I have been told that I am prone to seeing plots in the mundane, and in trying to make mountains out of molehills when it comes to Tether. I have been told that I do not give them the benefit of the doubt or try to find charitable explanations for their behaviors. I am left wondering, why does Tether deserve the benefit of the doubt?
Tether was founded in 2014, and was almost immediately owned and controlled by the same principals as Bitfinex. This was not fully brought to light until the Panama Papers were leaked and it was also mentioned in Bitfinex’s lawsuit against Wells Fargo. Does this level of transparency deserve the benefit of the doubt?
Tether originally claimed to be backed solely by the currency represented. So USDT would be backed solely by USD. However, early on they also advertised exchanging Bitcoin for Tether through Tether. This was also advertised as a way to get Tethers without going through Know Your Customer regulations and processes. Does that also deserve the benefit of the doubt? Coincidentally, Tether’s lawyer said in the recent NYAG case that part of their reserves were invested in Bitcoin. I’m sure that is nothing though.
Tether loaned 100’s of millions of dollars to another business well knowing that the funds that business was going to give in return were currently not able to be withdrawn. Does that deserve the benefit of the doubt?
Tether was once hacked for ~$30m. Their response was to never explain what happened and force a hard fork of the Omni protocol to freeze those tokens. Does that deserve the benefit of the doubt? Luckily for Tether the Omni devs added in the ability for them to freeze any Tether at will.
Perhaps the reason they are having so much trouble getting audited is because they’re incompetent at record keeping. They admitted during the proceedings of the NYAG case that they commingled corporate and client funds. Furthermore, Tether has a transparency page that has been incorrect for months. They claim that they have $31,304,655.00 Tether on Omni. Let’s go to the blockchain quick and check their math: $354,645.00 + $3,100,000.00 + $30,950,000.00 + $940,000.00 + $2,039,980.00 = $37,384,625. So they are unable to even add, yet we are supposed to give them the benefit of the doubt?
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice or financial advice or life advice or medical advice or romance advice. Especially not romance.
So this is more than a little bit delayed, but better late than never I figure. You can see the original threads that I am going to be reviewing for this analysis here: NYAG and here: Tether.
The fundamental tension between the NYAG has become less a dispute about facts and more frequently a dispute about service, jurisdiction, precedents, and language. Tether especially was much more creative in this filing than previous ones.
Let’s start by outlining the broad strokes of the NYAG argument. Their primary thrust seems to be that Tether’s claim of improper service is invalid, due to existing precedence and their failure to bring it up in an earlier motion. They also find themselves frustrated by the lack of documents that have been provided by the merry men of Digfinex.
Listen if I am going to be blunt I think all of this posturing around jurisdiction is a load of shit. The Block reported [paywalled] that it was relatively easy for a NY resident who was moderately comfortable with lying to get an account there. Now based on the New Yorkers I have seen on the national stage recently I have reason to believe at least some New York residents are comfortable lying. Also it appears that the requirements for Martin Act jurisdiction are relatively light and we also know that an accounting firm they hired, a PR firm they hired, were also in New York. Oh also they helped onboard a New York based trading outfit and loaned them Tethers. Now you can argue that the Martin Act provides too much jurisdiction, but if that is the thrust of your argument you’re going to struggle.
Now looking more in detail at the Tether response we see some excitement from their lawyers for once. One of their primary thrusts seems to be that they were improperly served, and thus everything from then is bunk. It really comes down to whether serving the outside counsel of Bitfinex who was communicating with NYAG was appropriate or not. I am not qualified to assess the law, but it seems to me that they are unlikely to win this service argument.
The second thrust of their argument is jurisdictional. Namely the New Yorkers we worked with either were technically international or we did not know they were New Yorkers. This argument would hold a little more impact if they did you know anything except asking a single question to determine if someone was from New York.
Then they try to argue that Tether is not a security or a commodity and thus not subject to Martin Act. This is their most creative argument, but it seems the reach of the Martin act will still bring them to heel here.
