Looking Past The Frontman, Part II: SBF’s Little-Known Alameda Research Co-Founder(s?)
What, exactly, was Tara Mac Aulay's role in the birth of Alameda? Who is the mysterious "Japanese grad student" that enabled the company to make a trade that apparently no one else on Earth could successfully make at scale? And why are these "effective altruists" so frequently glossed over, if not written out of the history completely?
[Missed Part I of this series? Read it here.]
At a time when you would think Sam Bankman-Fried’s beyond-meteoric and extremely curious ascension would be under tremendous scrutiny by the media (you know–how did we get here?), many key facts have been all but ignored since this scandal broke, not the least of which is this one: he did not found Alameda Research by himself.
Alameda is, reportedly, how his initial fortune was built. It’s where his “legend” was born.
Alameda is where “he” (singular, “just one guy”) “collapsed the so-called kimchi premium.”
Alameda is where “he” reportedly did what no other trader on Earth could do.
To quote one infamous article published a few months ago by venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, who invested in FTX (emphasis added here and throughout this article):
Every startup has a startup story. Apple was two hackers in a Los Altos garage. Google was two grad students in a Stanford dorm room. Alameda Research was just one guy in a Berkeley apartment, making a single cryptocurrency trade. That guy was Sam Bankman-Fried, or SBF to his friends. Yet the trade he made, which eventually led to the crypto-trading platform FTX, is far from the standard Silicon Valley creation tale. In 2017, when he was merely 25, SBF collapsed the so-called kimchi premium, an anomalous delta between the price of Bitcoin in much of Asia and its price in the rest of the world. It was a daring feat of arbitrage—SBF is the only trader known to have pulled this off in any meaningful way—one which quickly made him a billionaire and achieved the status of legend.
This happened after “he” spotted this amazing arbitrage opportunity and “he” decided to go after it. From the same article:
At that time, everyone in the tech world was talking about crypto. (…) Curious, SBF had started looking into crypto—and almost immediately noticed something strange. Bitcoin was trading at a higher price in Japan and Korea than it was in the U.S. In theory, this should never happen because it represents a riskless profit opportunity—in other words, a free lunch. One simply buys Bitcoin at the lower price, sells it at the higher price, and pockets the difference. Jane Street built an empire on high-frequency trades that took advantage of fraction-of-a-cent price differences. But here was Bitcoin, trading at around $15,000 in South Korea: an unheard-of 50 percent price premium.
SBF was incredulous at the numbers he was seeing on his screen. This is probably not real. But then came the second thought: If it is real, then there’s $5,000 just lying on the ground. Instead of wasting time on internal debate, SBF decided to create some accounts on different exchanges and see if he could execute the trade. He couldn’t. But, interestingly, it wasn’t because the arbitrage opportunity wasn’t there—it was. But there was so much red tape with the banking system and currency controls that it was a difficult trade to execute.
Another day of work dealing with the red-tape problem netted SBF a single round-trip trade—to Asia and back—for a $20 profit. That was it: the proof of concept. There was an opportunity to be had. SBF immediately put $50,000 of his own money to work.
To cite a few more quick examples, here’s the New York Times:
After leaving Jane Street in 2017, Mr. Bankman-Fried started Alameda Research, a crypto trading firm. (…) He rented office space in Berkeley, where his staff of 20-something traders worked around the clock. (…) Around the time he started the firm, Mr. Bankman-Fried noticed a quirk in the crypto markets: The price of Bitcoin in Japan was about 10 percent higher than in the United States. That differential presented an opportunity for cross-border arbitrage.
Sam Bankman Fried Explains His Arbitrage Techniques. (…) A former ETF trader at Jane Street, Sam Bankman-Fried developed a net worth of $9 billion from trading crypto in three and a half years. He explained his success comes from lucrative arbitrage opportunities in crypto. Bankman-Fried launched a crypto-trading firm called Alameda Research in 2017. (…) Upon entering the crypto markets, he discovered that Bitcoin was growing very rapidly in trading volumes. This meant there would also be large price discrepancies, making it ideal for arbitrage, taking advantage of the price differences. The Kimchi Premium. One opportunity he exploited was what is known as the kimchi premium…
He left [Jane Street] for MacAskill’s Centre for Effective Altruism. Then he happened upon a cryptocurrency website and [he] noticed something odd. (…) What caught his attention was a page on CoinMarketCap.com that quoted prices from exchanges around the world. (…) Bankman-Fried saw that certain coins were selling for way more on some exchanges than others. (…) Bankman-Fried recruited a few friends to help him with the project. (…) Bankman-Fried named his company Alameda Research…”
He, he, he, he, he. That’s a lot of hes.
