Opinion: Analyzing the Virgil Griffith - North Korea Controversy

I've never been able to understand that when one country places a sanction on another, who is the ultimate victim? Is it the targeted country's government or its people? Its obvious that the objective of placing a sanction is to pressurize the other country's government but more often than not, its the people who end up being victimized.

Virgil Griffith (Image Credits: Ars Technica)

Its a very difficult question to answer though, maybe sanctions are a necessity to achieve certain objectives or even maintaining world peace. But the currently famous and buzzing controversy in the crypto currencies world has something to do with US sanctions.

So, our story starts in the early part of 2019 when our hero Virgil Griffith catches the "Snowden Syndrome" and has this wonderful idea of educating the North Koreans about using crypto-currencies so they can bypass sanctions placed upon them by the US!

Virgil travels to North Korea in April, 2019 to attend the "Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference" with this sole objective. Apparently, the US Department of Defense had expressly forbid his travel to North Korea before that.

And now, four days ago on 29th November, U.S. authorities arrest Ethereum research scientist Virgil Griffith for allegedly assisting North Korea in evading sanctionsThe US state authorities also allege that Griffith and his team of other technicians "discussed how the DPRK [North Korea] could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions.".

So, the whole crypto-currency world is now abuzz with speculations about what has transpired. For one, why did they arrest him now while the conference happened in April? Did something happen in between, or did Virgil's crypto currency training to North Koreans resulted in them making illegal use of them (such as money laundering)?

The world seems to be divided in opinion about what to make of Virgil, should they admire his work as yet another activism along the lines of Edward Snowden or Julian Assange? Or should they treat him as a criminal who helped perpetuate money laundering?

And in between all of this, Laura Shin happens to make this wonderful twitter thread today, effectively punching and bashing the already stereotyped villain - North Korean DPRK Dictatorship. The whole thread is about how bad the dictatorial regime is about suppressing the rights of the Koreans and treating them like prisoners and hence, Virgil's work should be somehow condemned.

Laura is essentially trying to rationalize Virgil's arrest without using the state's money laundering line but by arguing how the North Koreans should be left alone and nobody should interfere in their lives. 

But something doesn't quite add up about Laura's argument. For one, its not the DPRK or Kim Jong Un going after Virgil but its the US DoD! And they've been able to provide no good reasoning for Virgil's arrest apart from how his teaching could be indirectly used by some North Koreans to bypass US sanctions and indulge in money laundering. Is that enough to justify his prosecution?

Perhaps a lot needs to come to light about this story and only time will tell what's really going on behind the scenes.

Update

Another tweet from Nick Johnson, a lead developer on ETH project throws some more light on why Virgil went there in the first place. Apparently, Virgil is an enthusiast in this kind of activism and worked on similar projects before. For example, Virgil was the guy who helped declare ETH as Halal earlier this year in an effort to bring peace between the ETH and ETC projects. He is also said to have done a symbolic transfer of 1 ETH (about $200) from North to South Korea which has supposedly triggered this arrest.

One important question has remained unanswered in this whole story: Why is Kim Jong Un so silent on this issue while the USA thought it so urgent to stop Virgil's activities? Shouldn't it be the other way round?

Update

Another update has just come, Virgil's lawyer Brian Klein has just said that DoJ has agreed to release Virgil once the bail amount is posted which usually takes a few weeks. However, DoJ still insists that they have evidence against Virgil and they are moving to the trial, so Virgil's freedom will be temporary in any case.

No comments:

Post a Comment