Overall, my assessment of these two responses together is that Tether and Bitfinex are in a pickle and are taking steps to lengthen the proceedings and win in the court of public opinion.
A fascinating look at how the microbiome may affect drug metabolism. Important to remember that the game does not end at pharmacogenomics and we need to be paying attention to the complex interplay of numerous complex systems to understand drug action.
Thanks to the ‘magic’ of deep learning we may be able to better predict which patients are going to respond to immunotherapy in gastrointestinal cancer with cheaper tests. More people treating their cancer certainly sounds good to me.
The gene that was CRISPR-ed in those Chinese babies makes it more likely you die. This isn’t even accounting for the potential off-target effects. Turns out the thing we all knew was unethical is in fact unethical. Who da thunk?
Bitfinex is still being hesitant to hand over documents to the NYAG. They have struggled to get access to documents relating to the transfer from Tether to Bitfinex, and this suggests to me that either the documents don’t exist or there is a very good reason they are not being shared.
In 2015 Tether openly admits to exchanging Bitcoins for Tethers without KYC. Now it is possible, but in my opinion unlikely that they still had sufficient fiat reserves at that point, but I think it is plausible to doubt that and to believe that Bitcoins have often been a part of the backing.
In conclusion: Tether has paid executives dividends out of non-segregated accounts, does not feel a need to keep cash reserves, is buying bitcoins with reserves, and cannot handle a rush to redeem. Their largest claimed transaction is also smaller than multiple apparent redemptions on the blockchain.
There was a recent comment by Joseph Stiglitz in which he expressed his desire to “shut down the cryptocurrencies”. This prompted me to seriously consider how one would go about shutting down or seriously damaging Bitcoin. This is not an easy problem because Bitcoin is designed to be a remarkably resilient system, however, I do think with coordinated international action a significant amount of damage could be done. My proposed plan relies partially on how Bitcoin does difficulty adjustments.
Every 2016 blocks (~2 weeks) the difficulty of Bitcoin mining adjusts so that blocks continue to come approximately every 10 minutes. This is important because the hashrate dedicated to mining Bitcoins has varied significantly over time, and so this helps keep block time relatively stable. However, major swings in hashpower can significantly change the time between blocks.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that Bitcoin mining tends to run with a pretty narrow profit margin, and as such major swings in price can significantly affect the profitability of miners on the network.
So knowing these things, how do we attack Bitcoin? Step 1 is to start buying up old mining hardware. Because mining demands a high level of efficiency to be profitable old generations of miners are rapidly abandoned as miners with access to more efficient technology can reap larger rewards. However, if you do not care about profitability you can acquire these miners. Now make sure you keep them off the network, you do not want people to know that you are acquiring hashpower as it would cause suspicion. Right after a difficulty adjust bring all of your hash online and wait until the next difficulty adjustment.
The next step is to try to negatively affect the price as much as possible in as short of a time as possible. These steps need to occur right after the difficulty adjustment after you brought your hash online. You will accomplish this price with drop with two primary techniques. The first, as a major state level actor you have seized and safeguarded Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the normal course of law enforcement actions. You will now sell it all, or as much of it as humanly possible. Instead of trying to maximize your potential monetary gains from these sales you will instead try to sell them on the lowest liquidity places you can access, with the goal of throwing off indices and inciting further selling from major holders. While you are doing this you will simultaneously try to pull a major source of liquidity from the market. If there exists for example a poorly regulated exchange and stablecoin who combine for a significant portion of the liquidity in the market you will seize them right as you begin to sell. Allow as many people as possible to stampede for the exits.
Now we must do everything we can to reduce hashpower on the network. Turn off all of the hashpower you brought onto the network, and simultaneously coordinate with China to convince them to cutoff as many of their miners as possible. Seize any mining hardware you reasonably can and keep it off the network for now. This drop in hashpower, combined with a major drop in price will cause many previous profitable miners to now be mining at a loss. Many will choose to turn off their machines rather than lose money continuing to mine. The lower the hashrate goes here the less usable the network is. Block times will lengthen and people will grow increasingly frustrated and apt to sell, perpetuating the cycle. Whenever anyone sells mining hardware buy it.
