NEW YORK — A criptologist was sentenced Tuesday to more than five years in federal prison for helping North Korea evade U.S. sanctions.
Virgil Griffith, 39, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and admitted to appearing at a criptocurrency conference in Pyongyang in 2019, even though the U.S. government denied his request to travel there.
A well-known hacker, Griffith has also developed criptocurrency infrastructure and equipment in North Korea, prosecutors wrote in court papers. He spoke to more than 100 people about how to use cryptocurrencies to evade sanctions and achieve independence from the global banking system at the 2019 conference, including several who appeared to work for the North Korean government.
The U.N. Security Council and the U.N. have imposed increasingly tight sanctions on North Korea in recent years to try to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The U.S. government imposed sanctions against North Korea in 2018 to prohibit a U.S. person from exporting technology to North Korea.
Prosecutors said Griffith's presentation was a transfer of technical knowledge to conference attendees.
Griffith is an American citizen who has chosen to evade the sanctions of his own country to provide services to a hostile foreign power, prosecutors wrote. He knew that North Korea, a power, was guilty of atrocities against its own people, and has made threats against the United States citing its nuclear capabilities. Defense attorney Brian Klein described Griffith as a brilliant Caltech-trained scientist who developed a curiosity bordering on obsession with North Korea. Klein viewed himself as acting in the interest of peace, albeit arrogantly and naively. He loves his country and never sets out to do any harm. Klein said he was disappointed with the 63 month prison sentence but pleased that judge acknowledged Virgil's commitment to moving forward with his life productively, and that he is a talented person who has a lot to contribute. In the early 2000s Griffith became something of a tech-world enfant terrible and in 2007 he created WikiScanner, a tool that aimed at unmask people who anonymously edited entries in Wikipedia, the crowdsourced online encyclopedia.
WikiScanner could determine the businesses, institutions, or government agencies that owned the computers from which some edits were made. It quickly identified businesses that had sabotaged competitors entries and government agencies that had rewritten history.
Griffith told The Associated Press in 2007 that mainstream media enjoys the public-relations disaster fireworks as much as I am.
Klein previously said Griffith cooperated with the FBI and helped educate law enforcement about the so-called dark web, a network of encrypted internet sites that allow users to remain anonymous.