Occasionally the media would allude to the involvement of others. For example, an early-2021 profile of SBF by New York Magazine’s Intelligencer vaguely mentioned “some friends” having founded Alameda “with” him:
In January 2018, Sam Bankman-Fried, then a mathy 25-year-old who had recently left Wall Street to try his hand at buying and selling cryptocurrency, spotted a fabulous arbitrage: Because of a faddish surge of interest in Japan, bitcoin was trading for 10 percent more there than in America. (…) It was… complex (or “quite annoying,” in his words) to execute at scale, but Bankman-Fried and some friends, with whom he had founded a trading firm in Berkeley called Alameda Research, cobbled together a chain of intermediaries, including obscure banks in rural Japan, to take advantage of the monthlong price discrepancy. They moved up to $25 million a day. “You can do the math,” said Bankman-Fried. “That was the craziest trade I’ve ever seen.”
No names, no details. They just gloss over it. Meanwhile, SBF is “The Mysterious Cryptocurrency Magnate Who Became One of Biden’s Biggest Donors,” according to the article’s title. The real mystery is the media’s bizarre disinterest in (or avoidance of) this critical facet of this “altruistic genius” turned accused fraudster’s origin story.
Tara Mac Aulay
Fast-forward to November of 2022. FTX blows up and files for bankruptcy.
A few days later, a woman named Tara Mac Aulay, who had not posted on the platform in almost two years, took to Twitter to issue a curious statement. Here it is in full (emphasis added):
Quick facts: I started Alameda Research with Sam in 2017. In April 2018, I and a group of others all quit, in part due to concerns over risk management and business ethics.
I started Lantern Ventures and Pharos Fund with some of this group to do things differently. We have never had any connection to Sam, FTX, or Alameda, except for recently starting to trade on FTX with small size. I have not even spoken to Sam since 2018.
I am shocked, appalled, and frankly, angry. BTC was birthed from the trauma of 2008. Sam’s actions are a perversion of everything crypto stands for. My heart goes out to all of the victims whose trust was betrayed, savings lost, and livelihoods destroyed.
She “started Alameda” with Sam? “Just one guy” Sam? That Sam?
The answer appears to be yes, she did. Though her name was widely written out of the history for years while Bankman-Fried was virtually deified from 2018 until his downfall, a Bloomberg article from July 14, 2022—reporting on the collapse of crypto lender Celsius—picked up on this hidden fact.
After documenting that Celsius’ biggest creditor appears to have been an “affiliate” of a crypto-focused trading firm called Lantern Ventures, the article states (emphasis added):
[Lantern] has about $400 million under management, more than half of which is owned by investors outside the US, the SEC filing shows. Lantern also has several employees whose career histories listed on LinkedIn intersect with that of a prominent crypto billionaire whose firm also is a major creditor to Celsius: Sam Bankman-Fried. The firm’s Chief Executive Officer Tara Mac Aulay is a co-founder of Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s crypto trading firm, she said during a panel at a conference in London in November.
Here is the video of her at said conference, which was called “DAS: London 2021“:
Tara Mac Aulay at the Digital Asset Summit 2021 in London: “I was one of the co-founders of Alameda Research. So, I’ve been trading in this space since 2016…” pic.twitter.com/xpeY0Vg4OV— Decensored News (@decensorednews) January 27, 2023
Hi, I’m Tara Mac Aulay. I’m Lantern Ventures. We’re a crypto-native hedge fund. Prior to that I was one of the co-founders of Alameda Research. So, I’ve been trading in this space since 2016, doing a lot of volume [in] derivatives
First of all: 2016? Bankman-Fried didn’t even “look into” crypto until late 2017, according to his own timeline. This means Mac Aulay would have been the (semi) experienced crypto trader when Alameda was founded, not self-described crypto newbie SBF. (More on this monetarily.)
