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Lead bitcoin developer invited into CIA headquarters (bitcoin.org)
78 points by mike_esspe on Apr 28, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments

Good to see something happening. I hadn't seen anything regarding Bitcoin on HN for about 24 hours and was starting to get worried.

I hate to whine, but has an editor/admin looked at the volume of bitcoin submissions and any possible voting block behavior on the stories? A new bitcoin story seems to have shown up every few days for the past several months, with many of the same posters adding support in the comments every time.

Let's take this story for example. Let's frame it in general terms. A leader of an open source project is going to be speaking in a few months at a meeting that isn't open to the public, and he doesn't suggest he'll be presenting anything new.

Would this be newsworthy on HN for any normal project? Highly unlikely. Many of the bitcoin stories seem to be similar - press about bitcoin that offers nothing that hasn't been said here 100 times.

If the voting and interest is organic, then fine, so be it. But maybe somebody could take a look and see. There is an obvious incentive to certain speculators holding bitcoin to hype it as much as possible in an attempt to fuel the already extreme fluctuations that occur in its trading.

Imagine HackerNews existed in 1992, as an NNTP newsgroup, and reported stories about this new thing called the World Wide Web being developped by Berners-Lee. I wasn't there at the time, but I imagine that only a fraction of the people at the time understood the revolutionary capabilities of this technology, while most were indifferent, and perhaps, like you, a little annoyed if the WWW was repeatedly mentioned to you in a short timespan.

Of course we all know how significant the WWW turned out to be to human society in the next decade and later.

Well, IMHO, what is happening today in 2011 with Bitcoin is the same thing. When I first read about Bitcoin, I skimmed over it, thought it was a scam. Then it was mentioned to me again, and again, became curious, stumbled upon the white paper by accident (http://www.bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf), read it, and was amazed by the concepts, the design, the suprising capabilities offered by its clever use of cryptography. This is so different and so far ahead from any monetary system that exists today that I, for one, believe that Bitcoin is potentially as revolutionary as the WWW. The very fact we see so many submissions from different people about Bitcoin (the top 8 submission at http://www.google.com/search?q=+site:ycombinator.com+bitcoin are from 7 different HN accounts, so it is not like there is a core group of fanboys spamming HN), and the fact that HN is a community with a high concentration of smart folks, shows that Bitcoin is certainly onto something... In fact, a seemingly overabundance of submissions for a specific technology is exactly one thing I would recognize as a sign of the potentially next WWW-level revolutionary tech...

Mark my words. Come back to this post 10 years from now :-)

The problem with that analogy is that the world wide web wasn't some sort of tradeable commodity with thin exchange markets that people were being widely encouraged to use to trade US dollars for - in ways that would most likely be considered illegal if we were talking about an OTC stock. That is to say, it's entirely different.

Mark my words. Come back to this post 10 years from now :-)

It's a rather cheap prediction - because of course if the bitcoin market collapses in the next few years it's pretty remote possibility that you'll ever have to revisit it.

True, some greedy people are almost certainly looking to profit by speculating on Bitcoin and generating buzz about it.

But, foremost, I can assure you there is a real, vibrant, and quickly growing community of users and merchants: http://www.bitcoin.org/smf/index.php?board=5.0 https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Trade

Would this be newsworthy on HN for any normal project?

I think it would be newsworthy if Linus was invited to speak at the CIA, or Andy Rubin, so: yes.

But maybe somebody could take a look and see.

What sort of pattern would qualify as not organic to you? I didn't vote up this story, but I'm happy to see it on the front page because I think Bitcoin is probably the most fascinating hack I've seen in several years.

Full disclosure: I own 154.74 BTC, although I couldn't care less about it as an investment. I just think it's cool technologically and politically.

I think it would be newsworthy if Linus was invited to speak at the CIA, or Andy Rubin, so: yes.

I find it pretty hard to believe that linus would either a) send a warning to a mailing list that he'd be speaking at Langley in a few months or b) that anyone would link to such a low content post on HN.

What sort of pattern would qualify as not organic to you?

First five to ten votes of each story mostly coming from different people/ips. Or whatever standard HN usually uses to break voting blocks or set a spammy url to auto-dead.

I was one of the early upvotes on this story. I don't vote up most bitcoin stories, though I read most of them. It's an interesting topic, an extra-governmental currency.

I've been undecided about the prospects of bitcoin as anything more than a fringe activity. I have the software installed, but I never run it. I have like 0.05 bitcoin I got from some free source when I first came across it. In other words, I have no vested interest.

But this story seemed to be the first early indication that people with actual influence on the world were giving bitcoin some interest. So I voted up for two reasons - 1. To see if anyone in this community of tech savvy people would have any commentary of value on it. 2. To flag it as an early warning sign of a disruptive tech to follow up on later.

So. No bloc here, and I was in the first five.

Thanks, I appreciate you chiming in. I'm glad to know it sounds like my suspicions were wrong.

