FBI Forms New Bitcoin Unit As DOJ Taps New Crypto Head

The bureau’s new ‘virtual asset exploitation’ unit will focus on blockchain analysis, cryptocurrency seizures, and staff training.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) appointed a seasoned computer crimes prosecutor as the first director of its National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET) and announced that the FBI is launching a new unit dedicated to providing analysis and training in cryptocurrency matters across the bureau.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a virtual address to the Munich Cyber Security Conference Thursday that the FBI’s Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit will bring together investigators with expertise in blockchain analysis and virtual asset seizure, reported Business Insider.

The bureau’s new unit will also collaborate with DOJ’s NCET, the department said in a statement Thursday.

“The NCET will identify, investigate, support and pursue the department’s cases involving the criminal use of digital assets, with a particular focus on virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, infrastructure providers, and other entities that are enabling the misuse of cryptocurrency and related technologies to commit or facilitate criminal activity,” per the statement.

The statement also detailed the appointment of NCET’s first director, Eun Young Choi – a seasoned prosecutor with almost a decade of experience in the department that most recently served as senior counsel to Monaco. She served as lead prosecutor in the investigation of the J.P. Morgan Chase hack and the operation of Coin.mx.

“With the rapid innovation of digital assets and distributed ledger technologies, we have seen a rise in their illicit use by criminals who exploit them to fuel cyberattacks and ransomware and extortion schemes; traffic in narcotics, hacking tools and illicit contraband online; commit thefts and scams; and launder the proceeds of their crimes,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in a statement.

Director Choi’s appointment and the creation of the FBI’s new virtual asset exploitation unit come on the heels of the DOJ’s largest financial seizure ever. Earlier this month, the department said it had recovered billions of dollars worth of bitcoin allegedly stolen in a 2016 hack of Bitfinex, the cryptocurrency exchange affiliated with the world’s biggest stablecoin, Tether.

Despite the mainstream belief that bitcoin’s usage in criminal activity is elevated, the phenomenon has been accounting for an ever-smaller share of total cryptocurrency activity, recently reaching 0.15% of total transaction volume, according to a Chainalysis report.