Sir, we are aware you want to go to North-Korea to present on this 'blockchain' and 'smart contracts' thingamabob. This is a very bad idea. We only allow certain journalists and those futhering our national interest to go, you should have googled that.". "Hey, that's unfair! You really mean I am not allowed to go present public data on a conference, just because I happen to have a U.S. passport and hacker knowledge?". "Well, national interest wink-wink?" "No, thanks.". It would be fair to describe that as "sought permission and was denied."

Also of note that the complaint does not seem to have the actual presentation the guy did. The FBI must have been really nervous and interested in a certain line of questioning and topic. According to statement the audience left with a better understanding of blockchain and smart contracts then they had before. I don't think the guy held a presentation about "How to use Cryptocurrency-1 to launder money and evade sanctions". The 1 unit of Cryptocurrency-1 transfer from NK to SK could have been a hacker asking themselves: "Is this possible? Can I actually do this? What happens?". Well in this case you get the FBI-equivalent of blowing out the power in the neighborhood.

Of course, after the conference, some shady NK government employees came up to him and asked him more pointed questions (almost like an agent at the early defcons singling out Asian participants). It states they discussed "proof of work", not that the suspect was given a free (or paid) consultancy gig. I think they had nothing about the conference, so they had to wriggle all this out of him during an interview. FBI damn good at this. They got all the facts they needed to make this a convincing complaint. But reality is not straightforward.

I think you can think of plenty of other computer software nerds who got fucked by the law for doing what they do, and not murdering their wives.


Complaints rarely have things like "the actual presentation the guy did". They can supersede the initial complaint with a more detailed indictment, or just stick with the one count they have and introduce their evidence at trial. I think you're reading tea leaves here.

- What was the title of your talk?

- "Blockchain and Peace", I've given it before.

- Does any of the talk mention (looks down at paper) "smart contracts".

- Probably yes. There is a slide on trusted lending circles in India.

- Can you explain to me, when someone sets up one of these (looks down at paper) "smart contracts", can they benefit from this?

- Well, yes. Or they can lose. You see --

- Thanks.

> GRIFFITHS presentation was called "Blockchain and Peace", and he discussed, among other things how a blockchain technology, including a "smart contract" could be used to benefit the DPKR.


I don't know what you're trying to say here, but according to the complaint, Griffith asked the State Department if he could present at this conference without breaking the law, and they told him he could not. He then went and presented anyways. He probably could have presented nothing but slides of cute baby otters and still been charged.

It is a truly weird set of circumstances. If he could plausibly have claimed not to know about the sanctions, this would be a harder case for the DOJ, because the statute requires willful violation. But if the complaint is accurate, Griffith did essentially everything he could to wreck his defense. We'll see, though.


He probably could have presented nothing but slides of cute baby otters and still been charged.

The complaint does spend quite a bit of time trying to establish what took place was an actual 'technology transfer' and his intent to violate sanctions in some way beyond merely traveling and ottering there. And the charge itself is conspiracy, with all of the extra bits they have to show for that attached.

I have zero expertise in this beyond nerdgooglery but the fact this dude's previous adventures seem to have included bananas shit like 'running a web-to-tor gateway and trying to sell the logs to governments' makes me wonder if there isn't more to this that's even dumber and worse for him.

Equally bewildering are the motivations and intent of the North Koreans. Surely if you actually want someone's actionable insights on violating sanctions, you're not going to do it in public at a conference. "American expert declares cryptocurrency use to circumvent imperialist oppression promotes peace" might be all they really needed from him. It's a cliché but 'useful idiot' seems kind of plausible, with quadruple emphasis on 'idiot'.


Good point.

Do international sanctions apply to individuals?

Even otherwise also there might be conscientious reasons for doing something that a government might find objectionable. Like people going to Iraq during the war, to act as human shields, in an attempt to stop war.


Of course. Why wouldn't they? They'd be completely pointless if they didn't apply to individuals.

Funny how much this comment is revealing about the nature of bias in how crime is treated and the accused are prosecuted. "This guy doesn't seem like a criminal" is misleading and revealing of all kinds of inherit biases and privileges.

> Have you browsed his Twitter? Does he strike you as a criminal?

This is not how we assess if someone has committed a crime, thankfully.


A criminal is a person who has been convicted of a crime, not a cartoon “bad guy” who demonstrates his criminal tendencies on social media.

>Does he strike you as a criminal?

What a passing impression of someone have to do with whether or not they committed a crime?


So you're saying because he looks like a white collar worker he gets immunity from committing crimes despite being very explicitly told that what he was going to do is a Bad Idea?

This isn't a case of someone doing something by accident and getting slapped by the government.


It is absolutely the black guy that is 16 and is shot by the cops is a "man". But this guy that is nearly 30 is just a naive boy that was warned by the state department, but you know.. Kids being kids.

No, the allegation is: "Virgil Griffith provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions."

What you wrote is basically the DA storytelling with the string of evidence that will help convince a jury.

While on their own, 1-3-4 are not criminal, they reveal the defendant's mindset.


Per https://nkcryptocon.com/FAQ/: "For your convenience we will provide a paper visa separated from your passport, so there will be no evidence of your entry to the country. Your participation will never be disclosed from our side unless you publicize it on your own."

It doesn't appear to be paid, 3400 euro fee to attend.


Looks like he neglected to read the "unless you publicize it on your own." part of that sentence.

> Your participation will never be disclosed from our side unless you publicize it on your own.

Blackmail / extortion / compromise trap right there. Don't email em, don't talk to em.

If you're an American and you go there, they have dirt on you and can threaten to reveal it if you don't play ball with them.

Shame on you, North Korea!

Also that feel when the only tech smarts you can get is cryptocurrency folks


> Blackmail / extortion / compromise trap right there. Don't email em, don't talk to em.

> If you're an American and you go there, they have dirt on you and can threaten to reveal it if you don't play ball with them.

Perhaps, but they'd lose the ability to promise other people that their relationship with North Korea was safely secret. I wouldn't worry about this; I suspect North Korea really does want to maintain its ability to have skilled foreigners come and help if they're so inclined.

I understand some people maintain two passports, one for Israel and the other for the rest of the Middle East. This is a similar thing. I wouldn't expect Iran to insist on disclosing an American's visit to the US government either.


I wonder how it's even legal for One.com (77.111.240.88 [One.com Denmark]) to do business with NK in hosting that website. Isn't this exactly the sort of thing we're meant to be preventing them from accessing?

