Assassination Politics

grarpamp grarpamp at
Wed Aug 4 22:40:37 PDT 2021

Meet The 'Assassination Market' Creator Who's Crowdfunding Murder With Bitcoins
Andy Greenberg

As Bitcoin becomes an increasingly popular form of digital cash, the
cryptocurrency is being accepted in exchange for everything from socks
to sushi to heroin. If one anarchist has his way, it'll soon be used
to buy murder, too.

Last month I received an encrypted email from someone calling himself
by the pseudonym Kuwabatake Sanjuro, who pointed me towards his recent
creation: The website Assassination Market, a crowdfunding service
that lets anyone anonymously contribute bitcoins towards a bounty on
the head of any government official--a kind of Kickstarter for
political assassinations. According to Assassination Market's rules,
if someone on its hit list is killed--and yes, Sanjuro hopes that many
targets will be--any hitman who can prove he or she was responsible
receives the collected funds.

For now, the site's rewards are small but not insignificant. In the
four months that Assassination Market has been online, six targets
have been submitted by users, and bounties have been collected ranging
from ten bitcoins for the murder of NSA director Keith Alexander and
40 bitcoins for the assassination of President Barack Obama to 124.14
bitcoins--the largest current bounty on the site--targeting Ben
Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve and public enemy number one
for many of Bitcoin's anti-banking-system users. At Bitcoin's current
rapidly rising exchanges rate, that's nearly $75,000 for Bernanke's
would-be killer.

Sanjuro's grisly ambitions go beyond raising the funds to bankroll a
few political killings. He believes that if Assassination Market can
persist and gain enough users, it will eventually enable the
assassinations of enough politicians that no one would dare to hold
office. He says he intends Assassination Market to destroy "all
governments, everywhere."

"I believe it will change the world for the better," writes Sanjuro,
who shares his handle with the nameless samurai protagonist in the
Akira Kurosawa film "Yojimbo." (He tells me he chose it in homage to
the creator of the online black market Silk Road, who called himself
the Dread Pirate Roberts, as well Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto.)
"Thanks to this system, a world without wars, dragnet panopticon-style
surveillance, nuclear weapons, armies, repression, money manipulation,
and limits to trade is firmly within our grasp for but a few bitcoins
per person. I also believe that as soon as a few politicians gets
offed and they realize they've lost the war on privacy, the killings
can stop and we can transition to a phase of peace, privacy and
The Forbes E-book On Bitcoin Secret Money: Living on Bitcoin in the
Real World, by Forbes staff writer Kashmir Hill, can be bought in
Bitcoin or legal tender.

I contacted the Secret Service and the FBI to ask if they're
investigating Assassination Market, and both declined to comment.

Like other so-called "dark web" sites, Assassination Market runs on
the anonymity network Tor, which is designed to prevent anyone from
identifying the site's users or Sanjuro himself. Sanjuro's decision to
accept only Bitcoins is also intended to protect users, Sanjuro, and
any potential assassins from being identified through their financial
transactions. Bitcoins, after all, can be sent and received without
necessarily tying them to any real-world identity. In the site's
instructions to users, Sanjuro suggests they run their funds through a
"laundry" service to make sure the coins are anonymized before
contributing them to anyone's murder fund.

As for technically proving that an assassin is responsible for a
target's death, Assassination Market asks its killers to create a text
file with the date of the death ahead of time, and to use a
cryptographic function known as a hash to convert it to a unique
string of characters. Before the murder, the killer then embeds that
data in a donation of one bitcoin or more to the victim's bounty. When
a target is successfully murdered, he or she can send Sanjuro the text
file, which Sanjuro hashes to check that the results match the data
sent before the target's death. If the text file is legitimate and
successfully predicted the date of the killing, the sender must have
been responsible for the murder, according to Sanjuro's logic. Sanjuro
says he'll keep one percent of the payout himself as a commission for
his services.

Just reading about that coldly calculative system of lethal violence
likely inspires queasy feelings or outrage. But Sanjuro says that the
public's abhorrence won't prevent the system from working. And as a
matter of ethics, he notes that he'll accept only user-suggested
targets "who have initiated force against other humans. More
specifically, only people who are outside the reach of the law because
it has been subverted and corrupted, and whose victims have no other
way to take revenge than to do so anonymously."

