Coins for Bombs: The Predictive Ability of On-Chain Transfers for Terrorist Attacks

Dan Amiram, Bjørn N. Jørgensen, Daniel Rabetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This study examines whether we can learn from the behavior of blockchain-based transfers to predict the financing of terrorist attacks. We exploit blockchain transaction transparency to map millions of transfers for hundreds of large on-chain service providers. The mapped data set permits us to empirically conduct several analyses. First, we analyze abnormal transfer volume in the vicinity of large-scale highly visible terrorist attacks. We document evidence consistent with heightened activity in coin wallets belonging to unregulated exchanges and mixer services—central to laundering funds between terrorist groups and operatives on the ground. Next, we use forensic accounting techniques to follow the trails of funds associated with the Sri Lanka Easter bombing. Insights from this event corroborate our findings and aid in our construction of a blockchain-based predictive model. Finally, using machine-learning algorithms, we demonstrate that fund trails have predictive power in out-of-sample analysis. Our study is informative to researchers, regulators, and market players in providing methods for detecting the flow of terrorist funds on blockchain-based systems using accounting knowledge and techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-466
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Accounting Research
Volume60
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2022

Keywords

  • bitcoin
  • economics of blockchain
  • forensic accounting
  • terrorist financing
  • transparency

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