Anyone complicit in, and profiting from, money laundering for North Korea is effectively a murderer and rapist, at least.


Denmark does not have the same sanctions laws as the US.

4 isn't so much an allegation of a crime, but a fact supporting the notion that the accused knew what he was doing is unlawful.

Also, you're missing some of the allegations.


Purchasing citizenship via bribes is against American law. It is illegal for anyone connected to america in any way to make or attempt to make foreign or domestic bribes

There are countries where you can pay for citizenship and it isn't a bribe.


I doubt north korea is one of them.

item 2 could fall under rico same as Trump offering to ask for bribe..its illegal to ask for a felony to be committed.

a former IL governor got caught in such a thing and prosecuted all because he asked for someone to commit a felony in connection to bribing


All this shows is why you should use high-anonymity and secure communications systems. Encrypt everything. Use alias for everything. The United States government or any other government is not your friend. They are a threat to your liberty and freedoms.

I agree, I don't trust the US government either. But there is some irony that Mr. Freedom took significant efforts to assist a dictator who denies all of his subjects liberty and freedom (and usually in brutal fashion).

Good thing he didn't try to steal a propaganda poster while he was there.


> Good thing he didn’t try to steal a propaganda poster while he was there.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Warmbier

Imagine what they do to their own citizens. Virgil Griffith apparently was ok doing business with a murderous dictator.


Find it hard to believe that this particular person actively wanted to help DPRK leaders rather than the North Korean people on the whole. These issues tend to get caught up with handwavey dismissals built from the slim amount of information handed out to us from news soundbites. If you or I wanted to interact with a North Korean today, how would we go about that? How would we trade with them or send a donation?

It's funny to see the difference in attitudes between how South Koreans view the north and how westerners view them. They are starkly different.


Its right here on the conference's webpage

"The interest of participants to continue building bridges of friendship and collaboration with the DPR of Korea, as well as the exclusive environment of confidentiality and contacts with the highest government officials and engineers"

What do you suppose that entails? Do you think in a state like North Korea is going to permit anyone North Korean except state officials into a conference like this, triply so with wording like that?

https://nkcryptocon.com/

We already know beyond a shadow of a doubt that North Korea is trading in crypto currency to fund their regime.

https://bitcoinist.com/un-north-korea-accumulating-cryptocur...

https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/N-Korea-at-crossroads/Nort...

This conference had absolutely nothing to do with enabling regular North Koreans to access cryptocurrency, they don't even have access to the internet to begin with.


> Do you think in a state like North Korea is going to permit anyone North Korean except state officials into a conference like this

I wouldn't know, all I know about the country is from mainstream media.

> is trading in crypto currency to fund their regime

So why not do the same if that's our enemies are doing? Governments around the world are often some of the biggest wallet owners apart from exchanges due to confiscation.

> they don't even have access to the internet to begin with

NK Internet is weird, but non-nonexistent. How is one of the biggest nations on Earth who are implicated in hacking nearly everyone not connected to the internet? (do mean everyone, even their own friends) Are their hackers somehow not regular soldiers? Last I saw they aren't elites. Would be interested to hear some more wild allegations.

It's messy but for fucks sake please learn something from the last 70 years of the cold war and see where it ends up everytime.

People really need to step back and think about where these things lead. I would assert that the vast majority of North Koreans are good decent people. Do we really need another proxy war fought over ideologies?


all I know about the country is from mainstream media

Well that's your fault for being uniformed.

There is plenty of non-mainstream media coverage, ranging from evangelical Christians[1] to those globalists at human rights watch[2] to not-for-profit groups[3][4] to more globalists at the UN[5], so you can pick you poison.

It's almost like there are actual facts, and your falling victim to the conspiricy-fueled anti-fact propaganda machine has blinded you to it.

[1] https://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/stories/north-korea-180103/

[2] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/north...

[3] https://www.c4reports.org/dispatched

[4] https://c4ads.org/about-us

[5] https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/coidprk/pages/reportof...


Repeating again, this conference had nothing to do with enabling the vast majority of North Koreans to use cryptocoins, it is very evident, even from the materials of the conference itself.

The conference was about enabling the North Korean government to trade in cryptocurrency to evade sanctions, do you expect the American government to not take issue with that?

As for the North Korean internet, government elites get access to the global internet, but everyone else gets access to a tightly controlled intranet.

https://money.cnn.com/2014/12/22/technology/security/north-k...


> I wouldn't know, all I know about the country is from mainstream media.

It's not just "mainstream media" reporting that North Korea is a totalitarian regime. It's a universally-acknowledged fact.


We shouldn't use totalitarian means, to fight a totalitarian regime. If transacting freely without centralized intermediaries helps a rogue totalitarian regime like NK, that doesn't mean we should support powerful states like the US government imposing a totalitarian ban on such peer-to-peer transaction mechanisms.

Yeah, I agree. It is ironic. Why help a government? Help people gain liberty and freedom from oppression.

To me it shows that you shouldn’t try and violate economic sanctions against countries like North Korea.

As opposed to the notable cuddly and freedom loving North Korean government.

I know Virgil. I was at the lunch in Palo Alto where he suggested "GAS" should be the name of the internal accounting unit for smart contracts. As with many of the early Ethereum adopters he was quite gifted, a bit eccentric, and leaned a bit in an ideological direction.

Offhand I can't see any reason why he would go out of his way to N. Koreans advice on how to evade sanctions, so I will look forward to some statement on his part. 20 years is a long time.

I know he was working for the Ethereum foundation recently but doubt that the foundation would go out of the way to anger the US government (although they reportedly have a lot of Chinese government involvement).

Here is his twitter: https://twitter.com/virgilgr?lang=en


There's virtually no chance that he'll serve anything resembling 20 years, despite the almost theatrical stupidity of the crime he has allegedly committed. The DOJ ignores the sentencing rules in these press releases. Google [whale sushi sentence] for details.

Espionage cases are traditionally resolved with harsh penalties and no reductions for good behavior. The government wants a clear message sent to anyone else thinking of doing similar things.

The only way you can get off is if your trial would reveal sources and methods the government doesn't want to disclose.


First off, this isn't an espionage case.

Second, you can simply read the sentencing guidelines, which will include the statute he's charged under, and see how the sentence is actually computed. We don't have to try to reason to it from first principles.