Furthermore, right after the portion quoted earlier, the Bloomberg article continues:
[Tara Mac Aulay] also worked at the Oxford, UK-based Centre for Effective Altruism, a charity where Bankman-Fried was formerly a director of development, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Ok, wow: Another “effective altruism” (EA) connection, once again right at the genesis of Alameda (and therefore SBF’s “legend” and “fortune.”)
But wait: she didn’t just “work at” the Centre for Effective Altruism – she was the CEO of the organization.
From her LinkedIn:
Look at the dates. Alameda was reportedly founded in the fall of 2017, right around the time she was made CEO of the CEA, after having already been its COO for well over two years.
Also, note that her location changes from Oxford in the UK to the organization’s Berkeley, California location—the same place SBF moved to around the same time, after quitting his job at Jane Street. (Note: A profile from 2016 on a CEA-affiliated website says she was actually already in the Berkeley area when she first took the COO job.)
So now we are faced with some rather amazing missing pieces of the story:
1. Before SBF ever “looked into” crypto, the CEA’s COO/CEO had already apparently been “trading in [the] space” since the previous year, “doing a lot of volume and derivatives.”
2. SBF quits his job at Jane Street with (supposedly) no plan except to move back to the Bay Area.
3. SBF is “then” offered the job as “director of development” at the CEA in Berkley, and rents an apartment nearby.
4. Mac Aulay co-founds Alameda with him around the same time
5. She remains at Alameda until April of 2018, apparently throughout the height of the company’s “legendary” arbitrage.
On that last point, here is Sam Bankman-Fried, speaking to CNBC’s Kate Rooney in September of 2022:
Rooney: You mentioned at one point in an interview that Alameda made a million dollars a day every weekday. Can you explain how that happened?
SBF: So that was– there was this brief period in January of 2018. And that was, certainly a local maximum for Alameda…
January 2018 also happens to be when Mac Aulay’s LinkedIn says she stepped down from the CEO position at the CEA. (Note: The chronology and exact dates are a bit murky here; it also seems possible that Alameda was founded in January of 2018, which presumably would mean the “local maximum” came a bit later.)
Asking The Obvious
This all raises some pretty big and (what should be) obvious questions: What, exactly, was top CEA executive Tara MacAulay’s role in Alameda, particularly its founding? Was SBF really the one who “noticed” the arbitrage opportunity and masterminded the plan? Or is the credit he is given for this (and proactively gives himself) a fabrication? What was Mac Aulay doing at Alameda between the time she stepped down as CEO of the CEA—just as Alameda’s arbitrage trade “hit it big”—and the time she says she left Alameda several months later (April of 2018)?
Also, what other contributions might SBF be falsely credited with? For instance, from the now-deleted Sequoia article:
SBF immediately put $50,000 of his own money to work. The first job was just getting the money into the system. The operational challenges were huge. Not just anyone can walk into a foreign bank and start wiring money out of the country every day. There are KYC rules, caps on withdrawals, and “huge operational challenges” that “looked like money laundering” or drug money and “raised every red flag” in the book? It looked like laundering. It looked like drug money. There were even monetary policy concerns: The liquidity of the South Korean won is sharply limited by the country’s central bank.
Fortunately, SBF had a secret weapon: the EA community. (…) Perhaps the most important [EA] was a Japanese grad student, who volunteered to do the legwork in Japan. As a Japanese citizen, he was able to open an account with the one (obscure, rural) Japanese bank that was willing, for a fee, to process the transactions that SBF—newly incorporated as Alameda Research—wanted to make. (…) Figuring he wanted to capture 5 percent of that, SBF went looking for a $50 million loan. Again, he reached out to the EA community. Jaan Tallinn, the cofounder of Skype, put up a good chunk of that initial $50 million.
With a goosed-up capital account, the money started piling up so fast that SBF placed what he refers to as “a market order for employees” to tend to the Rube Goldberg operation that kept the capital spinning. (…) The first 15 people SBF hired, all from the EA pool, were packed together in a shabby, 600-square-foot walk-up, working around the clock.
In light of everything we know now, this entire narrative is questionable. Is SBF the one who put the initial $50K “to work”? Was it really all “his own money”? Is he the one who “went looking” for (and “found”) the $50 million? Is he (and he alone) really the one who hired the “first 15 people” who were “all from the EA pool”? And who was this mysterious “Japanese grad student” that was able to navigate the KYC rules, caps on withdrawals, and other “huge operational challenges” that made the operation look “like money laundering” or drug money and “raised every red flag” in the book?
