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Megan McBrideZack Gold
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In March 2018, Merriam-Webster announced that it would add the word cryptocurrency to its dictionary. They noted that the word had first been used in 1990, and the definition they offered mentioned three core characteristics:

Any form of currency that only exists digitally, that usually has no central issuing or regulating authority but instead uses a decentralized system to record transactions and manage the issuance of new units, and that relies on cryptography to prevent counterfeiting and fraudulent transactions.

To increase understanding of the potential implications of cryptocurrencies, in 2018 the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) asked for research on the topic, “The evolution of cryptocurrency: future challenges and opportunities for SOF [special operations forces].” CNA initiated this study in response to that call for research.

As we conducted our research, we identified a gap in knowledge of cryptocurrencies among US military and government personnel. To fill this knowledge gap, we simultaneously published a companion piece to this study: “Cryptocurrency: A Primer for Policy-Makers.” Readers new to cryptocurrencies, or interested in increasing knowledge in a specific area, are directed to the companion primer for a more detailed exploration.

This document assumes a baseline understanding of cryptocurrencies, and focuses on the four questions that motivated our analysis of the implications of cryptocurrencies for SOF:

     1. What operational considerations are relevant as SOF considers action in this arena?

     2. What is the range of concerning activities in which cryptocurrencies have been observed?

     3. What are the likely next evolution(s) in the cryptocurrency ecosystem?

     4. What challenges and opportunities do cryptocurrencies present to SOF given the current (and potential future) state of affairs?

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Distribution: Approved for public release. Unlimited distribution.


  • Pages: 79
  • Document Number: CRM-2019-U-020186-Final
  • Publication Date: 8/1/2019
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