It is 63-78 months for first offense, 46-57 if you plead guilty.

So still kinda long 5 years.


that assumes that his talk constituted a financial transaction. it's not clear that this is the case. if he was paid to speak, then it does seem plausible, but that doesn't seem to be disclosed in the press release. if he went for free (and, one would assume, would have needed to pay for the ordinary admission fee), then it's possible to consider it as non-commercial, so that would be only 15-21 months.

edit (can't reply yet): I arrived at this number by searching for USC and U.S.C in the press release, then googling IEEPA, finding https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Emergency_Econom..., then finding 50 U.S.C. § 1701, then going to https://guidelines.ussc.gov/si, putting in 50 U.S.C. § 1705, figuring §2M5.1 is relevant, then putting 14 in https://guidelines.ussc.gov/grc.


I didn't look that carefully, but I don't see the set of guideline rules that get you down to 15-21; how'd you get there?

The same reason anyone does something obviously reprehensible: A briefcase full of cash.

Or, considering this guy is said to be pretty eccentric, just for the sake of it. Working against the system. Being rebellious. Just the faint idea of having a global impact on the distribution of power. Similar reasons, aside from money, drove people like Karl Koch to do what they did.

I’ll go with the follow-the-money argument. It is almost always the correct answer.

Maybe not here. Ideology and thrill are canonically right up there with money as reasons people engage in espionage.

He's accused of trading while under economic sanctions. Not espionage.

Yes this argument explains why the military-industrial complex and war media constantly bombard us with the constant message of, "FEAR! KILL! FEAR! KILL!" They gotta send the kids to college, you know. Remember the Maine.

  and leaned a bit in an ideological direction
Which direction is that?

> Assistant Attorney General John Demers said: “Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly traveled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions. By this complaint, we begin the process of seeking justice for such conduct.”

Wow, that seems like an incredibly dumb thing to do. Isn't all that information readily available on the internet anyway? I'm sure the NK govt. has access to the web.


As you've said, a video call would suffice for that. What can NK offer that other countries can't and why this needed to travel there?

There's an adrenaline rush from going to somewhere where travel is explicitly prohibited, and it's not that expensive to boot. I've seriously considered going on my non-American passport but have decided not to for two reasons:

* Even though my birth country is on allied terms with NK, I'm unsure how my dual citizenship with the US would pan out. I do not want to be considered a spy and imprisoned.

* I do not feel comfortable contributing to a totalitarian economy, even if the individual citizens (guides, translators, etc) benefit a lot from payment.

And there are probably many other valid reasons not to go, but those are the most immediately obvious to me.


For some people it's not an adrenaline rush but a strong curiousity about what the US gov doesn't want you to know. Like all the warnings I received about travel to East Germany even after the wall came down (I was working for a defense contractor at the time). Project security warned us that there would be spies hiding behind every bush.

When we got to Checkpoint Charlie there were just a few tourists milling about the small section of wall that remained, and an old German couple renting a hammer and chisel so you could chip off a piece of the wall yourself. When we spoke to the old couple they suddenly became alert and asked us, rather loudly, if we were Americans. Immediately, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a middle-aged woman sitting on a bench look up, and a young guy dart out of a doorway and start walking our way. We took the hammer and chisel and started chipping at the wall while keeping an eye on the locals nearby, who suddenly seemed very interested in us. An older man standing close to the wall reached into his pocket and pulled out a lighter but did not light the cigarette hanging from his mouth, an obvious signal to other members of his surveillance team.

When a German couple posing as tourists came up and asked us where we were from we recognized that they were obviously trying to recruit us to spy for the Eastern Bloc. But we were too clever, pretending that we were drunk and did not speak English, and meandered back to the train station with our chunk of the wall.


You sure they weren't all just thirsty for some free world dollars?

FWIW, a friend is a dual US-Canadian citizen and visited without problems using his Canadian passport. He was even allowed to take pictures, mostly unrestricted. Having said that, he went with an organized tour so the places he visited were highly curated.

That was about 5 years ago though.


I would be very worried about going to NK if there was even the slightest possibility that they could think that you were trying to conceal your U.S. citizenship from them. That, it seems to me, would actually be a legitimate reason for them to suspect you of being a spy. Not that that really matters. The North Koreans are perfectly happy to detain U.S. citizens for non-legitimate reasons. Going there as a U.S. citizen seems to me like a crap shoot with terrifyingly high stakes.

(Not that I ever really seriously considered going there before, but I am definitely not going now that I've posted this!)


A video call would be just as illegal. If he insisted on giving individual advice to NK instead of just publishing the same information then he needed to cease being a US person first.

Maybe I've become a very cynical person, but all the comments above seem very naive to me. He isn't a tourist and plays at the NK gov level. He doesn't care about the legal status of his actions. NK wants him to assist with money laundering on a very large scale and he probably wants something in return. Regular video calls with money transfers would be enough and way safer for him. So I'm asking the same question: what NK can possibly offer that can't be had in other countries and requires an in person visit?

Ideology (in this case "crypto true-believer" ideology) is a very powerful motivator.

He sounds like he might be someone with a pathological need to be relevant to authorities. Interpol, Singaporean Police, FBI, DOJ who will talk to him?

My guess would be "Joy Division"[0], meaning women brainwashed (or forced) by the state to sexually satisfy high-ranking officials as well as occasionally distinguished guests.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kippumjo


He could get this in any amounts and with more variety in the US, again without any risk. He went there for something else.

Is not the same at all, the ones there can be virgins at request, there is no pedophilia laws, and in general the power dynamics are extremely different when done for money than for your life.

Meta observation : It's really interesting to view these comments as a meta commentary on the tribes that Hacker News members affiliate themselves with.

Imagine that instead of being a hacker, Griffith was a financial expert, and instead of attending a Cryptocurrency conference, after consulting with the DOJ on whether or not he could travel to North Korea to teach the regime how to best invest it's money in financial instruments abroad, they told him that wasn't allowed and he went anyway.

Would he still seem as sympathetic? Would a lot of HN comments rise to his defense because he was a financial nerd instead of the sort of programming nerd that Hacker News readers identify themselves with?


As someone who has been hanging around hackers for roughly 30 years, my social media is filled with sympathy for this guy (most of us know him personally).

I find it mildly unbelievable. I had similar reactions with MalwareTech, but at least he's somewhat sympathetic.

It should not be alarming when "Do Crimes" turns into prison time.


