Extropian & NSA Roots of Bitcoin, Cypherpunks, Wikileaks + UNICEF
by the wonderful Sebs Solomon — June 23, 2022
At some point last year, while I was reading a blog post by Vitalik Buterin about Futarchy — a theoretical government controlled by speculative markets — I came across Robin Hanson and the extropians. In the post, Buterin claims that a long-term benefit of technology and the concept behind decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) is that it allows humans to quickly “prototype and experiment with an aspect of our social interactions that is so far arguably falling behind our rapid advancements in information and social technology elsewhere: organizational governance.”
Robin Hanson is the economist who originally proposed the idea of futarchy—which inspired Vitalik’s post. Although Hanson, himself, was not an extropian, he was prominent in those circles and regularly posted news on the Extropian Bulletin Board. More on Hanson later. For the moment, let’s focus on the extropians—this article on Wired (written in 1994) is a good introduction to the extropians for those who desire a thorough breakdown. The article lists the five principles of Extropianism as follows:
- boundless expansion
- dynamic optimism
- intelligent technology
- spontaneous order
Max More, who founded the extropian movement in the 1980’s, believed that the only reliable way “to gain knowledge and accomplish anything worthwhile, was through hard science and cold logic.” Max More came to this conclusion after he explored the esoteric realm and studied the occult (he had even started a Psychic Development and Research club at his university). More ended up completely rejecting spiritual concepts and traded it in for “hard” science and strict empiricism. The Extropian Institute also had ties to the United Nations and UNICEF Africa through the Friends of the UN program—which was involved in:
- educational outreach to high schools and universities
- establishing a relationship between the UN, media, and other entertainment industries
- distributing UN publications to schools, legislators, and media
The Extropy Institute website specifically mentions Tanya Accone on their website where they indicate that they are affiliated with UNICEF Africa—I could not find any other information that connects Tanya Accone to the Extropy Institute, but I will keep an eye out in the future.
Tanya Accone does have a LinkedIn account, though, and she is currently the senior advisor on innovation for UNICEF. Which makes her ties to the extropians more suspicious, but that’s just a guess on my part because, like I said, no other information linking her to the extropians exists (that I could find, anyway). Furthermore, Aconne’s affiliation with the extropians actually makes sense if we take the time to look at entities like the UNICEF Innovation Fund which is a crypto fund that supports research in blockchain, data science, AI, drones, and virtual and augmented reality (VR & AR). I’d say these are extropian friendly investments.
As I covered here last year, the UNICEF Innovation Fund came to fruition as a result of a partnership between UNICEF and Singularity University, establishing an Innovation Lab at the university campus. A large chunk of the funding came from Disney and the government of Denmark. Ben Goertzel, CEO of SingularityNET, is an advisor to Singularity University in Irvine and iCog Labs based out of Sheba Valley in Ethiopia. Furthermore, Goertzel is in the process of migrating SingularityNET from Ethereum to Cardano and, coincidentally, Cardano is currently registering the identities of five-million school children on blockchain in Ethiopia. In addition, the Jeffrey Epstein IV Foundation funded the OpenCog AI lab in Ethiopia; the same OpenCog associated with Ben Goertzel and iCog Labs. Check out this video titled Cardano, Digital ID, Ethiopia, and Human Capital Investment Markets with Alison McDowell (I learned about Cardano’s shenanigans by watching her presentation).
Bitcoin Pioneers & the NSA
An ABC article correctly highlights that many people involved in the cypherpunk movement, “were also part of an extraordinary subculture called the extropians — and their vision for technologies resembled science fiction” because a “currency free from government would help to create an ultra-free market that would create some sort of Utopia.” Moreover, since extropians were proponents of cryonics and expected to be revived from their cryogenically frozen state at some point in the future; they believed digital currencies could “act as a store of value no matter what changed in the decades or centuries before their revivification.” It’s also worth noting that Max More was head of Alcor — a world leader in cryonics.
