Everyone from early investors to cybercriminals has benefited from the huge spike in the value of bitcoin in the past few weeks. It’s a boon for one other outfit that has likely racked up tens of millions of dollars’ worth of the cryptocurrency: WikiLeaks.
The transparency organization may be sitting on a stockpile of bitcoin valued at around $25 million, and has likely exchanged several other large cryptocurrency caches for fiat cash, according to two sources who independently analyzed WikiLeaks’ bitcoin transactions.
“Last wallet looks like his piggy bank,” John Bambenek, a security expert who has previously tracked Neo-Nazis’ use of bitcoin, told The Daily Beast, pointing to a specific bitcoin address believed to be linked to WikiLeaks.
An oft-repeated myth is that bitcoin is an anonymous currency. Although it can sometimes be harder for observers to determine which bitcoin address belongs to whom, the blockchain—the ledger listing all bitcoin transactions—is entirely public. Using this, it’s often possible to see which bitcoin wallets are associated with one another, perhaps link them to real identities, and infer what a bitcoin transaction was for. As The Daily Beast has previously reported, some law-enforcement agencies, including the IRS, have purchased softwaredesigned to make tracking bitcoin easier.
Since at least 2011 WikiLeaks has allowed supporters to send bitcoin donations. As noted by James Ball, a journalist and former WikiLeaks staffer, whoever is in control of this address—presumably WikiLeaks—moved around 3,000 bitcoin, worth $800 each, into a series of other accounts on one day in December 2013. At the time of writing, only around 1.5 bitcoin, or about $23,000, remains in the advertised donation address.
So, where did WikiLeaks’ bitcoin fortune go?
Bambenek pointed to several addresses that all received a substantial amount of bitcoin from the main WikiLeaks address, and three WikiLeaks-linked addresses are holding around 1,500 bitcoin, or just shy of $25 million, at the time of publication. A second source, who has access to blockchain analysis software used by law-enforcement agencies but who asked to remain anonymous, independently came to the same conclusion. Bambenek added there are another dozen or so accounts that contain an additional 60 bitcoin.