There is nothing sympathetic about helping the world's most oppressive regime to stay in power.

> Finally, GRIFFITH announced his intention to renounce his U.S. citizenship and began researching how to purchase citizenship from other countries.

At first I thought maybe there was some monetary incentive to going to NK that might not be unsealed, but now I doubt it.

It sounds like this guy was simply a crypto “believer”, with probably a bit of an ego. To these people the inability of governments to enforce control on crypto is one of the biggest features, and I’m sure he wanted to see that used in the real world.


Yes indeed, the cold hard world order came crashing down on this dude.

It's not much research to figure out how to buy a passport from somewhere else, the BBC has a nice write-up [1].

1. Malta wants $1.15M for a full EU passport, and Bulgaria is another popular choice.

2. Sant Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda will give you a passport for a donation of around $100K to charity or if you buy some real-estate around the half million mark.

3. The cheapest possible if you don't mind limited travel options is the Comoro Islands, $45K all-in.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/business-27674135


> the cold hard world order came crashing down on this dude.

He asked the state department before leaving, he knew what he was doing.


> At no time did GRIFFITH obtain permission from OFAC to provide goods, services, or technology to the DPRK.

I think in this case intent matters. If you ask permission to travel as a formality, but provide some goods and services while there then that’s very different things.


Intent to assist a regime obtain the currency it needs to continue running murder camps and the like?

Maybe I phrased it wrong, but I think the intent was to help them circumvent the sanctions, despite that he may have asked the government for permission to visit NK.

Cyprus after a year of residence. Canada after three.

But it doesn't make any sense for a crypto-anarchist to help a government which doesn't let its subjects any basic freedoms.

>To these people the inability of governments to enforce control on crypto is one of the biggest features, and I’m sure he wanted to see that used in the real world.

Not just the inability but also the lack of legitimate authority (emphasis on legitimate).


Well, I mean, the fact that cryptocurrencies are helping North Korea is pretty much undisputed. They've been stockpiling it to run their ballistic missile program. [1] According to the United Nations Security Council, they had almost $700MM back in May. [2]

The system is designed to skirt sanctions after all, it's kinda the raison d'être.

[1] https://bitcoinist.com/un-north-korea-accumulating-cryptocur...

[2] https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/N-Korea-at-crossroads/Nort...


Money laundering, ransoms and fraud are pretty much the only actual use cases other than speculation— which is essentially just people extracting profits from criminals in a way that makes them feel distanced from engaging in a criminal conspiracy.

No, there is lots of financial censorship being done against people have have broken zero laws.

For example, at one point, banks blocked donations to WikiLeaks, even though they were not charged with any crimes.

Financial censorship, done arbitrarily, to people who have not even been accused of a crime, is the most common form of financial censorship.


> Financial censorship, done arbitrarily, to people who have not even been accused of a crime, is the most common form of financial censorship.

Source? I find that hard to believe considering the prevalence of fraud. In fact, dealing with fraud is one of the primary reasons transactional banking exists in the first place.

Notes and other negotiable instruments were in widespread use even when there existed universal gold- or silver-denominated currencies that made direct payments nominally simple and convenient.


Are you not aware about things like how anything related to sexual content will have their accounts closed?

I was talking about things like this, and other related situations.


The claim as I read it was that most financial censorship befalls innocent accountholders. But while there are countless examples we can find online about people wrongly censored or accused, actual fraudsters don't go complaining on Twitter.

Fraud is a huge problem. The usual reason for why we can't have nice things--a high-trust civil society--is because of bad people. Because no system is perfect, our transactional and legal systems have to balance administrative efficiency and fairness. The more you try to be fair, i.e. improve your accuracy (fewer false positives), the higher your costs (less efficacy at stopping bad guys and/or more resources need to be expended); the more you aim for administrative efficiency (lower costs but better at stopping bad guys) the more fairness will tend to suffer (more false positives).

Now, it's entirely possible that there are more accounts wrongly closed than closed for actual fraud. Personally I would doubt it, but would still like to see data. That notwithstanding, it would still be wrong to characterize such a system as arbitrary simply because of that skewed result; it could just be a manifestation of a high efficiency but low fairness enforcement mechanism. Maybe it is arbitrary, but I doubt it.

I had never heard the phrase "financial censorship" before. Perhaps a better term here would be financial blacklisting. The EFF's page, https://www.eff.org/issues/financial-censorship, conflates a ton of individual issues in a way that I don't think is constructive. Everybody trying to shoehorn their issues into the free speech debate tends to obfuscate problems and potential solutions; and I suspect it will one day backfire, harming traditional freedom of speech in the process. Before I even read the EFF's issue page--and definitely so, afterwards--the very phrase "financial censorship" brought to mind Citizens United v. FEC. Keep going down that road and there's no limit--I could just as well characterize murder laws as violating my free speech.[1]

For the record, I protested in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco when Dmitri Sklyarov was arrested way back when. I do take these issues seriously.

[1] In fact, IIRC not long after Citizens United the very same conservative justices upheld the criminal convictions of people who gave to a charity and advocacy organization implicated in funding terrorist organizations. The juxtaposition of the two decisions seemed to me to evidence the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the conservative's free speech crusade; such inconsistency and hypocrisy is inevitable once you start to characterize everything that's incident to speech as speech itself.


> Now, it's entirely possible that there are more accounts wrongly closed than closed for actual fraud. Personally I would doubt it,

Ok, then you can rephrase my argument as "one of the most common examples of financial censorship", or "common enough that it is still bad", instead of "the most common".

It still does not take away from my main point here, which is that it is still useful for people who are breaking no laws, to be able to get around arbitrary financial censorship of their perfectly legal transactions. That was my main point.

> conflates a ton of individual issues in a way that I don't think is constructive

People who are doing the censoring, or support the censorship, usually don't want their actions to be called censorship, yes.

I think it is a good term, though. The reason is because I am specifically referring to financial transactions that are perfectly legal, and are being censored for the political content of transaction.

The examples I gave were donations to WikiLeaks, which were perfectly legal, but were arbitrarily blocked, due to the political nature of such a donation, as well as the example of sexual content related financial transactions, which are also legal, but often arbitrarily blocked.

> it will one day backfire, harming traditional freedom of speech in the process.

I am not really sure how it could backfire, to give people more ways of making perfectly legal financial transactions, that are more difficult to arbitrarily block, due to the political content of those transactions.