Max More argued that the governments’ stronghold over society and the economy had to be overcome, “if humankind was to realize breakthrough technological advancements…conquer death and explore space.” His solution was to get the State out of the currency business and leave money to the free market — competition would determine the stability and value of private currencies. This piece on TuranSert.com explores some of the early pioneers of blockchain technology; such as, David Chaum, Nick Szabo, and Hal Finney.
David Chaum is known as one of the leading figures in the cypherpunk movement—he also invented digital cash or DigiCash which is a form of internet money that could change hands “anonymously” (I don’t believe anything that happens on the internet is truly anonymous). In 1995, DigiCash’s Ecash was adopted and issued by Deutsche Bank. So much for “taking down the central banking system” and building parallel economies—how is that possible when your “anonymous” digital cash is being used by behemoths like Deutsche Bank?
Furthermore, in 1996, the NSA was one of the first to outline a system similar to Bitcoin in a published paper titled How to Make a Mint: the Cryptography of Anonymous Electronic Cash that appeared on the MIT mailing list. According to CCN.com, the paper describes “a system very much like Bitcoin in which secure financial transactions are possible through the use of a decentralized network the researchers refer informally to as a Bank.” Four things are listed as being pivotal to the proposed network: privacy, user identification, message integrity (protect against double-spending), and nonrepudiation (protect against denial of transaction—also known as a blockchain). In addition, the NSA research paper refers to David Chaum (who is considered a “hero” in the world of privacy advocates).
Very odd. How can proponents of civil liberties not understand that the NSA’s connection to David Chaum (even if they were just referring to him in the paper) looks highly suspect? Is it just me or is something not adding up? The NSA is one of (if not the biggest) peepers in the game. They keep massive logs of metadata — from phone calls to private emails. How can you be “against” the national security state, while the national security state is using your “revolutionary” ideas to crystalize the panopticon being built around you?
Following in the footsteps of David Chaum, Nick Szabo created “bit-gold” and (supposedly) unlike paper money, this currency was universally accepted without the approval of any central authority. In 2001, Nick Szabo attended the fifth annual Extropy Institute conference or Extro-5 and spoke about smart contracts and how they solved “the problem of trust by being self-executing. For example, the key to a car sold on credit might only operate if the monthly payments have been made. Szabo also has an ambitious project in which all property is embedded with information about who owns it.” Some have expressed that these ideas are clear precursors of Bitcoin 2.0 technologies like Ethereum and decentralized finance (DeFi) as a whole.
Hal Finney introduced a reusable proof-of-work (RPoW) system before Bitcoin—it was based on Hashcash “the work of another cypherpunk Adam Beck and, in principle, was a foundation for Satoshi’s proof-of-work algorithm.” It is reported that he worked with Satoshi Nakamoto when the bitcoin white paper was being drafted and, in fact, Finney was the first recipient of Bitcoin sent by Nakamoto. After he died, Hal Finney was cryopreserved by Alcor Life Extension—he made arrangements with them for the next 20 years. Cryonics was often discussed on the Extropians mailing list—Hal was a frequent participant in the forum and Julian Assange is known to have occasionally lurked.
Cypherpunks, Wikileaks & BlackNet
Hal Finney’s fellow Extropian, Tim May (who was critical of the “get-rich-quick” mentality of the cryptocurrency industry) was instrumental in spreading the “extropian cause” of creating digital cash—he started “recruiting privacy activists, programmers and cryptographers from the Bay Area, with his recruitment efforts extending to a special mailing list centered around the Extropian cause.” The group assembled by May is now known as the Cypherpunks. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Tim May’s legacy had been clouded:
By his frequent and unapologetically offensive statements in online forums. In 2003 he wrote that he would welcome a nuclear strike on Washington because it would kill a million criminal politicians and two million inner-city welfare mutants.
He sure sounds like a man of the people, advocating for the eradication of many struggling people in Washington, DC (whom he referred to as “inner-city welfare mutants”). Now, that quote could have been taken out of context, so I cannot say for sure what he meant by that, but it’s still unsettling to read even if it was a joke (it’s in poor taste). Maybe that’s just me, I’ll leave it at that.
