The Feds Double Down: FBI Cryptocurrency Unit Adds to Growing U.S. Enforcement Measures Taken to Stop Crypto Crimes
A little over a week after announcing the DOJ’s largest ever financial seizure—$3.6 billion in Bitcoin from a 2016 hack of an exchange—yesterday U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced the formation of a new FBI unit dedicated to blockchain analysis and virtual asset seizure – the Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit. Speaking at the Munich Cyber Security Conference, Deputy AG Monaco said that the new unit will “combine cryptocurrency experts into one nerve center” and provide “blockchain analysis, virtual asset seizure, and training to the rest of the FBI.”
The formation of the Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit is the latest step by law enforcement to crack down on cyberattacks, in which cybercriminals often demand ransoms in cryptocurrencies. The Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit joins other cryptocurrency efforts within the Department of Justice, including a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET) within the Criminal Division, announced in October 2021. Deputy AG Monaco also announced yesterday that the first director of the NCET will be Eun Young Choi, a former senior counsel to the Deputy AG and former assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. It is anticipated that the investigative capacity of the new FBI unit will work closely with prosecutor counterparts at the NCET.
In her remarks, Deputy AG Monaco emphasized that the DOJ expects companies dealing in cryptocurrency to “root out cryptocurrency abuses…[a]nd to those who do not, we will hold you accountable where we can.” Deputy AG Monaco noted anti-money laundering and Know Your Customer requirements as two areas where private companies could improve. The remarks also suggested a potential shift in cybercrime investigation tactics to focus on crime-disruption measures such as providing decrypter keys and seizing servers potentially used for cybercrime attacks, even if such actions jeopardize criminal charges.