Once upon a time, you could sign on to Silk Road and buy everything from LSD to Moon Rock molly with Bitcoin. That time is now over because the FBI along with a few other federal agencies have seized the domain and shutdown the drug-dealing site. The only question is, what took them so long?
Silk Road found its way into popular culture a couple of years ago when Gawker's Adrian Chen a big exposée on "the site where you can buy any drug imaginable." Chen made the point that it wasn't just illegal drugs that were being sold on the anonymous black market site. But when you look at the criminal complaint, it's pretty obvious that it's the drugs the Feds are interested in.
Indeed, the very first count in the complaint is for "Narcotics Trafficking Conspiracy." The complaint is filed against a Mr. Ross William Ulbricht, a.k.a. "Dread Pirate Roberts," a.k.a. "DPR," a.k.a. "Silk Road." The second and third counts include "Computer Hacking Conspiracy" and "Money Laundering Conspiracy," and based on the numbers in the complaint, the scale of the operation was nothing less than severe. The complaint says that Silk Road did some $1.2 billion in sales, amounting to $80 million in commissions:
This was not run like your standard member of the Better Business Bureau, either. At one point, Ulbricht actually tried to hire a hit man to kill a Silk Road user and paid in Bitcoin:
And if you had any hopes that Silk Road was actually a safe place to buy massive quantities of illegal drugs, think again. The cops were on to this place a long time ago, and they had undercovers carry out over 100 purchases. They even tested the drugs, and the drugs were good:
Oh and just in case you were wondering, the FBI knows how nicknames work online:
By the way, this is all very inconvenient for the drug dealers that had money wrapped up in Silk Road. Once their money went into Silk Road's coffers, its impossible to get out now that the Feds have control over the domain.
Ross Ulbricht, the 29-year-old man who was arrested under suspicion of being Silk Road's ring leader, has a revealing online presence. Ulbricht's LinkedIn profile describes him as an "investment advisor and entrepreneur" in Austin, Texas. Past employers include Pennsylvania State University and Good Wagon Books, a service that picked used books up from people's houses. If you dig into his personal summary, though, it's clear that Ulbricht had bigger plans. He wrote:
I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and agression amongst mankind. Just as slavery has been abolished most everywhere, I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end. The most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments, so this is my current point of effort. … To that end, I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.
Sounds a little bit like Silk Road, doesn't it? It's unclear when Ulbricht last updated his LinkedIn profile, but the most recent date listed—May 2011—suggests that it must've been not long after Silk Road was getting up off the ground.
For context, Chen's Gawker piece was published in June 2011. The criminal complaint says that a Silk Road WordPress was registered on January 23, 2011, and a user by the name of "altoid" started promoting "an anonymous amazon.com" in various forums two days later. "Altoid" was later linked to Ulbricht's Gmail address.
Ulbricht was also active and politically outspoken on YouTube. Six years ago, he wrote in the comments section of a video he'd uploaded:
We should leave the UN simply because being in it is not in our best interest. The UN is a governing body that, in some cases is supreme to the US government. It is not required to abide by the constitution, and many of its objectives are contrary to the constitution. It is a perfect vehicle for those who want to dominate the world and so far, that is what it has been used for. That is not to mention the well documented corruption and dishonesty.
So certainly something's stirring in that active young mind of his. Just check out his latest activity on YouTube:
Like many Americans these days, Ulbricht also has a Facebook profile, a Google+ page—tagline: "spunky, funky, not so chunky"—and a Twitter account he never uses. But this is hardly the last we'll hear of Ross Ulbricht. Homeboy has a long and revealing trial ahead of him, one that we'll watch with fascination.