In a bizarre turn of events, Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of now-defunct crypto exchange FTX, allegedly considered purchasing an island to use as a bunker in the event of an apocalyptic event, according to a memo included in a recent lawsuit filed against Bankman-Fried and his fellow FTX executives.
Bankman-Fried, once one of the world’s youngest billionaires, saw his fortune wiped out after FTX collapsed last November amid claims it was mishandling customer funds. Arrested in December, he currently faces numerous charges including fraud and foreign bribery. Now, a new lawsuit is shedding light on the “misguided and sometimes dystopian” projects spearheaded by Bankman-Fried. The FTX Foundation, Bankman-Fried’s charitable organization attached to FTX, was interested in purchasing the island of Nauru, according to the current leadership team of FTX, which is suing Bankman-Fried for allegedly misappropriating $1 billion before the exchange filed for bankruptcy.
The plan was described in a memo between Bankman-Fried’s brother Gabriel and an unnamed FTX Foundation officer, who aimed to use the island and “construct a “bunker/shelter” that would be used for “some event where 50%-99.99% of people die [to] ensure that most EAs [effective altruists] survive,” according to the complaint. Bankman-Fried was one of the most prominent voices of effective altruism, a philanthropic social movement that urges members to use reason and evidence to do the most good possible.
The memo also supposedly discussed the possibility of developing “sensitive regulation around human genetic enhancement” and building a lab on Nauru, an island state located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean around 3,000 kilometers northeast of Australia. In 2002, it was designated as a money-laundering haven by the U.S. treasury. “Probably there are other things it’s useful to do with a sovereign country, too,” noted the memo.
Other concerning FTX Foundation activities brought forward included grants of $300,000 and $400,000 authorized in June of 2022, which respectively funded an individual writing a book “about how to figure out what humans’ utility function is (are),” and an entity posting YouTube videos of “rationalist and [Effective Altruism] material,” including animated videos on “grabby aliens,” according to the lawsuit. A spokesperson for Bankman-Fried declined requests for comment.
In light of his doomsday plans, Observer assembled a list of individuals who might have secured a ticket to Nauru in the wake of an Armageddon-style threat. These are some of the most prominent names associated with both Bankman-Fried and the effective altruism movement:
William MacAskill, a professor at Oxford University
The figurehead of the effective altruism movement, William MacAskill helped start the philosophy and has co-founded numerous related initiatives such as the 80,000 Hours nonprofit and the Centre for Effective Altruism. He is currently a professor of philosophy at Oxford University and the author of books like What We Owe the Future and Doing Good Better.
MacAskill first met Bankman-Fried when he visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2013 looking for effective altruism recruits. Mentoring Bankman-Fried’s journey into the movement, he later convinced the MIT student to take a high-paying job after graduating to enhance his future philanthropic donations, a tenet of the movement known as “earning to give.” Bankman-Fried took his advice, working at Jane Street Capital, a trading firm popular among effective altruists.
The philosopher even reportedly introduced Bankman-Fried to Elon Musk in 2022, calling the FTX founder a “collaborator” who was “dedicated to making the long-term future of humanity go well.” And MacAskill was eventually appointed as an advisor of the FTX Future Fund, part of the FTX Foundation. But after learning of Bankman-Fried’s supposed mishandling of investments, he resigned from the position in November alongside the rest of the fund’s team.
“Sam and FTX had a lot of goodwill—and some of that goodwill was the result of association with ideas I have spent my career promoting. If that goodwill laundered fraud, I am ashamed,” wrote MacAskill in a Twitter thread that month, adding that he was “outraged” by the potential fraud.
Caroline Ellison, former CEO of Alameda Research
At the time of FTX’s collapse, Caroline Ellison was heading Alameda Research, a hedge fund connected to the crypto exchange. She pled guilty to misappropriating FTX funds in December and has cooperated with U.S. prosecutors. Bankman-Fried, meanwhile, was recently accused of leaking diary entries written by Ellison to the media in order to discredit her potential testimony.
Before everything went sour, the former romantic partners met while working at Jane Street Capital. Ellison eventually quit the job to work at Bankman-Fried’s Alameda, which he started up in 2017.
