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ISIS experimenting with NFTs – WSJ — Analysis

According to reports, the terrorist group has been using decentralized financial technology to try to reduce its ability to control its contents

Several pieces of digital art praising militants from the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terror group indicate the jihadists may be branching out into emerging financial technologies in a bid to circumvent online platforms’ blocking of its content, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing several intelligence analysts. 

A non-fungible token (NFT) emblazoned with the terrorist group’s logo and a brief description of an attack on a Taliban position was created to test whether the blockchain-based model could be used to raise funds and attract members to the cause, former US intelligence officials told the outlet.   

Titled IS-NEWS #01, it was one of three uploaded by the same ‘artist’ on the same day last week. The other two depict a man in full gas mask apparently manufacturing explosives and a comparison shot showing a cigarette next to a traditional toothbrush to discourage smoking – a crime under Islamic State rule. 




The images were created by a “sympathizer” of IS rather than a bona fide member, and were not actually traded or sold. Attempts to contact the creator reportedly went unanswered, and IS didn’t comment.  

However, the NFTs are seen as an indication that the militants are taking advantage of decentralized financial technologies, which Mario Cosby, a former federal intelligence analyst, told the Journal are “You can be as censorship-proof (or as close to it) as you want.” The newspaper notes, however, that many social media sites and marketplaces that sell them “Remove links to NFTs that are offensive” and their potential for going viral is thus very low.  

Indeed, OpenSea, one of the largest NFT marketplaces, took IS-NEWS #01 down for violating its “Zero tolerance for listings which incite hatred and violence” and deleted the poster’s account. The ‘artwork’ is still available via the IPFS protocol, but while files stored on that system are extremely difficult to take down, they are also all but impossible for the casual web surfer to stumble upon. 

NFT markets and other decentralized technologies are being criticized by critics who argue that the artworks could be used to generate revenue not just for terrorists but also for arms and drugs dealers as well as corrupt governments and any other undesirable types attracted to the anonymity and privacy afforded by the blockchain.  

With IS all but driven out of its real-world caliphate, the group has no choice but to seek out recruits online, intelligence analysts argue, and the US Treasury Department has repeatedly called for regulation of cryptocurrencies and other digital assets, insisting they are ripe for “People who seek to conceal illicit proceeds of crime are exploited.”  

Bitcoin and other blockchains such as the Ethereum that are used to make many NFTs can be tracked by governments.

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