Media Coverage (Or Lack Thereof)
After Mac Aulay came out of the woodwork on Twitter to distance herself from SBF while simultaneously acknowledging—or, to most people, “revealing”—her status as an Alameda co-founder, some in the mainstream press have picked up on and reported this basic fact, yet showed little to no curiosity in these questions. Others have not reported on Mac Aulay at all.
- The Washington Post wrote on 11/24/22: “Tara Mac Aulay, who co-founded Alameda with Bankman-Fried in 2017 but quit a year later because of concerns over his business ethics and appetite for risk, tweeted recently that she was furious for all of the victims who had their trust ‘betrayed, savings lost and livelihoods destroyed,’ ” before embedding the first tweet of her thread. So, a single sentence mentioning her in passing, which appears over 50 paragraphs into this one lengthy article. They had never reported on her being co-founder of Alameda before, and have not brought her up again.
- CNN has previously reported that SBF is “the founder of crypto trading firm Alameda Research.” They have not reported about Mac Aulay at all.
- The New York Times has repeatedly reported the same about SBF, giving no indication of there having been any co-founders. Weeks after Mac Aulay came forward, they still haven’t mentioned her at all.
“FTX’s founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, is also the founder of Alameda Research Ventures” –NY Times, 12/1/2021
After leaving Jane Street in 2017, Mr. Bankman-Fried started Alameda Research, a crypto trading firm” –NY Times, 5/14/2022
- Reuters has also repeatedly reported that SBF “founded” Alameda, as if he did it alone, and has still not reported on Mac Aulay, either.
“Bankman-Fried started his career in finance at quantitative trading firm Jane Street, then founded crypto trading firm Alameda Research” —Reuters, 7/6/2022
“Crypto exchange FTX and Alameda Research, both founded by billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, offered to purchase all of Voyager’s digital assets and loans” –Reuters, 7/28/2022
“Alameda Research, the trading firm founded by FTX chief executive officer Sam Bankman-Fried, took down its website on Wednesday” —Reuters, 11/10/2022
These omissions get even more egregious in light of this: MacAulay is not the only “insider” who has publicly stated in recent weeks that SBF did not found Alameda alone. Notably, she’s wasn’t the first, either.
One such example is Kerry Vaughn, a philosophy PhD who worked at the CEA from 2014-2019, according to his bio on EffectiveAltruism.org, a CEA-run website. This would have encompassed Mac Aulay’s entire tenure, according to her LinkedIn, as well as the founding of Alameda around late 2017-early 2018.
On December 10, Vaughn wrote a series of tweets that discussed little-known details about the early days of Alameda.
I would be more receptive to this thread if the FTX debacle was a one-off mistake. It wasn’t.— 𝐊𝐞𝐫𝐫𝐲 𝐕𝐚𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐚𝐧 (@KerryLVaughan) November 10, 2022
Sam was involved in a scandal surrounding Almeda Research in 2018 that EAs covered up.
And, he isn’t even the first disgraced crypto billionaire that EAs courted.
Like Mac Aulay, Vaughn spoke of a “scandal” at Alameda in 2018 involving SBF, which he says caused many EAs working at the company to quit.
He said that he didn’t know all of the details, but, “What I do know is that Sam f**ked over many of the people that worked there. One person who worked there (and managed not to sign an NDA) says that Sam’s behavior was ‘ruthless, immoral backstabbing, and exploitation of EA’s willingness to always play cooperate.’ “
“I know I was told by multiple EAs familiar with the situation who I trust not to trust Sam over his handling of the internal [Alameda] blowup,” Vaughn continued. “All the top leaders in EA knew about the 2018 Alameda situation. All of them.”
“But as soon as Sam became sufficiently wealthy, they all jumped directly into bed with him, supported him, and let him use the EA brand to launder his reputation as a ‘good guy.’ So who could have seen it coming? The friends of mine that he *directly* fucked over. They tried to fucking warn EA leaders about Sam and were ignored and even ostracized.”
The following day, Vaughn made a post on the Effective Altruism Forum further clarifying and expanding upon his Twitter thread, based on what he has been able to gather from talking to friends of his “in the EA community” who “worked at Alameda Research during the first 6 months of its existence.”