Now you wait for the next difficulty adjustment. This will take longer than it normally will because the time between bloks has vastly increased. However, Bitcoin is a stubborn beast and there are likely some people who have isolated themselves reasonably well from state intervention and will mine to keep it alive. Once the difficulty adjusts again, you will again deploy your hash which should now be even more. If you control the majority of hash you will mine empty blocks making the network entirely useless. The only transactions you will allow through are those meant to help you sell your block rewards. You will sell your entire block rewards with the goal of continuing to push the price even lower.
If you do not control the majority of hash, but do control >25% you will selfish mine and continue to try to identify other miners on the network and seize their hardware.
Regardless of whether or not you are controlling the majority of the hash the next difficulty adjustment should come quick, in less than two weeks. Again you will withdraw your hash and let block times lengthen, but now transactions will be going through, giving desperate people a chance to sell.
Lather, rinse, and repeat. Eventually you will control the majority of hashpower and once this happens you will force the community to make incredibly tough decisions. These could include changing the hashing algorithm or changing how difficulty adjustments work. These decisions are likely to be contentious and will therefore further fragment the community. If these contentious issues result in forks you will see people on each side of the fork trying to dump the other side of the fork, further depressing the price. Even if some vague semblance of a Bitcoin is left standing after this attack it will be a shell of its former self and you will have demonstrated to people that it is more vulnerable than they have ever believed. Enjoy your continued monopoly on money printing.
Note: Typos have been fixed from an early edition of this article
Note: This post is out of date but is part of my transition away from Medium.
So today we are going to take a look at some of the Tether drama that has occurred over the last week or so, and it gets interesting fast.
Background: There has been a theory for a while now that Tether has been used to fuel the massive price increase in Bitcoin during 2017.
This was exacerbated by the fact that they did, and still do promise regular audits but have never delivered it. After firing the last auditor they claimed, “Given the excruciatingly detailed procedures Friedman was undertaking for the relatively simple balance sheet of Tether, it became clear that an audit would be unattainable in a reasonable time frame.” I do not know about you, but that sounds to me like the auditors were you know trying to do an audit.
Now as for the price pumping.I was introduced to this theory by Bitfinex’ed and was recently supported by a paper published by a couple of professors that suggested again that Tether’s printing was used to increase demand, and was not created “naturally.” Now there have been some criticisms of this paper, including the fact that their method can only show correlation and not causation, and that it was not peer-reviewed, but it did increase public pressure on Bitfinex and Tether to start clearing the air.
Transparency report: So the law firm of Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan, LLP has released a report meant to show that Tether actually does have the funds to back the Tether’s currently in circulation. Now this report is interesting for several reasons and I am going to try to highlight them for you, and then I’m going to take you down the rabbit hole. So the report can be read here. It basically attests that on June 1st that the accounts (yes there’s two banks now) had enough to cover the number of Tethers in circulation. However, there are several interesting phrases in here, and one that sends us down the rabbit hole.
Well obviously not great news, but probably not unexpected.
It is obviously not an audit, this one should surprise exactly zero of us.
Here is where they admit that this in no way proves that the Tether was always backed.
Good to know that Tether might still be used for money laundering.
WAIT WHAT?! That’s right, a partner for this law firm is an advisor to this bank. Time to go figure out which bank this is now right? I am not a lawyer, but that feels bad, like it could be a conflict of interest (especially if Tether is one of the only clients for this bank….), and casts doubts over this entire report.
Banking: The question we now had to try to figure out was what bank was Eugene Sullivan advising. Several of us set out to Google and dig and try to find something. I even spent several hours digging through the Panama/Paradise Papers in the hopes that I would find a connection and this continued until @eastmother tweeted at me and said this.