One of May’s experiments was an open-source information sharing website called BlackNet—an idea that WikiLeaks would use “twenty-years later to obtain and publish its megaleaks of classified information.” Tim May’s Cypherpunk Mail List influenced many characters in the history of anonymous data leaks; such as: John Young (co-founder of Cryptome), the creators of Tor, Jacob Appelbaum, and Julian Assange. In this article, Jesse Hicks makes the astute observation that:
“WikiLeaks really isn’t the story, so much as an episode in a movement that existed before WikiLeaks and will persist after WikiLeaks is gone. Wikileaks seems like a germ of an idea always on the verge of becoming reality: from Tim May’s BlackNet proposal on the cypherpunk mailing list to Roger Dingledine’s idea of a distributed, anonymous publishing system (which would later become the Tor project).” — The Verge
So, what was BlackNet?
Timothy May’s BlackNet was in the business of buying, selling, trading, and otherwise dealing with information in all its many forms. The outline appeared online in 1993 and it read as follows:
BlackNet is currently building its information inventory. We are interested
in information in the following areas, though any other juicy stuff is
always welcome. If you think it’s valuable, offer it to us first:
- trade secrets, processes, production methods (esp. in semiconductors)
- nanotechnology and related techniques (esp. the Merkle sleeve bearing)
- chemical manufacturing and rational drug design (esp. fullerenes and
- new product plans, from children’s toys to cruise missiles
- business intelligence, mergers, buyouts, and rumors
BlackNet could also make anonymous deposits to any bank account where local banking laws permit, can mail cash directly, or can issue “CryptoCredits” which were the internal currency of BlackNet—which could then be used to buy other information. Does this not sound very similar to Wikileaks? Let us not forget that the first two countries Wikileaks revealed information about were Somalia (in 2006) and Kenya (in 2007) because Wikileaks’ primary targets “were closed societies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East”—all right before the Arab Spring (how convenient).
According to the internal Wikileaks emails, made public by Cryptome, Wikileaks decided to rush forward and release the first Bourbaki article that was based on a Somali government leak that was handed over to China then submitted to Wikileaks—all while the “war on terror” was afoot and the CIA was funding Somali warlords to fight against the Islamic Court Union (ICU). Following the events of 9/11, the western hemisphere launched a War on Terror and the U.S. was suspicious that Somalia was a breeding ground:
For terrorist attacks against American interests in East Africa. This threat increased when Islamic Court Union (ICU) consolidated its power in southern Somalia after defeating US-allied warlords in June 2006. The ICU did bring a respite of law and peace for some six months, following fifteen years of warfare and chaos. But this was short-lived. Armed with economic and political support from Washington, neighboring Ethiopia invaded southern Somalia and occupied Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, under the pretext of the War on Terror. As many as 1 million people are reported to have been displaced and more than 10,000 were estimated to have been killed in Mogadishu.
I cannot attest to the observation that the ICU brought “peace” to Somalia for six-months because there is no way for me to know that; however, I find it peculiar that Somalia was the first country that Wikileaks released information about, especially when that was around the time Bush was creating AFRICOM. Why was Wikileaks so focused on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East? Check out my video here for a full breakdown of my qualms with Wikileaks.
Speaking of Terrorism:
I started off this post writing about Robin Hanson—a futurist and economist involved with the extropians who, himself, was not an extropian. He hails from George Mason University and is affiliated with the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford. He was the principal architect of the Foresight Exchange in 1994, was integral to the DARPA Policy Analysis Market, and also had a position at IARPA (the CIA’s DARPA).
In 2003, Robin Hanson (sponsored by the Pentagon) proposed a futures market in terrorism indicators called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM). The Register accurately states, “Hanson was the ideal candidate to organize an online terror futures market, because the fellow has never met a futures exchange he didn’t like. Or more accurately, he’s never seen a problem that can’t be fixed by setting up a futures exchange.”
The policy was shot down, but some speculate that it was rebranded and implemented in a different way (not surprising). I will never understand how anyone could think that a market set up to forecast “political instability” that may lead to “terrorism” could work well — imagine the damage that could be done when (not if) people try to manipulate such a market? What a completely bonkers idea — brought to you by the same or adjacent extropian ilk.
Peace and blessings,