Reading the full thread is highly recommended, but one thing he says is that SBF had “cofounders” (plural) at Alameda:
The legal ownership structure of Alameda did not reflect the ownership structure that had been agreed to by the parties involved. In particular, Sam registered Alameda under his sole ownership and not as jointly owned by him and his cofounders. This was not thought to be a problem because everyone trusted each other as EAs.
He said that all of this seems to have been widely known among “EA leadership,” including “some members of FTX Future Fund” (would almost certainly include William MacAskill), as were other issue that many within Alameda voiced at the time and ultimately quit over. These included “concerns about [Sam] taking extreme and unnecessary risks and losing large amounts of money, poor safeguards around moving money around, poor capital controls, including a lack of distinction between money owned by investors and money owned by Alameda itself, and Sam generally being extremely difficult to work with.”
Vaughn also cited a thread by another EA, Jeffrey Ladish, who reported something similar:
I deleted this Tweet because it was starting to pick up momentum and I don’t know in what context people are going to take it. I think Twitter can be a nasty accelerator of conflict, and I don’t want to play into that— Jeffrey Ladish (@JeffLadish) November 11, 2022
So here’s an attempt to add context to what I said… 🧵 pic.twitter.com/V2i5F7TAAY
Near the end of his post, Vaughn said:
I want to add that I am reasonably afraid that my discussing this will make me some powerful enemies in the EA community. I didn’t raise this issue sooner because of this concern. If anyone else wants to step up and reveal their information or otherwise help agitate strongly to ensure all the information about this situation comes to light, that would be most appreciated. I think this is really important.
One such person who “stepped up” soon after this was a user with the handle “nbouscal,” who said they were one of Vaughn’s sources—specifically the one Vaughn quoted describing SBF’s behavior as:
ruthless, immoral backstabbing, and exploitation of EA’s willingness to always play cooperate. it was also extreme risk-taking (including totally unnecessary EV- risks), and a cavalier disregard for any of the standard legal structures or safeguards around managing money. current events are entirely unsurprising and follow from the exact same pattern of behaviour.
A member of the forum since 2016, “nbouscal” is almost certainly Naia Bouscal, an EA that Dirty Bubble Media had flagged months earlier as being involved with Mac Aulay’s more recent company, Lantern Ventures:
Lantern’s CEO, Tara Mac Auley, was previously the CEO of the Center for Effective Altruism. … Two other individuals are listed as officers in Lantern Ventures corporate filings: Naia Bouscal (listed on LinkedIn as CTO), and Dr. Rachel Cotton-Barrat.
In the aforementioned thread with Vaughn, one user asked her two good questions. In short:
1. “Were the Kimchi arb returns real?,” given that “the cause of the Kimchi premium was strict legal capital controls, and the liquidity was orders of magnitude too small to produce the wealth in SBF later used. At best, SBF was actively breaking laws by this trade. The amount of money he could make may have been too small to justify the narratives around his early success.”
2. Is it possible that the $50M of funding from EA Jaan Tallin, as opposed to “the Kimchi arb,” that “really launched SBF’s career”? “It seems like power, money and access led to SBF’s success. This theme would fit with SBF’s later behavior, with bluffing and overaweing spend.”
In her November 13 reply, Bouscal said this with regard to the first question:
I don’t mind sharing a bit about this. SBF desperately wanted to do the Korea arb, and we spent quite a bit of time coming up with any number of outlandish tactics that might enable us to do so, but we were never able to actually figure it out. The capital controls worked. The best we could do was predict which direction the premium would go and trade into KRW and then back out of it accordingly.
Japan was different. We were able to get a Japanese entity set up, and we did successfully trade on the Japan arb. As far as I know we didn’t break any laws in doing so, but I wasn’t directly involved in the operational side of it. My recollection is that we made something like 10-30 million dollars (~90%CI) off of that arb in total, but I’m not at all confident on the exact amount.
Is that what created his early wealth, though? Not really. Before we all left, pretty much all of that profit had been lost to a series of bad trades and mismanagement of assets. Examples included some number of millions lost to a large directional bet on ETH (that Sam made directly counter to the predictions of our best event trader), a few million more on a large OTC trade in some illiquid shitcoin that crashed long before we could get out of it, another couple million in a series of XRP transfers that nobody noticed had never arrived, and that had fallen in value by something like 90% when they finally showed up much later, and various other random small things like a junior trader accidentally transferring half a million dollars of USDT to a BTC address (or something like that) due to a complete lack of safeguards on transfers, etc. Not to mention absurd levels of expenditures, e.g. an AWS bill that at one point reached about a quarter million dollars per month.