When you check the cached version of this page you can see that Eugene Sullivan was an advisor to Noble Bank in Puerto Rico!
This is valuable for a couple of reasons, first and foremost they deleted this and tried to hide it. Which seems odd. Secondly, it helps confirm the research from BitMex that suggested that Noble Bank in Puerto Rico was the most likely steward of Tether’s funds. BitMex also seems to suggest that Tether may be a significant percentage of the total deposits at this bank, suggesting to me excessive scrutiny into Tether likely does not work well for Noble.
Now, Noble Bank is an interesting entity because it is a full reserve bank. This means that they do not fractional reserve like the majority of banks, and they actually keep the cash on hand that they claim. So if your account says $1,000,000 then they have that $1,000,000 in their vault. These kinds of banks often do not offer interest rates, because they cannot afford to. They are not lending the money out and so cannot earn the money from loan interest. Several people have tried to contact Noble and have not been able to get an answer as to what interest rates may be offered. This leads us directly into the next part of the problem.
Business Model/Profit Model: So now we need to try and figure out how Tether could be making money. In their whitepaper they say that the way that they make money is by interest on their bank accounts and by charging a ten basis points fee on transfers to customers (of whom Bitfinex is their sole customer). So if we assume that a significant portion of their assets are being held at Noble Bank, which being a full reserve is likely unable to offer interest, then the only interest they could possibly be getting is from their second bank and from the ten basis points fee. This leads us to two issues. One the ten basis point fee by itself is almost definitely not enough for them to be profitable. So the question then becomes who is their second bank and could they be offering enough interest for Tether to be profitable. If we assume that the larger amount from the two accounts is held at Noble, then the only part earning interest is about $600 million.
Even at about 2% per year that works out to about $1 million dollars a month. It feels as though that would likely be insufficient for Tether considering the size of the operation, but I could be mistaken. However, it is important to remember that Tether is still a business that needs a way to be bringing in money, and so paying attention to this mechanism could be important.
The Brock Pierce Connection:
Now we start to flirt with where this all gets really crazy. Brock Pierce is one of those characters who tends to pop up in weird places and doing weird things in Crypto. He was one of the founder of Tether, though has since (according to him) sold his position in it. He is also the cofounder of Noble Markets which controls Noble International the bank. So one of the founders of Tether, is also a founder of the bank they use, which has an advisor who is also one of the lawyers who issued this memorandum. What we are seeing here is in my opinion serious conflicts of interest that force us to seriously question the nature of all of the relationships in play here. Also in general Brock Pierce has a history of being evasive about his relationship with various entities.
Plus, the more you look into Brock Pierce, the more you recognize how he represents much of the worst of the cryptocurrency space. In March he was interviewed and had this great little nugget to share with the world, ““I don’t care about money, if I need money, I just make a token.” Remember, this is the founder of Tether, and the man currently making sure they have banking. Let’s hope he didn’t need money when he made Tether huh?
The MTGOX Connection: This web of connections gets even weirder when we start looking even further into a very weird part of this story. Namely, these same players are connected to MTGOX. So after the whole MTGOX debacle there were several different players who were looking to be the ones who determined the best way to rehabilitate those were injured in the hack. It turns out that there was a group called Sunlot Holdings who proposed a rehabilitation plan. Both Brock Pierce and John Betts were partners at Sunlot Holdings, and John Betts is now a Founder and CEO of Noble Markets who controls the bank Noble International. Furthermore, Sunlot Holdings was advised by Louis Freeh, one of the cofounders of Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan LLP the law firm that did the report. None of this is criminal, but it suggests that these players have an entangled and complicated relationship stretching back at least until 2014. The more entangled the relationships the more we have to worry that there is a shared incentive to ensure that Tether survives.
The Whole Web of Connections:
This whole web of connections was recently summarized in this image here. As you can see by how entangled all of these people are it becomes very dangerous to trust the word of FSS as to whether or not Tether is in any form usable.
