SAN FRANCISCO — Last year, representatives of 25 countries met in Tokyo to work on setting international standards for the blockchain, the technology that was introduced by the virtual currency Bitcoin and has ignited intense interest in corporate and government circles.
Some of the technologists at the meeting of the International Standards Organization were surprised when they learned that the head of the Russian delegation, Grigory Marshalko, worked for the F.S.B., the intelligence agency that is the successor to the K.G.B.
They were even more surprised when they asked the F.S.B. agent why the Russians were devoting such resources to the blockchain standards.
“Look, the internet belongs to the Americans — but blockchain will belong to us,” he said, according to one delegate who was there. The Russian added that two other members of his country’s four-person delegation to the conference also worked for the F.S.B.
Another delegate who had a separate conversation with the head of the Russian group remembers a slightly different wording: “The internet belonged to America. The blockchain will belong to the Russians.”
Both of the delegates who recounted their conversations did so on the condition of anonymity, because discussions at the International Standards Organization, or I.S.O., are supposed to be confidential. Neither the Russian organizations overseeing the delegation to the I.S.O. nor the Russian delegates responded to requests for comment.
The sentiment expressed by the Russian delegate is as clear a sign as any of the significance that some governments are assigning to the blockchain — a technology that is now being applied to things as varied as financial trading and voting — and the degree to which it is becoming a subject of geopolitical battles.
The Russian interest in the normally wonky technical sessions has caused concern among other delegations, who worry that individual countries could push standards that would make the security of the blockchain technology vulnerable to surveillance and attack.
The I.S.O., based in Geneva, was created in 1947 to ensure that important technologies are built or measured in the same way all over the world. Over the years, it has created standards for food safety, film sensitivity and much more.
Russia is not the only country sending high-powered delegations to the I.S.O. technical committee focusing on blockchain standards, which got its start last year. The 25 countries with committee delegations sent over 130 people to the last meeting to discuss matters like a common method for security. China sent officials from the finance ministry while the United States had delegates from IBM and Microsoft, according to participants.
“It is a very sought-out…
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