My knowledge of the story ends when we left, and my recollection is that at that point the Japan arb had long been closed and most of our profits from it had been squandered. I don’t know how he achieved his later success…
After that, she briefly speculated about what the answer might be, before giving this disclaimer:
All of this is purely from memory, I have not cross-checked it with anyone else who was there, and it could be substantially wrong in the details. It has been a long time, and I spent most of that time trying to forget all about it. I’m sharing this because I believe the broad strokes of it to be accurate, but please do not update too strongly from it, nor quote it without mentioning this disclaimer.
Although neither Vaugh, Ladish, or Bouscal named any of SBF’s Alameda “cofounders,” others did. One user asked the following, while linking to the aforementioned Bloomberg article as a source:
Also from the Sequoia profile: “After SBF quit Jane Street, he moved back home to the Bay Area, where Will MacAskill had offered him a job as director of business development at the Centre for Effective Altruism.” It was precisely at this time that SBF launched Alameda Research, with Tara Mac Aulay (then the president of CEA) as a co-founder… To what extent was Will or any other CEA figure involved with launching Alameda and/or advising it?
Another user replied to this, also specifically naming Mac Aulay and asking about her involvement.
It was at this point that Tara Mac Aulay’s husband, Michael Page, showed up in the thread.
As of 2016, Page was “Director of Special Projects at the Centre for Effective Altruism, where he oversees the research, policy, and philanthropic advising teams,” according to his bio as a speaker for EA Global 2016.
“Tara left CEA to co-found Alameda with Sam. As is discussed elsewhere, she and many others split ways with Sam in early 2018. I’ll leave it to them to share more if/when they want to, but I think it’s fair to say they left at least in part due to concerns about Sam’s business ethics. She’s had nothing to do with Sam since early 2018. It would be deeply ironic if, given what actually happened, Sam’s actions are used to tarnish Tara. [Disclosure: Tara is my wife]“
So there it is again, this time from her own husband, who was another high up at the CEA: Tara Mac Aulay co-founded Alameda with SBF.
It should be noted that all of this happened before Mac Aulay’s Twitter thread stating that she co-founded Alameda. She posted that on November 16. The posts quoted above are from November 10-14. In other words, prior to her coming forward on Twitter, her widely-unreported involvement as co-founder was already being highlighted and asked about on the EA forum for the better part of a week. (Here’s another example).
It’s (seemingly) impossible to know for sure whether Mac Aulay would have come forward otherwise. Even when she did, she provided very little in the way of actual details about Alameda’s true origin story and early days. (Read her statement again. She just says: “I started Alameda Research with Sam in 2017. In April 2018, I and a group of others all quit, in part due to concerns over risk management and business ethics.” The rest is her talking about her new company, distancing herself from SBF, and expressing sympathy for the victims.)
Others, as seen above, have been more outspoken and detailed. Even her colleague Naia Bouscal—also mentioned earlier—apparently went on to talk to the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks after her initial EA forum posts, which quoted her as follows:
Years before Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire collapsed, a group of employees quit in a power struggle—after becoming concerned about what they say was his cavalier approach to risk, compliance and accounting. The employees worked at his trading firm, Alameda Research, and were some of his earliest colleagues, including Alameda’s co-founder, Tara Mac Aulay. They left in 2018, well before the crypto exchange FTX grew out of Alameda
Mr. Bankman-Fried placed huge bets on crypto assets but paid little heed to the risk of those bets, brushing off the staffers’ concerns, according to people familiar with the matter. The firm commingled trading capital with operating cash and had poor record-keeping that left its profits and losses unclear, they said.
“He didn’t want to feel constrained,” said Naia Bouscal, a former software engineer at Alameda who left with Ms. Mac Aulay and the others. “But as a result we ended up not really knowing how much money we even had.”
The employee departures occurred partly because Mr. Bankman-Fried and his allies had taken effective control of the firm, freezing out the others, according to some of those who left.
“We looked at Sam and his actions, his decisions, the way he treated people and the way he ran the company and came to the conclusion he’s not a person we wanted to be in business with or associate with,” said Ms. Bouscal.
