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 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 laissez-faire.”
I contacted the Secret Service and the FBI to ask if they’re investigating Assassination Market, and both declined to comment.
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 1992.
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.
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.”
“I am a crypto-anarchist,” Sanjuro concludes. “We have a bright future ahead of us.”