The Imperial Pacific Connection: While researching Freeh, Sporkin, and Sullivan; specifically the fact that Sullivan was claimed in the report to be an advisor, I, along with others, found that he was connected to a casino called Imperial Pacific. He was part of their advisory board until recently. The reason this is interesting? Imperial Pacific has been dinged for money laundering and human trafficking along with general corruption. Freeh also used to be associated with this very same casino. This starts to paint a disturbing image of who these men are willing to be associated with.
Other FFS Shadiness: This law firm actually has quite a few unsavory connections like this. Eugene Sullivan has previously been dinged for trying to use his former position as a judge to profit. They have also defended Ukranian Oligarchs. There have also been criticisms of Freeh’s tenure as FBI director, including how he had handled the critically important Penn State case.
Phil Potter Leaves: Now as the waters start to get really murky and the pressure on everyone seems to be reaching a fever point, Phil Potter the Chief Strategy Officer of Bitfinex departs. The timing of this is very poor for Bitfinex and Tether as public pressure increases on them. He also claims that he is doing this because Tether is focusing less and less on the US, but to my eye, there banking and the majority of their volume is still in the United States, and so that excuse does not pass muster. Furthermore, we do know that the Fed’s were looking into Bitfinex and Tether and it is possible that he may have flipped to protect himself. Finally the most recent dump started shortly before the news of his departure became public, and as such we do need to wonder whether or not there were people trading on this insider information. Just to be clear I have no strong evidence for either of these claims, but the timing is quite odd.
Weird Connections from Noble: Now we are going to temporarily back to Noble, because there are some weird connections that I cannot fully explain.
I got another tip on Twitter:
that there have been some….interesting websites associated with the same Google Analytics ID as Noble. Including….Blockchain Capital! The venture capital fund that Brock Pierce used to be a part of! Isn’t it fun when little things like that work out? Also a bunch of other “blockchain” focused websites including: Blockchain Alliance, bloq, Chicago Blockchain Center, the Chamber of Digital Commerce, Dunvegan Space Systems (blockchain in space), Silk Road Equity. Now just to note, I do not neccesarily think all of these are connected, because there were also a couple of design sites for something called Neu Entity and so it is possible that is why these are shared. However, it is funny to see Blockchain Capital which is another of Brock’s babies coming up in here.
Other Recent Weird Happenings: So one of the last really weird things that has happened, was a weird transaction of Tethers. Namely there have been some “send-all” transactions which are quite uncommon, and sent primarily to wallets that are “back and forth” meaning they receive it from Bitfinex and then send it back and that’s it. These have happened before, but no one knows why.
Claim that Audit is Impossible: This is my favorite claim that Bitfinex makes. They try to claim that it is impossible for them to get an audit. First and foremost it is important to remember that back in 2017 they had someone who agreed to audit them, and they fired them because, “Given the excruciatingly detailed procedures Friedman was undertaking for the relatively simple balance sheet of Tether, it became clear that an audit would be unattainable in a reasonable time frame.” They fired their auditor being thorough….
Best part of this claim is that True USD, which is an incredibly similar stablecoin (with fewer, but not zero problems), gets regular attestations by an actual accounting firm. So apparently their claim that it is impossible, not just for them, but for anyone is false. (Important note, these attestations are only done once a month, and it would technically be possible to game them, but it is still better having an actual accounting firm do it, and having them do it every month.)
Conclusion: In conclusion, Tether and Bitfinex cannot be trusted. Their transparency report has actually helped expose how deep some of their entangled relationships go, and I am now more scared than ever for the cryptocurrency market. Brock Pierce is likely still materially involved in Tether, and is working with them to help maintain banking through his own bank, and even the lawyers have worked extensively with him before. Phil Potter was the first executive to leave, but he will not be the last. I would expect Giancarlo to be next, and when he does leave, I would recommend (not financial advice) to stand clear of the house of cards that is the cryptocurrency market.