If you think something is bad, and should be blocked, then make a law. Don't rely on intermediaries to block things that aren't illegal.


> It still does not take away from my main point here, which is that it is still useful for people who are breaking no laws, to be able to get around arbitrary financial censorship of their perfectly legal transactions. That was my main point.

Dramatically more people, indeed the whole world potentially, stand to lose from these countries avoiding sanctions than from the handful of people who can’t currently access their questionable but legal sexual content online.


Don't forget illegal drugs and kiddie porn!

Yeah why else would someone need financial privacy.

You won't mind giving up your privacy if you have nothing to hide.


Are all laws just and all criminals bad people? Being gay was illegal in most of the western world up until a few decades ago. Alan Turing was only pardoned decades after his death, the way that man was treated was utterly horrendous despite playing a pivotal part in defining the 20th century and saving millions of lives on both sides. Then again he did break the "law" and was chemically castrated for it.

Would you help Alan Turing avoid punishment given the chance?

Just a hypothetical to ponder before blindly accepting the status-quo.


Oooh, quite the straw man you've constructed. But everybody already knows that laws aren't perfect. If you want to use the "being gay was illegal" line of argument, you have to demonstrate that either a) gay people are using Bitcoin to be gay in places where being gay currently is illegal, or b) you have to make a case that things like "money laundering, ransoms and fraud" are mistakenly illegal, and in a few decades we'll all realize how perfectly normal and acceptable they are.

> But everybody already knows that laws aren't perfect.

Do they really? I'd argue the complete opposite and indeed my main reasoning for writing the original comment.

The biggest destinations on Earth for money laundering all hypocritically accept the money without shame, all Western countries with strong legal systems, so why is this occurring? Many of them proudly proclaim how much they are against money laundering. Do you know how complicit those governments are at virtually all levels happily accepting the illegal money that clearly is flowing into their suburb/state/nations?

The rest of the world begs these places to please stem the tide of illegal funds or at the very least investigate the people spending this cash and yet nothing happens. Corrupt Russian real estate purchases in London is basically a joke for locals now. A common joke. Are Londoners not complicit in this? Or is there enough separation to wipe their hands clean?

Very eager to hear your defense given the site we are on and the decent chance you have personally benefited from your own governments intentional willingness to ignore the huge amounts of corrupt, illegal money flowing into the west in the last few decades. Laundering into the West funds entire industries built around it and the blatant complicity from regulators/homeowners is on show for all to see.

You need more identification to get a library card than buy a house here. Does that not strike you as strange?

My own example: the biggest real estate purchase in Australia happened years ago, a massive mansion in Sydney, it was on the front of most newspapers, including the biggest newspaper read by millions. We only just discovered it was illegal despite many suggesting it at the time. The property has now been confiscated by the government years later. The owner simply fell foul of the government rather than any real insistence on justice or some sort of semblance about money laundering, it simply doesn't register for most.

Sydney, Vancouver and London are all singled out as the main destinations on Earth for clearly illegal money, The Australian government has sat on proposals for basic laws to ascertain ownership of the money for well over a decade at the behest of the real estate industry to not investigate this stuff.

Hopefully I had a decent crack at one of your points there.

But that said you didn't answer my "strawman", so here's the question again:

> Given the chance would you personally help Alan Turing avoid punishment for the law he broke that resulted in his chemical castration and ultimate death?

Simple yes or no suffices here.

Not all laws are good, not all criminals are bad people. These things are gray at the best of times.


According to the complaint, the defendant:

- went back to the US several time after traveling to the DPRK despite being warned not to by the US state department

- had several consensual interviews with FBI agents

- consented to a search of his phone

It's hard to read this and not think that he brought this upon himself. If you really want to do what he did, get a lawyer, don't travel back to the US, don't speak to law enforcement.


Or that he was entrapped.

Entrapment by what, reverse psychology? He didn’t walk into a sting set up by FBI agents; he went to a real conference in the real North Korea despite official warnings not to do so.

Why is reverse psychology not an effective method of entrapment. I'd expect it's a standard component actually.

This was downvoted as if entrapment is not a common behavior of law enforcement: https://twitter.com/Kinnardian/status/1200465791520428033?s=...

At first I was concerned that the US was overstepping it's bounds a bit with cryptocurrency. But then I read the charge, and he apparently literally traveled to North Korea to advise them how to evade sanctions -- pretty stupid if you ask me.

I don't have any real wish to defend this guy since he likely did some really boneheaded things, but "advise them to evade sanctions" could easily just mean "explained to them how to install a crypto wallet on a computer."

Why the "but" ? If you explain to someone how to install a crypto wallet on a computer knowing that this installation will help that person do tax fraud, then you're an accomplice to tax fraud; and if you explain to someone how to install a crypto wallet on a computer knowing that this will help DPRK evade santions, well, that's a crime on its own. Telling others how to do simple things (that they could find on the internet on their own) and providing trivial, simple help may be a crime depending on the intent.

There's no requirement to provide some unique, significant, irreplaceable insight or service, knowingly providing any help whatsoever is sufficient. Helping a buddy wash his car is a simple, nice thing to do; but helping a buddy wash blood off of his car before the police gets to it is a crime.


I'm not making any legal claims about his situation, I'm just pointing out that the language being used may be intentionally misleading.

Which any reasonable person could have predicted would be used by the North Korean government to evade sanctions.

I get why a defendant might say, "Yes, your honor, he did say he wanted to kill his wife and then asked to borrow my gun. And yes, I did then give him my gun. But there's no way I could have foreseen him using my gun to kill her." But I don't think we're under any obligation to take that line of argument seriously.


His best defence will be he didn't specifically explain how to evade sanctions. But the government can make "evading sanctions" any off-mainstream network finance stuff. It's easy to twist this stuff in a court room.

But of course any sort of technology transfer which would help them in their effort, even indirectly but still very obviously possible to any rational person, which the courts very much take into account (in this case an expert in the field) could fall into breaching embargos.

In this case it's like selling a terrorist group's local community police force non-military low-power handguns, possibly believing they aren't practical for a military effort. But you're still giving a terrorist group firearms which could none-the-less be useful for their overarching cause.

I highly doubt he practically helped them hide any significant amount of money. Billions aren't flowing through blockchains into their pockets without notice. But the whole idea of sanctions is to make everything, even small-time indirect help off-limits... even banks doing business with legitimate NK businesses.