Even setting aside the immorality of killing, doesn't the notion of
enabling small minorities of angry Bitcoin donors to assassinate
elected officials sound like an attempt to cripple democracy? "Of
course, limiting democracy is why we even have a constitution,"
Sanjuro responds. "Majority support does not make a leader legitimate
any more than it made slavery legitimate. With this market the great
equalising forces of capitalism have the opportunity to work in
politics too. One bitcoin paid is one vote closer to a veto of
whatever legislation you dislike."

Sanjuro didn't actually invent the concept of an anonymous crowdfunded
assassination market. The idea dates back to the cypherpunk movement
of the mid-1990s, whose adherents dreamt of using encryption tools to
weaken the government and empower individuals. Former Intel engineer
and Cypherpunk Mailing List founder Tim May argued that uncrackable
secret messages and untraceable digital currency would lead to
assassination markets in his "Cryptoanarchist's Manifesto" written in

A few years later, another former Intel engineer named Jim Bell
proposed a system of funding assassinations through encrypted,
anonymous donations in an essay he called "Assassination Politics."
The system he described closely matches Sanjuro's scheme, though
anonymity tools like Tor and Bitcoin were mostly theoretical at the
time. As Bell wrote then:

    If only 0.1% of the population, or one person in a thousand, was
willing to pay $1 to see some government slimeball dead, that would
be, in effect, a $250,000 bounty on his head. Further, imagine that
anyone considering collecting that bounty could do so with the
mathematical certainty that he could not be identified, and could
collect the reward without meeting, or even talking to, anybody who
could later identify him. Perfect anonymity, perfect secrecy, and
perfect security. And that, combined with the ease and security with
which these contributions could be collected, would make being an
abusive government employee an extremely risky proposition. Chances
are good that nobody above the level of county commissioner would even
risk staying in office.

Bell would later serve years in prison for tax evasion and stalking a
federal agent, and was only released in March of 2012. When I
contacted him by email, he denied any involvement in Sanjuro's
Assassination Market and declined to comment on it.

Sanjuro tells me he's long been aware of Bell's idea. But he only
decided to enact it after the past summer's revelations of mass
surveillance by the NSA exposed in a series of leaks by agency
contractor Edward Snowden. "Being forced to alter my every happy
memory during internet activity, every intimate moment over the phone
with my loved ones, to also include some of the people I hate the most
listening in, analysing the conversation, was the inspiration I needed
to embark on this task," he writes. "After about a week of muttering
'they must all die' under my breath every time I opened a newspaper or
turned on the television, I decided something had to be done. This is
my contribution to the cause."

Assassination Market isn't the first online service to suggest funding
murder with bitcoins. Other Tor-hidden websites with names like Quick
Kill, Contract Killer and C'thulhu have all claimed to offer murders
in exchange for bitcoin payments. But none of them responded to my
attempts to contact their administrators, and all required advanced
payments for their services, so they may be scams.

And how do Assassination Market's users know that it's not a similar
fraud scheme designed to steal users' bitcoins? "You don't," Sanjuro
admits. But he argues that if it were a scam, it would be a very
complex and risky one, given that even threatening to harm the
president of the United States is a felony.

Kuwabatake Sanjuro, the ronin samurai in the film "Yojimbo" whose
pseudonym the Assassination... [+]

Other than that, "I can but appeal personally," Sanjuro writes. "I
live a comfortable, albeit somewhat spartan life, and the only thing
that really pains me is the increasing attacks on the liberties I
enjoy in my daily life, mainly my personal privacy. I cannot buy that
with money, so I have no need of it. There is nothing I want more than
to see this project succeed, and for that I need dead politicians."

If the system does prove to work, the launch of Assassination Market
may be ill-timed for Sanjuro, given law enforcement's recent crackdown
on the dark web. In August, the FBI used an exploit in Tor to take
down the web hosting firm Freedom Hosting and arrest its founder Eric
Eoin Marques, who is accused of offering his services to child
pornography sites. And just last month, the FBI also seized the
popular Bitcoin- and Tor-based black market for drugs known as Silk
Road and arrested its alleged creator, Ross Ulbricht.

Sanjuro counters that in addition to Tor, Bitcoin, and the usual
encryption tools, he has "measures in place to prevent the
effectiveness of such an arrest. Naturally these will have to be kept

He adds that, like an earlier generation of cypherpunks, he puts his
faith in the mathematical promise of cryptography to trump the
government's power to stop him. "With cryptography, the state, or any
protection firm, is largely obsolete...all activity that can be
reduced to information transfer will be completely out of the
government's, or anyone's, hands, other than the parties involved," he

"I am a crypto-anarchist," Sanjuro concludes. "We have a bright future
ahead of us."

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