Part of the appeal was likely Bankman-Fried’s interest in effective altruism, which Ellison became interested in while studying at Stanford—she joined the school’s effective altruism club, later becoming its vice president.
Nishad Singh, former director of engineering at FTX
Another likely citizen of Bankman-Fried’s island bunker is Nishad Singh, who was previously FTX’s director of engineering. He pled guilty to six criminal charges, including fraud and conspiracy, in February.
A childhood friend of Bankman-Fried’s brother, Singh was invited to join Alameda in 2017 as a software engineer. He left his job at Facebook for the opportunity, partly because of his interest in effective altruism, according to a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) earlier this year. Singh, who was a “trusted confidant” of Bankman-Fried and part of his “inner circle,” allegedly borrowed millions of dollars to donate to philanthropic causes associated with effective altruism, according to the SEC.
In a September interview with Sequoia Capital, Singh emphasized the impact the social movement had within Alameda and FTX. “This thing couldn’t have taken off without EA,” he said. “All the employees, all the funding—everything was EA to start with.”
Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype
Estonian billionaire and computer programmer Jaan Tallinn helped develop the technology behind Skype. He has also long been an effective altruist and co-founded organizations associated with the movement, such as the Future of Life Institute and the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risks.
As Bankman-Fried looked to launch Alameda, he secured a loan of more than $100 million worth of cryptocurrency ether from Tallinn, in addition to a $6 million loan from currency trader and effective altruist Luke Ding.
While both Tallinn and Ding later called for their loans back, Tallinn later told Semafor he didn’t recall the funds due to any rumors of mismanagement at Alameda, but because Bankman-Fried had found financing elsewhere and no longer required his financial help.
Robert Wiblin, director of research at 80,000 Hours
Robert Wiblin, the director of effective altruism nonprofit 80,000 Hours, has also previously held positions at the Centre for Effective Altruism. He was a research economist for the Australian government before entering the movement.
Bankman-Fried has long known and admired Wiblin, tweeted the FTX founder in February of 2022. He even went on Wiblin’s 80,000 Hours podcast to discuss the effective altruism movement. “You should be pretty aggressive with what you’re doing, and really trying to hit home runs rather than just have some impact—because the upside is just absolutely enormous,” said Bankman-Fried of the need for high-risk decisions.
Despite their formerly strong association, Wiblin condemned Bankman-Fried and called his actions “inexcusable” and “grossly immoral” after the news of FTX’s demise was publicized. “I feel it’s clear mistakes have been made,” he said in a Twitter post at the time. “We were too quick to trust folks who hadn’t proven they deserved that level of confidence.”
Nick Beckstead, former CEO of the FTX Future Fund
Beckstead is a fellow follower of the philanthropic social movement adopted by Bankman-Fried and numerous FTX employees. Before moving to the crypto exchange, he held various positions at a number of organizations associated with effective altruism such as the Centre for Effective Altruism, Longview Philanthropy and Open Philanthropy.
In a May 2022 interview with the Associated Press, Beckstead described the FTX fund as “a bit shoestring.” But while he acknowledged that the effective altruism community can be “strong and intense,” he also argued it has a good impact on the direction of philanthropic donations.
Before he resigned from the FTX Future Fund at the end of 2022, the organization reportedly gave more than $160 million to effective altruism causes throughout the year.
Gary Wang, former chief technology officer at FTX
Gary Wang was another FTX executive and a close member of Bankman-Fried’s inner-circle. Like Ellison and Singh, he has already pled guilty to charges relating to his time at FTX and agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors.
Wang first met Bankman-Fried at math camp while the two were high-school students. Later rooming with Bankman-Fried at MIT, Wang took a position at Google after graduation but eventually left the job for Alameda in 2017.
A fellow co-founder of FTX and member of the effective altruism movement, Wang has kept a lower profile than his former colleagues. In addition to his position as chief technology officer at the crypto exchange, he was also a board member of the FTX Future Fund and was listed on Forbes’ 2022 list of billionaires under the age of 30.