Wouldn't it be pretty different if he travelled to North Korea to help the people living there, maybe even to help them against the North Korean government. Instead of actually helping the North Korean government itself?

It sounds so incredibly stupid that I suspect there's more to this story that we're missing

[deleted]


I think that's a very aggressive level of skepticism for what's outlined here. It seems very unlikely the DOJ could mistakenly think he attended this conference, or that the messages of his they say they have are all fabrications.

Sure, but it also seems unlikely that anyone would be this dumb.

OP’s point isn’t that Griffith is innocent, just that we’re likely missing some piece of info which would make his motivations/thought process make more sense.


When you have traveled to the DPRK despite warnings of the Department of State, visiting the US is not the best decision to take.

Certainly not after they made US passports not valid for travel to the DPRK in the wake of the Warmbier... situation.

How's this enforced? You'd think that the enforcement would have to be done by the host country, making this restriction impossible to enforce.

I'd imagine in three ways: (1) the host country refuses to admit you (2) the host country stamps your passport and you're totally SOL at the border on your way back in, or commit some sort of fraud if they ask you where you went and you don't answer truthfully which brings us to (3) exactly like this haha.

There host country could just admit you and not stamp your passport. I've been on several cruises and had to go out of my way to get my passport stamps. Honestly they seemed annoyed I even wanted the stamp.

Yeah the Israelis are known for doing this as many middle-eastern countries refuse to admit foreigners with Israeli stamps in their passports. If you ask, they'll stamp a slip of paper instead.

They also do this in Cuba for Canadians that are visiting, I guess the US customs wouldn't like to see that kind of stamp on a passport.

in this case, the defendant got a visa detached from its passport.

from what I could gather from the complaint and his social media (https://twitter.com/virgilgr/status/1161217917427470337), he just never tried to hide it.


I think this is the norm for some of the more “controversial” countries. I went to Cuba (with permission from the State Department) before Obama eased sanctions and I was quite disappointed that they didn’t stamp my passport. Instead I got a little slip of paper that was about the size of a page in my passport. It was my understanding that the Cuban government had designed the visa system this way on purpose to allow Americans to more easily skirt the sanctions.

And once I got past border patrol and saw all of the items coming out with the luggage (car parts, toilet seats, televisions, a grill, etc.) it was clear that this system allowed the wealthier families to avoid most of the inconveniences of the US embargo.


[flagged]


Or tweeting an image of said DPRK Visa for the entire world.

https://twitter.com/virgilgr/status/1161217917427470337

I can't comprehend how someone could think any of this was a good idea.


You can always ask for it to be separate to your passport

He is also the author of WikiScanner, the project revealed FBI and CIA computers used for editing Wikipedia pages.

OK, he can forget about parole...

He wouldn't get parole anyway, since the federal justice system no longer grants parole.

> For persons convicted under civilian federal law after November 1, 1987, federal parole has been abolished [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_parole_in_the_United_S...


This is ridiculous.

Both that this US Citizen ignored direct warnings from the US Federal Government not to attend and teach at the Pyongyang Blockchain Conference, and then volunteered to travel back the United States.

And that the US Federal Government is worried about North Korea getting their hands on the WMD-level technology that are Ethereum Tokens.

I suppose they'll be rounding up the people who built https://ethereum.org/developers/#getting-started next?


> And that the US Federal Government is worried about North Korea getting their hands on the WMD-level technology that are Ethereum Tokens.

There's significant evidence that North Korea has been using cryptocurrency to evade sanctions and prop up their murderous regime, so I don't see what seems ridiculous to you about that.


We're going to stop murderous regimes by creating a totalitarian centralized global financial surveillance system, and imprisoning anyone who uses financial channels that don't comply with it?

Opposing murderous regimes is worthwhile. Doing it by criminalizing financial privacy and creating surveillance systems that are more expansive than anything the world has ever seen and that everyone is strong-armed into using them, is not.

Mandates to comply with an Orwellian warrantless surveillance system in Xinxiang are, according to the Chinese government, justified by the threat of terrorism. This is how these kinds of totalitarian impositions are always rationalized. There's always a good reason for them, to advance public safety and national security, according to their advocates.


Well DAI (dollar stablecoin) is probably the best way to evade sanctions for international dollar transfers, relatively small supply notwithstanding.

I own DAI and I can hardly sell $1000 of it into any other crypto currency without incurring 1%+ price slippage.

The spread with usdc is more like 0.2% (both coinbase and dydx), but if the alternative is smuggling suitcases full of cash, 1% is hardly a problem

May I ask what exchanges you are using? There is 1.5M in dai liquidity on uniswap and as you can see plenty of people are moving huge sums without incurring noticeable slippage.

https://uniswap.info/token/0x6b175474e89094c44da98b954eedeac...


The complaint[1] leads with the allegation that the State Department denied him permission to travel to DPRK and attend this conference. How does that work? Did he seek permission from State and receive a denial, then go ahead and do it anyway?

Edit: 15(c) alleges that he did in fact seek prior approval. Well, I guess it's no mystery why he's in deep trouble now.

[1] https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/press-release/file/1222646...


Maybe I am the only person that watched the show. But I guess he was on the first season of King of the Nerds. It was a reality show on TBS.

https://lists.torproject.org/pipermail/tor-project/2016-May/...

Not sure what to think of this. But it is there.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BpSAT3sMUA

I don't really want to comment.. But here we are.


> ... announced today the unsealing of a criminal complaint charging VIRGIL GRIFFITH, a United States citizen, with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) by traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK” or “North Korea”) in order deliver a presentation and technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions.

And he thought he’d get away with this how? Jeez..


> Finally, GRIFFITH announced his intention to renounce his U.S. citizenship and began researching how to purchase citizenship from other countries.

Maybe Virgil should have renounced his US citizenship _before_ aiding NK. He should of seen this arrest coming from miles away because of strict sanction laws. Not sure how much they paid him to go to NK to make this all worth it.


"Virgil Griffith, also known as Romanpoet, is an American programmer, known for being the creator of WikiScanner. He has published papers on artificial life and integrated information theory." WikiScanner exposed edits that Diebold and CIA employees were making to Wikipedia pages.

I get that people hate US monetary policy so much they tried to bypass it with crypto currency and the like. But this strikes me as another reason for the US government to step in and regulate crypto currencies.

They already do. See IRS letters sent to CryptoCurrency Owners, 2019.

Why on earth did he agree to those FBI interviews where he admitted all this?

