Assassination Politics Essay

Richard’s epic rant yesterday on Peter Brabeck’s unfortunate remarks on privatizing water reminded me of an idea developed by crypto-anarchist Jim Bell that was controversial even in those circles and that (according to some) is what landed him in Federal Prison in 1997, keeping him there on and off (mostly on) until 2012.

Bell’s idea and essay were entitled “Assassination Politics,” and if you haven’t encountered it before, well, you’re in for a bit of a shock, particularly as the nuts and bolts necessary are rapidly coming into place: Anonymous and untraceable digital cash (leveraging Bitcoin), uncrackable Internet traffic mixers in the form of the TOR network, and TOR hidden services. (According to Bell the idea is inevitable—it’s coming—though I’m personally quite skeptical of that claim. But no matter…)

Basically, the idea is this: What if there was a system that took bets on which politicians, military leaders or water-privatizing CEOs would be assassinated and when? And what if the system preserved the anonymity of any and all bettors and could pay those who “guessed” correctly without identifying them? Using modern cryptographic techniques such a system is indeed technologically possible and described (see video below). Remember The Dead Pool, Clint Eastwood’s final “Dirty Harry” film? Kinda like a high-tech crypto-anarchist version of that, but seen as a practical way to destroy the Shitstem. Big fun.

Now in case you’re tempted to believe that this is merely the dream of a Libertarian crackpot, it’s worth noting that Bell not only received a chemistry degree from MIT, he was a relatively early employee at Intel and even started a computer storage company. In other words, Bell, who admittedly is a bit of a weirdo, is most certainly not an intellectually challenged man and the AP idea makes use of a smattering of cryptographic techniques that have largely come to exist in the years since he first proposed it. So it probably can be done.

So now, you might ask, What’s so controversial about what is essentially a market for predictions? So what if people are betting on the deaths of world leaders? We all have to die sometime. Well, the key to note here is that the bettors can bet and get paid (if they are correct) without revealing their identity or location (read: IP address) on the Internet. Bell believed that this combination would prove truly irresistible to certain murder-non-averse types who a) Like lots of money and b) Like to kill people and, oh yeah, c) Who don’t mind knocking off hated dictators or other “enemies of mankind” (to quote Samuel Fuller). Indeed, according to Bell’s formulation, the system is designed precisely to encourage someone to, let’s just say, increase their odds of winning the “dead pool” substantially. Universal hatred of a specific figure would increase the odds of his or her impending transience greatly, as an enormous bounty is accumulated via all the bettors betting on (and thereby encouraging) a rapid demise.

In his essay Bell then went on to predict the collapse of world governments as they are understood today, because it would become just far too dangerous for even local petty bureaucrats to remain in their position and alive at the same time. Further claims by Bell and others predicted fewer wars, as aggressive military leaders got knocked off via gaining the opprobrium of the masses (thereby accumulating a huge payoff against his name) and then attracting legions of fortune-seeking assassins, one of whom is eventually successful and who can then cryptographically and anonymously collect his huge payout.

Of course, claims of the end of war or even the end of governments as we know them sound suspiciously like early comments about the Gatling gun: It’s such a terrible weapon that no one will start a war again (though it wasn’t too much longer before WW I showed us exactly how insightful that comment was). And does anyone really want a world in which, theoretically, anyone’s name can show up on a worldwide kill list? That’d kinda suck for American Idol contestants and pundits from the right and left. But the point here is that if the Brabecks and Koch Brothers of the world keep trying to put the rest of humanity into a great big headlock by attacking our water through fracking and privitization (an interesting combination, BTW), people with serious cypto skillz may get pissed off enough to actually build a secure AP system and load it up with a couple of names. You know: just for fun.

In other words, Herr Brabeck, you might want to rethink your position a bit. Do you REALLY want to make an enemy of practically all of humanity? Just stick to poisoning the world with your powdered baby milk formulas and candy bars and maybe you’ll live to a ripe old age.

Posted by Em



10:20 am


THROUGHOUT the world, industrialization is spurring millions to want more—and to feel more thwarted when affluence and equality are too slowly achieved. In the highly industrialized U.S., the fever is intensified by racial and generational clashes. The result is impatience with the political process: a yen for direct action has created a charged emotional climate that inflames inherently violent minds.

Robert Kennedy was a natural target for what New York Psychiatrist Frederic Wertham calls "magnicide—the killing of somebody big." Historically, that somebody has often symbolized the political assassin's hated father; in the...

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