Assassination Market website: A hub for hired killers?

First aired on Q (11/12/13)

Crowdfunding has become a common online tool for raising money for good causes or financing new inventions. But according Forbes technology writer Andy Greenberg, author of This Machine Kills Secrets, the rise of the virtual currency bitcoin has enabled the emergence of an assassination market buried deep in the internet, where a bounty can be put on any politician's head.

In a recent interview on Q, Greenberg told host Jian Ghomeshi that he was contacted by the alleged founder of the site in October, though he had already heard of Assassination Market. "I spotted it in the directory of hidden sites that run on an anonymity software called Tor," he said. In October, he received an encrypted email from the man who claimed to run the site. He used the pseudonym Kuwabatake Sanjuro, and said his intention was "to kill politicians and destroy the government as we know it."

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Greenberg went on to describe the website as "a kind of Kickstarter for murder. Anybody can make an anonymous donation, and pool together their funds on the head of some politician." An assassin has to provide proof they pulled off the hit (by predicting the date of the target's death in advance) in order to collect the bitcoin bounty.

Greenberg describes the rise of bitcoin as "absolutely key in making the whole black market online possible." He pointed out that Silk Road, an underground site that has been called "the of illegal drugs," also depends on the virtual currency, whis is untraceable.

Greenberg acknowledged that there's no hard evidence that the site is anything more than a distasteful prank. But he pointed out that bitcoin transactions are recorded in a public ledger, even though the ownership of the currency remains anonymous. "I can see that actually hundreds of thousands of dollars have been put into this site."

 It's also possible that the site is simply a scam, but when Greenberg raised that possibility with Sajuro, the site's alleged founder told him that there are easier ways to steal people's bitcoins.

When asked if was concerned about the ethics of giving Assassination Market publicity, Greenberg admitted that "we had internal debates at Forbes about this." But he thinks that best way to deal with such things is to expose them. "I believe that you have to write about scary things," he said. "But it's always a tough call."

Listen to the whole interview in the audio player above.

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