Over the course of 2021, Congress and the administration have recognized significant benefits from diving into the technology, a trend that looks poised to continue.
The stereotype of cryptocurrency savviness being male dominated—think “bitcoin bro”—may hold validity in Silicon Valley, but it doesn’t seem to ring true on the government side.
“I just see women kind of owning crypto, especially on the government fronts like in a really wonderful way across the agencies, whether it's the IRS or all the different components of Treasury that are looking at virtual currency because there's a lot that look at it from different perspectives,” said Carole House, director of cybersecurity at the National Security Council. “There's always women in the room. It is something where I think that diversity generally, and that particular aspect of diversity is continuing to grow and it's just really encouraging to see.”
House was participating in a panel discussion of “women in crypto” hosted in spring by the firm Chainalysis, which aims to help governments and other entities like insurance and cybersecurity companies investigate crimes and “grow consumer access to cryptocurrency safely.”
In April, House moved to the White House from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN which has been instrumental in identifying entities for the department’s historic move sanctioning virtual currency exchanges.
2021 brought other important firsts for the government navigating the cryptocurrency space, too. And as Congress and the administration navigate between facilitating beneficial innovations in the realm to securing it against illicit use, women have been prominent throughout the chain from policy development to enforcement.
Starting at the cabinet level, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will have control over how a new law requiring facilitators of virtual currency transactions to report to the IRS is implemented.
Speaking during the Chainalysis event, House said an antagonistic relationship with the industry would work against the government’s goal of countering illegal activity.
“We value hearing from the private sector particularly because we recognize that exchanges and others in industry are the ones that are on the front lines and they're going to be the ones critical to preventing the abuse of cryptocurrency by sanctioned persons and other bad actors,” she said.
At Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, Senior Sanctions Policy Advisor Katherine Bradbury talked about the work being done to flag cryptocurrency exchanges that facilitate ransomware payments involving regimes like Iran and North Korea so others in the community can avoid violations.
On the enforcement side, Michele Korver, digital currency counsel at the Justice Department’s criminal division, noted the department’s significant victory in recovering a majority of the Bitcoin Colonial Pipeline paid to ransomware perpetrators.
And, speaking at a Nextgov event last month, Rita Martin, an agent in the U.S. Secret Service’s Global Investigative Operations Center, pointed out that the sanctions actions from Treasury were a direct result of cross-agency cybersecurity teams on Justice’s joint investigative task force.
That all bodes well for more resources going toward work in the digital currency space, according to the women.
“We actually just hired another person at the digital currency initiative, which I'm very excited about,” Korver said. “We made a lot of successful seizures and forfeitures this last year and those will eventually trickle down all the way from the local police that may have worked on something to salaries within the DOJ that will support these cases in these investigations that are really important, and I think there’s going to be sufficient attention on the resources that are needed.”
In October, lawmakers wrote to the leaders of Justice, Treasury and the departments of Homeland Security and State noting their progress in the crypto space and asking where they can be of assistance.
Agencies are already moving ahead. In September, the IRS issued a request for proposals to apply new research on physical devices for cryptocurrencies that they say could be crucial to investigations.
OFAC and FinCEN also had resources available to hire more personnel for digital currency teams this year, Bradbury and House said, with House noting that FinCEN is pursuing authorities that will allow them to recruit top talent.