The same article does quote Mac Aulay, but only from her earlier-mentioned Twitter statement from weeks prior. Bouscal’s quotes, on the other hand, appear to be “new,” so presumably she spoke to the publication.
In case it isn’t abundantly clear already: Tara Mac Aulay is not the one who committed the (alleged) crimes at FTX and Alameda. Not at all. She was, as she and her husband accurately and fairly point out, long gone from that operation before FTX was even formed. She also apparently tried to warn about SBF’s behavior at the time – at least internally, meaning to people within Alameda and the CEA.
With that said, she – and many of her colleagues – do not appear to have done much to warn the outside world, even as SBF and other top EA figures spent several years creating a deceptive, whitewashed history around SBF and Alameda, and parlayed that “legend” into a multi-billion dollar disaster that is now being characterized with phrases like “the Enron case on steroids.”
Wanting to know the full/real story, “who knew what, and when,” and why certain key facts were – and in some cases remain – hidden, also seems fair and reasonable; particularly in light of the many “victims whose trust was betrayed, savings lost, and livelihoods destroyed,” to quote Mac Aulay’s own words.
A look at the replies to her statement is instructive regarding some of the practical and moral questions at hand. Here’s a sampling:
It’s a matter of opinion, but there frankly seem to be some valid points on “both sides” here (critics and defenders).
Mac Aulay, for her part, has not replied to any of these questions on Twitter, nor posted anything else since publishing her three-tweet statement on November 16.
That in itself seems to raise some more questions, so here are some closing thoughts and observations:
1) “Why didn’t you come forward earlier?” is a different question than “Why aren’t you saying more now?” We saw above some of the possible answers to the former (although they are purely speculation, since Mac Aulay herself hasn’t answered at all). If there were concerns about not being believed, coming across as “just sour grapes,” getting sued by those who continued to run Alameda, etc., those would seem to be much less of a concern now, especially with SBF out and John Ray III having taken over as CEO of FTX. Numerous other EAs are trying to shed some light, so why not the co-founder?
2) If she isn’t answering these questions to protect MacAskill and EA, that would seemly reflect badly on both. People are already openly questioning EA as a moral philosophy, specifically whether it actually could be used to justify the type of fraud that those controlling Alameda and FTX are accused of. Could it also be used to justify whitewashing true information that casts EA in a bad light?
…effective altruists, by MacAskill’s own lights “use reason and evidence to assess how to do as much good as possible, and who take action on this basis.” If reason and evidence suggest that violating common-sense moral constraints will lead to the most possible good, then why shouldn’t an effective altruist take action on that basis? Seen in this light, what was wrong about Bankman-Fried’s actions at FTX is not that he violated common-sense moral constraints (if it is true that he did), but instead that he did so ineptly and that left him without significant resources to donate
–Jeff Dunn, Pridle Post
3) If she isn’t answering these questions because of fear of MacAskill and EA, that would seemingly reflect badly on both as well. (Remember Kerry Vaughn earlier? “I am reasonably afraid that my discussing this will make me some powerful enemies in the EA community. I didn’t raise this issue sooner because of this concern.”)
For his part, MacAskill has thus far declined to respond to a slew of very valid questions himself, which came from within his own “EA community.”
The public has a strong interest in understanding the roots of Alameda and SBF, and the “movement” that so much of it clearly emanated from – a movement which is actively and purposefully working to influence our governments, charities, and the future of humanity, with the help of big-money backers.
“Effective altruism has sort of– as it’s grown, we’ve also scaled our impact. . . . we’ve changed the discussion about doing good. So, in the early days we talked about existential risk being this weird niche idea; but recently, it was discussed on panels at the UN. And we tried to identify the very best charities; but now we’re founding them, and building them from the ground up. We talked about how to decide who to vote for; but now we’re influencing governments directly.”
—Tara Mac Aulay, then-COO of the Centre for Effective Altruism, at EA Global 2016, about a year before co-founding Alameda Research with SBF
Tara Mac Aulay, then-COO of the Centre for Effective Altruism, in 2016, talking about how they’ve “scaled” EA’s “impact,” including:— Decensored News (@decensorednews) January 27, 2023
➡ A “weird niche [EA] idea” now discussed on UN panels
➡ Building their own charities “from the ground up”
➡ “Influencing governments directly” pic.twitter.com/Aq1UUXiN06