Tracers in the Dark - Andy Greenberg

Tracers in the Dark

By Andy Greenberg

  • Release Date: 2022-11-15
  • Genre: True Crime
Score: 4.5
From 30 Ratings


From the award-winning author of Sandworm comes the propulsive story of a new breed of investigators who have cracked the Bitcoin blockchain, exposing once-anonymous realms of money, drugs, and violence. "Immensely readable... Greenberg takes readers on a romp through some of the most infamous dark web takedowns in recent memory.” (Washington Post)

Over the last decade, a single innovation has massively fueled digital black markets: cryptocurrency. Crime lords inhabiting lawless corners of the internet have operated more freely—whether in drug dealing, money laundering, or human trafficking—than their analog counterparts could have ever dreamed of. By transacting not in dollars or pounds but in currencies with anonymous ledgers, overseen by no government, beholden to no bankers, these black marketeers have sought to rob law enforcement of their chief method of cracking down on illicit finance: following the money.

But what if the centerpiece of this dark economy held a secret, fatal flaw? What if their currency wasn’t so cryptic after all? An investigator using the right mixture of technical wizardry, financial forensics, and old-fashioned persistence could uncover an entire world of wrongdoing.

Tracers in the Dark is a story of crime and pursuit unlike any other. With unprecedented access to the major players in federal law enforcement and private industry, veteran cybersecurity reporter Andy Greenberg tells an astonishing saga of criminal empires built and destroyed. He introduces an IRS agent with a defiant streak, a Bitcoin-tracing Danish entrepreneur, and a colorful ensemble of hardboiled agents and prosecutors as they delve deep into the crypto-underworld. The result is a thrilling, globe-spanning story of dirty cops, drug bazaars, trafficking rings, and the biggest takedown of an online narcotics market in the history of the Internet.

Utterly of our time, Tracers in the Dark is a cat-and-mouse story and a tale of a technological one-upmanship. Filled with canny maneuvering and shocking twists, it answers a provocative question: How would some of the world’s most brazen criminals behave if they were sure they could never get caught?


  • Essentially, a weak history of Chainalysis

    By 0xPhoenix
    Tracers in the Dark was a good overview of the history of some bitcoin-related crime investigations. If Greenberg’s goal was to write about how bitcoin’s not private, he did fairly well. But if it’s about a general history of cryptocurrency investigations, it has some serious shortcoming. My understanding going into this was it was going to be the latter, and here are some areas I find Greenberg falls short in: *With an exception of a few pages at the end, almost as an afterthought, he focused solely on bitcoin. While the largest, bitcoin’s not the only cryptocurrency. Leaving out meaningful discussions of other cryptocurrencies significantly limits this work. *Effectively comes across as a history of Chainalysis. While the prominent crypto-analysis company, there are others, and including them would’ve made this analysis/history more complete. *Relatedly, his use of essentially four-ish people to narrate the story made the book’s scope and viewpoints limited. I would’ve liked to hear other voices, more often. For example, other researches, investigators and companies from other places than the US and Chainalysis. *There were times when someone offers their incorrect opinion on an obvious truth, and he doesn’t reject it for what it is (this is a problem in general with today’s journalists in the US). Instead, he both sides it. For example, at the end of the book he says Vinnik’s claims that Vinnik didn’t know there was illicit trading in BTC-e as “hard to swallow.” He then asks Gambaryan for his opinion of that. Instead, he should’ve firmly stated the truth, instead of implicitly viewing truth as subjective to people’s opinions or statements from known untrustworthy people (again, a systemic problem in today’s journalism in the US). I would’ve preferred to see him say something like “The evidence, however, is clear: Vinnik knowingly facilitated illicit trades on BTC-e.” While there are for sure nuances, it’s frustrating and undercuts the workings value when media persons esteem statements from known liars as having at least some validity. *Didn’t really discuss other ways cryptocurrencies may be laundered. For example, what of transactions where parties never cash out their funds for traditional currency (so just trading bitcoins)? Or where an account’s private key is traded for cash - that trade would never show up on the blockchain but would accomplish the purpose of laundering funds. Idk if these examples actually happen, but an exploration of these risks (at least an acknowledgment), and how they limit investigations, would’ve been really good. *More time spent discussing the ramifications of what firms like Chainalysis do. Given this book’s topics, what do we want society to look like? Do we want government or private firms to utilize blockchains, and be able to monitor every transaction? (IMO, no, not that easily). What of other ramifications and trade offs between privacy and other rights in this area? *Digging deeper into who Chainalysis’ clients are - he didn’t push back at all in his relayed conversation with Chainalysis. For example, is Chainalysis working with the UAE govt? That’s a really important question where his attitude was “Chainalysis’ CEO wants to tell me, but his PR employee won’t let him. Oh well.” That happened a few times in the book, and that’s weak journalism. *There was a brief mention that the greatest risks (related to the previous two points) are private corporations’ use of Chainalysis-like tools. Beyond on acknowledgement, no time was spent on this. This really needed to be discussed far more - for example, how does it compare to what current banks and credit card companies do? What are the ramifications and trade offs of these things?
  • Thorough and fascinating read

    By JesseRyanB
    Thorough and fascinating read