Maybe he realized he was in deep st and thought (wrongly) that cooperating would help his situation.

I'm not sympathetic. You're talking about a regime that essentially enslaves people. History will not be on his side.

```The cult hacker Virgil Griffith combines geekdom with a James Bond-like suaveness.```

Better title for HN:

Arrest of Cryptocurrency and Tor expert [...]


OT: My immediate reaction was wondering whether his name was a Berserk reference.

This submission title is a train wreck. Paging @dang!

Fixed now. The submitted title was "US Citizen, a Ethereum Staff, Arrested for Assisting N Korea in Evading Sanction".

”An Ethereum staff” ?

I read that as someone not native in English trying to say "staffer" or "employee" but I don't know anything about the structure of organizations behind ethereum, whether it has a lot of employees or whether they really mean "contributor".

Edit: I see the title has been edited to match the DOJ website rather than this seemingly ungrammatical summary.


We've changed the title.

Yes, but HN isn't exactly a bastion of correct grammar. Also, it shouldn't be capitalized.

This is like a pure distillation of ancap crypto hacker egoism. See where it might land you, kids?

Please don't post flamebait. It leads to noticeably shallower discussions, which get nastier as they go.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Not sure how actively aiding a rogue totalitarian state qualifies as remotely ancap.

Because someone dislikes both of those things which makes them the same.

[flagged]


The vast majority of those people don't think any better of North Korea.

> ancap

> helping North Korea

Something here just doesn't add up.


[flagged]


Please don't take HN threads further into flamewar.

North Korea has killed or tortured over 1 million in death camps and threatens nukes at the whim of 1 man who recently used anti aircraft guns to kill his uncles. In my opinion this moron deserves life in jail

Please don't take HN threads further into political or national flamewar. We're not going to get anything better than a generic discussion out of this and probably a nasty one.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21666273 and marked it off-topic.


While the leaders of North Korea have, without question, done a lot of horrible things, the anti-aircraft-gun story has appeared repeatedly in conjunction with numerous people, many of whom have reappeared alive afterwards, or who have been confirmed executed by other, more ordinary, methods. It's not clear if these anti-aircraft gun executions have ever been carried out, or if it's simply a recurrent rumor.

https://www.38north.org/2016/09/aabrahamian090216/


Different intelligent agencies have confirmed numerous deaths as well as reputable journalists from multiple witnesses. I’m sure some are exaggerated and run wild with but there is too much evidence to suggest ALL are fake

Some of the deaths have been confirmed. As far as I'm aware, though, none of the ridiculous methods of execution reported in the media (shot by anti-aircraft guns, torn apart by dogs, etc) have been confirmed. Moreover, the recurrent nature of these rumors suggests that they're long-running myths about North Korean execution methods that get attached to whichever official is rumored to have been executed recently.

Also seems like a pretty quick/painless -- if dramatic -- way to go. They'd have a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards of course, but that's obviously not my problem lol.

[flagged]


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21666233 and marked it off-topic.

DPR? Some subsets of the crypto community and hn might be fans but definitely not the majority.

After the 6+ murder-for-hire allegations and related publicly released chat logs, not so much. Only people who think the chat logs are doctored (which I personally find extremely unlikely) still support him.

https://freeross.org/

Even if he did try to order murders (which I disagree that he did), the penalty for conspiracy to commit murder for hire is 10 years. Yet he wasn’t charged with that, and instead has double-life + 40 years.

Ross was made an example of, no question. I see no reason to keep him in jail, nor the hundreds of thousands of other non-violent criminals the US houses in prisons.


[flagged]


What country do you live in? I'm sure they have sanctions against NK too

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctions_against_North_Korea


Do you know what the DPRK is? It commits human-rights violations on a pervasive basis and massive scale (relative to the size of its populace). The US is nowhere near as bad as it.

The only viable options we have for pressuring them to stop their atrocities are sanctions and an actual war. Unless you either support their human-rights violations or actually losing lives in a war, then you should be applauding those sanctions.


We need more imagination than this, and more hope. Lots of situations have been defused through dialogue rather than aggression. Maybe DPRK is uniquely awful. However, we've been aggressive for nearly seven decades now. When our goofball President tried dialing back the aggression a few notches, he was pilloried for it. How many more decades must the aggression continue with no good result before we can stop "applauding"?

Before you repeat for the nine-trillionth time that KJU is a bad guy... yes, we know. He might suffer for his sins, in this world or the next, he might not. He might be a lot worse than other autocrats, whom USA supports, he might not. Why is it important that we distill every situation into the most cartoonish good-guy/bad-guy terms? Cui bono?


Kim, et al, are certainly awful, but what makes North Korea unique is how dangerous they are. They could kill an enormous amount of people in Seoul: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/tools/TL200/TL271...

And they have been eagerly pursuing nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capacity for decades, complete with long-range missiles: https://www.nti.org/learn/countries/north-korea/

The goal of sanctions (which are part of extensive dialogue) is to limit the DPRK's ability to threaten even more people, and to push them back toward more discussion and more engagement. I'd love it if that had been even more successful, but if you think "no good result" has been achieved, you haven't been following the situation.


The idea that anyone, Kims included, in DPRK wants to transition from the current luxurious situation of absolute personal sovereignty to a more glassed-over desert type situation is an example of the cartoon thinking I described above. No one in DPRK with a hand on any button is insane. (Can USA make that claim?) I agree that the absence of nuclear destruction is better than its presence, but let's not be cute. It is the warhawks like Bolton and HRC and Elliott Abrams who always want to ratchet up the pressure because the sky is falling, whether that's the sky over Libya or Korea or Venezuela or wherever. Many people without a financial interest in the inexorable conversion of USA resources into armaments are fine with less: less pressure, less haste, less aggression, less isolation, less single-mindedness, less faux "certainty".

Good thing I don't believe that then.

What I do believe is that Kim, like many dictators, is aware that there's no falling from #1 to #2. He won't go from absolute monarch to being like Queen Elizabeth. Maybe he gets a modestly comfortable exile in China with an ongoing risk of trial or revenge killing, but more likely he goes like Gaddafi or bin Laden: him and his heirs shot and dumped in unmarked graves, forever reviled.

So he doesn't have to be insane at all to be willing to shell Seoul or nuke Fairbanks. He just has to believe that might be enough to save his life and let him hold on to power. (Or, if he thinks he can't, to want revenge.) And of course to believe that other people's lives are entirely unimportant compared to his, which is pretty obvious given how he treats the people he rules. Or how he treated his half brother.

I agree that Bolton and the warhawks are nearly as monstrous. But that doesn't mean that the widely agreed policy of containment through sanctions is driven by them. Indeed, Bolton publicly argued for a first strike. Which to my mind makes him as sociopathic as Kim.


