This is an opinion editorial by Kyle Schneps, director of public policy at Foundry, a Digital Currency Group company.
The legacy Cold War system of defection rewarded the elite few who chose to publicly opt out of authoritarian regimes in favor of Western democracies. The Bitcoin network now allows all people, no matter their station or class, to privately opt out of tyranny by investing autocrat-controlled currencies into a decentralized global system of financial independence.
Walking through the labyrinthine hallways of the CIA’s headquarters late at night during the 1960s, you would eventually notice a wedge of faint smokey light as you passed one particular office suite on the top floor. Following the trail of light and peering inside, you would see a gaunt bespectacled man hunched over countless volumes of poetry and stacks of human intelligence case files. A single dim bulb would highlight an overflowing ashtray and a perpetually wrinkled brow. You would be looking at James Jesus Angleton, the grandfather of U.S. counterintelligence analysis and operations — and also one of the most controversial figures in the gray corners of U.S. history.
Angleton was a student of poetry at Yale who was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. He learned much of his tradecraft from British Intelligence during the war, and those controversial relationships would be both a boon and detriment to his career forever after. He would become a key figure in transitioning the OSS into its later incarnation as the Central Intelligence Agency. Most singular to Angleton was his belief that the skills needed to understand and decipher complex poetry were similar to those needed to understand elaborate intelligence operations, specifically those of the Soviet Union, which were to occupy him day and night during his twenty years as head of CIA counterintelligence.
Angleton dedicated the most controversial years of his tenure at the CIA to finding moles and untangling the elaborate Soviet plots that often used double and triple agents to mislead and disinform. Moreover, Angleton had a unique obsession with defectors. A defector is a person, usually someone in an elite position with access to important information, who abandons his or her country in favor of a new country that often has an opposing or differing ideology. A defector is offered physical protection and financial reward for the information they provide. However, for Angleton, defectors represented a more troubling conundrum: how does one determine the veracity of a defector’s information, especially if that defector is part of a sophisticated intelligence organization like the KGB? Are they genuinely defecting and revealing valuable intelligence? Or are they defecting as part of a larger intelligence operation meant to mislead the U.S.? Perhaps one false defector is simply defecting in order to discredit a legitimate defector … and the hall of mirrors would circle round and round from there.
Perhaps the most controversial defector case of Angleton’s career involved Anatoliy Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko. Both Golitsyn and Nosenko were high-ranking KGB officers who were allowed to defect to the United States, but each offered contradicting intelligence discrediting the other. Eventually Angleton sided with Golitsyn, locking Nosenko up in a dark site in Maryland where he was denied access to his possessions and occasionally dosed with LSD. Four years later Nosenko was determined to be a bona fide agent and released from solitary confinement.
Due to the myriad doubts that defection raised regarding the legitimacy of the intelligence proffered, defectors generally became more valuable for their public propaganda than for their actual information. Many Soviet defectors to the United States were often paraded in front of the press to demonstrate the winning ideology of capitalism over communism. The Soviet Union did the same with British defectors who had run their course as agents and were relocated to the Soviet Union. For example, notorious British Intelligence officer and arguably the greatest traitor of all time, Kim Philby, was toured around Moscow to demonstrate the failures of Western capitalism. Thus defection during the Cold War eventually garnered more value as an ideological publicity statement than as a trusted source of human intelligence collection.
The problem, however, is that the ability to defect from a perceived tyrannical or authoritarian regime has until now been limited to elite personages who have access to sensitive information. There surely were many average citizens living under the draconian oppression of the Soviet Union who wished they could defect; who wished they could opt out of the control of the Soviet regime or, at the very least, safeguard their wealth. But they had no access to anything of value to the opposing systems that might receive them, and therefore they were left without options. They had to not only stay in the Soviet Union, but also to continue participating in and perpetuating its economic and cultural restrictions.
Bitcoin fixes this.
Bitcoin represents a monetary system that allows the average person, no matter where they live, to opt out of tyrannical and authoritarian regimes. Anybody with an internet connection can now cease all but the most necessary financial participation in the country in which they live by converting their state-controlled currency into a decentralized and incorruptible store of value. Value that can be stored privately or carried over borders by refugees without risk of confiscation; value that is free of debasement by a corrupt or incompetent regime; value that, while potentially volatile in the short term, has proven to be a hedge against inflationary policies in the long term.
Whereas those elite legacy defectors fleeing authoritarian regimes would be forced to leave their family and possessions behind, now anyone can opt out of the monetary shackles placed upon them by authoritarian regimes while still functioning in the society in which they live. By opting out of a tyrannical system and into a decentralized protocol like Bitcoin, there is no longer the worry of your wealth being confiscated by prejudicial laws, as has happened so many times throughout history. In an age when so much of our identity and personal choices are tracked by governments and corporations, Bitcoin offers the ultimate protection for the minority opinion in that it safeguards one’s wealth from a corrupt regime’s power players and political whims.
Since the United States has previously recognized that defection has more value as a public opportunity to champion Western ideals over those of tyranny, then we must now recognize that the Bitcoin network is defection 2.0, for it allows all people around the world to opt into a free and decentralized monetary system that cannot be manipulated by tyrants for personal gain. The legacy cold war system rewarded a small group of elites by allowing them to defect from tyranny. In return, the receiving nation was able to publicly claim a small ideological victory. It is worth sacrificing the public nature of the defection of the few for the private monetary defection of the many across the world who do not wish to participate in the strictures of authoritarian regimes. It is for this reason that so many authoritarian regimes, like the Chinese Communist Party and previously, the Supreme Leader of Iran, have banned this technology. They do not want the public quietly opting out of their control. The United States must embrace bitcoin as a symbol of the democratic and capitalist ideal, so that people can privately defect into a monetary system that safeguards their personal wealth and independence from tyrannical systems.
There is no better way of fighting corrupt autocratic regimes than supporting networks that allow the global public to opt out of all but the most necessary financial ties that bind them to such states. Of all these networks, Bitcoin is by far the best choice due to its decentralized nature, instant settlement, transportability and unrivaled security. The United States government would re-solidify its role as a beacon of democracy across the globe by offering its unwavering support for this technology, which decentralizes and level-sets the opportunity of defection across the world.
This is a guest post by Kyle Schneps. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.