But I like HN stories about bitcoin! Very genuinely interested in it, not just a speculator. (Actually, I don't trade bitcoins on the exchanges anymore)

Sure, of course you're a global moderator at the bitcoin.org forums, right? With nearly 4,000 posts there in the last 9 months? It's hard to imagine you need to come to HN to see links back to your own forum and other stories that you've already read.

I vote up a lot of the BitCoin Stories - wish there were more of them. While I hold 48.5 BTC, I don't believe I'm speculating/hyping it.

The CIA story didn't have much in it - couldn't be bothered to upvote it, but I can understand why others might - The CIA is interested in BitCoins. How cool is that.

My guess is that some of the best cryptographers and mathematicians you've never heard of will be in the audience for that presentation.

boring. this business model is well known.

1 create a popular encrypted system the CIA can't see inside of. 2 get invited into CIA headquarters. 3 [redacted] 4 retire.

3) is known as an offer you can't refuse.

I'd say their primary interest is knowing how to watch payment flow. They'll develop ways to discover patterns in payment and deduce who is part of what network. Unlikely to disrupt, rather find ways to leverage it.

"I think the goals of this project are to create a better currency, create a more competitive and efficient international payment system, and give people more direct control over their finances. And I don't think any of those goals are incompatible with the goals of government."

Aren't these goals are completely at odds with the goals of the government, or do I read too much Chomsky?

If the government doesn't have a backdoor in allowing them to track and/or tax every transaction, you bet your ass it's incompatible with the goals of government!

With bitcoin, they do. No backdoor, but the entire transaction log is public. It's even easier for the tax man because they don't have to query data from banks. Bitcoin is not a tax avoidance scheme and never meant to be.

The sooner they come up with a legal way to tax bitcoins, the better it is for business adoption, I guess...

More like, it's completely at odds with the BIS and their private reserve bank international monetary system. If bitcoin manages to disrupt that, hoo boy will we be living interesting times then.

I don't think the government would deny either.

The elephant in the room is that in addition to the obvious upside these platforms are ripe for money laundering.

History tells us that the CIA doesn't necessarily mind.

CIA would be a big user of bitcoins. There are a few operations that they don't want the money to be traced.

Which is the interesting push and pull of our government. While the CIA would love to be able to launder money through a system such as this, the FBI are probably fuming over how much more difficult their job will become because of it.

Didn't Tor start out as a project for spies to communicate?

Current currencies "cash platform" already provides such services. Also offshoring, lobbying, loopholes in the law and creative accounting.

There is no elephant here.

Pretty tough to send cash anonymously over the internet.

Bitcoin is pseudo anonymous. Everyone knows about all the transactions - they are kept in the block chain that all the clients have, you can only try to hide the real identities of the persons involved in transactions, and that is still quite hard, and anonymity could be attacked using different techniques (see Tor anonymity problems)

It was a bit harder(more costly) before Bitcoin to send small sums "anonymously", but if you have millions or billions there is a whole industry of lawyers/accountants/bankers to help you out. So in that perspective Bitcoin brings anonymity to the common people, lowers the barriers to entry, or you can also say that it brings the era of financial democracy upon us :)

Tor type attacks won't work here. Why? Because transactions go to everyone. Bitcoin "addresses" are really key fingerprints -- it's impossible to know who has the key to decrypt a given Bitcoin. It's equivalent to sending everyone in the world an encrypted email; if you send it to everyone, how do you know who the intended recipient is?

On the other hand, once you receive bitcoins at an address, you have to reuse that address in order to finally spend them, which interrelates the transactions in a way that's visible to everyone. The only way to limit traffic analysis is to use and trust some service like the bitcoin laundry, which will accept coins from one address and send distinct coins to another address.

Not true - you can generate a new address for each transaction without affecting your "wallet".

But the block chain remembers the current owning address of coins. You can't create a new address and use it to spend coins which you received at an old address, for the same reason I can't spend coins which belong to you. (You could transfer coins between your own addresses, but that's also publicly visible and wouldn't solve the traffic analysis problem.)

Should be "Lead Bitcoin Developer Invited into CIA Headquarters"

Don't waste your time on them. They just want to reduce the costs of carrying around cash in black satchels. Get feedback from the NSA instead.

There have been some suggestions that the CIA backed Tor so they may be willing to support such systems.

PS: According to Wikipedia Tor Originally sponsored by the US Naval Research Laboratory,[10] so that's another group that's probably worth looking into.

... and he never came out. </obligatory-joke>

into the belly of the beast

Have to imagine they are heavily mining bitcoin as well.

To what end? Given that they're funded by the US govt. if they need more cash, they can just ask Uncle Sam to warm up the printer...

Seriously though, why would mining bitcoins benefit them?

Best way to control a currency you can't print is to own most of it.

Let me answer your question with a question: Is it completely unlikely that having a large stash of bitcoin is going to be useful to them?

I think the answer is a resounding 'no.' If it put myself in their shoes, with unlimited resources, I would be like "throw a couple teraflops at this ASAP."

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