Sure, it might be true that DPRK is a uniquely threatening situation. It might be true that the right way to deal with this unique situation is constant aggression, over the decades even unto centuries. That's certainly what we've read in the papers.

Except, we've read that of at least ten other situations in the last two decades. Over the last seven decades, we've read that of probably thirty more. As history has unfolded, that claim has never been true. The war media might be right eventually, and maybe DPRK will be the place. It's just that they've been wrong so much, at least since the Mexican-American War.

Mainstream journalism's war on the American people is not only an assault on peace, on innocents in other lands, or on our wallets. It is primarily an attack on epistemology. We have been gaslit our entire lives. If the world were not dangerous enough to require vast nuclear and other lethal arsenals, how would we know?


Well deserved. There isn't much else to add. And on top of that he has the audacity to set foot on American soil again.

No matter how you look at this, this indictment now shows that we are not free to travel as we wish.

I don't understand the waves of down votes in this thread. Not very HN-like.

It's very HN-like to downvote a flamebait comment made without any details, reasoning, or evidence.

Is it adding anything to the conversation?
syshum 13 days ago [flagged]

Yes it is. Libertarianism is not a welcome here

People with opposite politics have the opposite picture:

HN often aligns with more Libertarian ideologies https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21316611

There is a definite right-libertarian bias on HN, whether you want to acknowledge that or not. Everything not toeing that line is attacked and downvoted https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21432833

Hacker News has become a forum for uber nationalistic right-winged libertarians https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21231654

There's a lot of very neoliberal or libertarian politics going on in the comments round here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21186128

hacker news is a bubble of mostly middle class white male libertarians https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20637454

If you go against any kind of socially conservative or libertarian perspective it will get down voted and very likely flagged. It's always been this way. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20643695

It's totally expected. This is a heavy technolibertarian site https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19230037

the techno-libertarian norm around here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18671955

Hacker News has a libertarian leaning ideology among both its community and site-runners https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16019694

Because it's HN, where opinions other than "hooray libertarian technocracy" are frowned upon https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15307091

this site is a haven for alt-right and libertarian people who believe this stuff https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14205262

There are just as many claims of the opposite; see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21449589 and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21245485. In reality, HN is a large pluralistic community, with more than enough material to support any impression of bias that you're primed for. The comments you dislike make a stronger impression than the comments you agree with, building up a feeling that the community is against you. This can't be a function of HN, because HN is the same for everybody. Rather, it's in the eye of the beholder: an afterimage of the things they ran into and disliked here. The phenomenon is so consistent that you can not only predict what someone's opinions are, but also how intensely they hold them, from their image of the community's bias.


I appreciate that you are passionate on the point @dang, but I read those comments you link as confirming there is a perception among users that folks are flaming and downvoting on HN to pursue a political or ideological agenda. They flame and downvote each other, I guess. I love HN, but I'm not impressed by the quality of this discourse or by labels like 'flamebait', anecdotally it's getting worse, and I'm not even convinced the activity even is that authentic or organic.

I don't see a disagreement here? Yes, politically committed users flame and downvote each other, and the quality of the discourse when they do that is unimpressive.

That's part of it. But I think it's bigger-- when it comes to topics like this, especially legal/economic ones, a community that ordinarily impresses on technical and scientific subjects as wise and timeless, displays a bizarre groupthink that levels at a secondary school-level sophistication. It's sad.

Hacker arrested for sharing information.

what he's essentially doing is aiding/abetting.

Be careful with that.

So in-person talks is aiding and abetting?

What about videoconference?

What about emails?

What about a semi-hidden webpage meant primarily for them?

Or how about a general developer FAQ that would get anybody dev-minded up to speed?

Where do we draw this line of "aiding and abetting"? Material good? Information? Congratulations? This appears to be strongly a 1st amendment issue of speech. Not that I like NK, but that point is a distractor. Why is it a crime to talk about cryptocurrency and monetary censorship of countries?


Attorney here! (Not providing legal advice - seek licensed counsel in your jurisdiction if you need legal advice.)

Any act that would provide material assistance is sufficient. Criminal law is pretty liberal about what constitutes an "act" in furtherance of a crime. If it concerns you, stay far far away.

But merely publishing information in a book or on a publicly-accessible website for all to see is not generally going to get in you trouble (subject of course to copyright, publishing classified information, etc.).


>>But merely publishing information in a book or on a publicly-accessible website for all to see is not generally going to get in you trouble

They Tried that, but that pesky 1st amendment got in the way. Research the CyptoWars (which is seems are heating up all over again) and the PGP Source Code Book.

The US Government has been attempting to censor speech for as long as it has been in existence. the latest attack on crypto by the US Government for "national security" reasons is just the latest in the long line of abuses


What happened wasn't an attack on crypto at all.

Intent matters.

The answer to "where do we draw the line" is that all the things you describe would be aiding and abetting if a jury would be convinced that you did it with an intent to aid them.

If you write "a general developer FAQ that would get anybody dev-minded up to speed" with the intent to help general developers everywhere and DPRK uses that, that's okay; but if you write the exact same FAQ content with an intent to help DPRK get that information because you figure out that just sending it directly in an email might be too visible, then that would be a crime, if intent can be established - based on e.g. your earlier communication and writings.

It's a prohibition on trying to achieve a specific result, not on a prohibition on any particular means of achieving that result.


...information can be things like the names of US spies embedded with the Taliban or Isis. Or the the blind spot of USA defense systems. Or how to poison (insert city) water supply... you get the point.

I get your point, but then again, classified information is protected and different from the technical information shared in this case, and how to poison a water supply is on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_supply_terrorism

Many types of technical information are also protected. Not in the "classified" sense but in the sense that there are legal controls around exporting it to certain nations. Especially nations under UN sanctions.

Fair enough. Just offering an alternative/oldskool reading of this situation (this thread started out surprisingly negative against a mindset that used to be common among hackers). Laws on sharing information can sometimes be at odds with the hacker spirit of freeing information, for instance in the case of Aaron Swartz.

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