Around 2 years ago, I wrote a column about Silk Road, the hidden website accessible only with a special encrypted browser called TOR, that sold illegal drugs and other clandestine items as conveniently and reliably as products on Amazon or Ebay.
According to the FBI, the mastermind behind this notorious underground internet site was arrested in a branch of the San Francisco Public Library on October 2, 2013.
When FBI agents approached Ross William Ulbricht he was in the science fiction section of the library, which seems appropriate, as Silk Road sure seems like it arrived from the future.
29 year old Ulbricht--who looks like a GQ magazine cover model, holds a master’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering from Penn State, and posted his wonderful psychedelic drawings on Facebook--was charged with suspicion of drug trafficking, facilitating computer hacking, money laundering, and soliciting murder.
Yes, soliciting murder.
Apparently, there were emails stored on the Silk Road site that implicated Ulbricht in hiring an assassin to kill someone who threatened to compromise the security of his website, although there is no police record of the supposed murder ever actually occurring.
I sure hope that the murder allegation isn’t true, as otherwise Ulbricht seems like a pretty cool guy.
It appears that the FBI went after Silk Road because Ulbricht was blatantly publicizing the site in online forums--which probably seemed like he was thumbing his nose at authorities--and this lead to a flurry of media attention and political outrage.
On October 2 the popular, secretly-encrypted black market site was closed down and replaced with an FBI post--containing 5 different Department of Justice and Homeland Security insignias--that said “THIS HIDDEN SITE HAS BEEN SEIZED.”
All of the assets that Silk Road collected in “Bitcoins”--a form of digital currency that can be used anonymously over the internet-- were confiscated.
The amount of money “seized” by the FBI from the site was $17 million dollars, and Ulbricht’s personal Bitcoin “wallet” contains around 80 million dollars.
However, accessing these funds has turned out to be rather difficult, as the FBI doesn’t know the password key necessary to collect the money, which is simply stored as encrypted data, spread across a worldwide network of computers.
According to the FBI, Ulbricht is “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the internet personality with libertarian ideals who has been posting about Silk Road in online forums, and, supposedly, masterminded the whole operation.
However, it might be instructive to reflect upon where this pseudonym came from and what it means, because in the film Princess Bride, Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) was actually numerous people.
He was a character played by multiple actors, depicting a persona who could easily be replaced.
“DPR, aka Ross Ulbricht, WAS a person, but he is a persona now--an ideal persona. There are Silk Road forums where you can get an idea of how we, as a community, felt about him. He was revered. In the online forums you can read hundreds of farewells and praises for DPR,” said a former Silk Road user.
On October 4, Ulbricht appeared in federal court in San Francisco and denied all charges.
Ulbricht’s New-York-based attorney Joshua Dratel says that he is confident that the charges against Ulbricht will be dropped, as there is only circumstantial evidence.
Regardless of whether Ulbricht is the mastermind behind Silk Road or not, bringing down Silk Road was purely for show, as it does absolutely nothing to stop black market sales on the dark internet.
At least 4 other hidden sites, such as Black Market Reloaded and Black Flag, are currently up and running--protected by layers of encryption--and doing exactly what Silk Road did.
Just Goggle “Silk Road Alternatives” if you’re curious.
A legal defense fund has been set up to raise money to free Ross Ulbricht. To find out more see: https://www.rossulbricht.org/introducing-the-ross-ulbricht-legal-defense-fund/
To read about the “LSD Avengers,” an anonymous group of sophisticated psychedelic enthusiasts, who chemically tested all of the acid sold on the Silk Road, consumed the chemically-confirmed LSD, and posted Yelp-like reviews of the samples, see:
To view Ulbricht’s psychedelic drawings see:
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Please share any thoughts that you may have about the dark internet and the black market economy.