Dark Web: The Silk Road Conspiracy

The dark net is home to many illegal activities Child pornography, live torture streams and hitmen for hire are all accessible on black market websites

Perhaps most famous and first of all these was Silk Road, a black market for selling illegal drugs Transactions were made in bitcoin, allowing for great anonymity for its users Over its lifespan, between $200 million and $1 billion worth of sales were made on Silk Road It was run by an administrator called the Dread Pirate Roberts The name was taken from The Princess Bride, the point being that the Dread Pirate Roberts is a title passed on from one person to another, embodying the same values as each other but impossible to catch because the evidence trail would never lead to an individual

Dread Pirate Roberts could have been anybody, and they were willing to go to any lengths to keep the Silk Road active – including corrupting federal agents, and assassinating people in their way Silk Road began trading in February 2011 The system was simple: for a small fee, users could buy and sell illegal drugs to one another Dread Pirate Roberts set up Silk Road, but it grew so quickly that he soon hired a small band of users to help him run it Every communication was encrypted and every transaction was made in pseudonymous bitcoins

Cyber security was kept at high levels by a user called Variety Jones, whom Roberts described as his mentor Another of Robert’s close colleagues was 47-year-old Curtis Green Online, he served as a Silk Road administrator, going by the username Flush In January 2013, Flush used his administrator access to steal $350,000 in bitcoins from Silk Road He transferred the money to an account called Number13

Green then disappeared Dread Pirate Roberts had a problem Variety Jones urged him to hire someone to take care of it So Roberts asked a Silk Road user called Nob to execute Green For $80,000, Nob tortured Green to death

He sent a picture of Green’s body as proof of the crime Dread Pirate Roberts replied, “I am a little disturbed but I’m ok… I’m new to this kind of thing I don’t think I’ve done the wrong thing I’m sure I will call on you again at some point, though I hope I won’t have to” Roberts would go on to order five other executions

Yet despite being one of the most successful criminals ever, Roberts was not a genius He made mistakes Investigators followed an electronic trail that led to the personal e-mail of 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht In October 2013 Ulbricht was arrested in the San Francisco Public Library in Glen Park He was working on his laptop at the time – logged into Silk Road as the Dread Pirate Roberts

Normally he encrypted it, but agents took his computer from him before he could shut it down Tracing his history of crimes was relatively easy from that point The FBI seized his bitcoin fortune, worth around $85 million A year before, the DEA set up a task force in Baltimore to expose Dread Pirate Roberts and bring down Silk Road To achieve this, they went undercover as users on the site

The lead investigator was Special Agent Carl Force He set up several user accounts on Silk Road One of his identities was Nob – the same one hired to kill Curtis Green In fact, Green was never killed; Force had arrested him in a drugs sting, then helped him fake his death The kill order formed part of the evidence against Ross Ulbricht

However, the money Ulbricht paid for the job did not get logged as evidence; Force kept it for himself But he didn’t stop there As Nob, he offered to sell Ross Ulbricht information about a corrupt employee at the Department of Justice He was lying, but Ulbricht paid up Then he used another identity to sell Ulbricht information about the DEA task force for $100,000

Most daringly, he used a third identity to blackmail Ulbricht for $250,000 over the ‘execution’ of Curtis Green Yet, there was something peculiar about the order to kill Green Ulbricht want him dead because of the money he stole from Silk Road But when the money was stolen, Green was already in custody The Department of Justice assumed Carl Force had stolen the money, along with all his other schemes

However, the account where the money had been sent, Number13, did not belong to Force Instead, Number13 belonged to a man called Shaun Bridges Shaun Bridges was a Secret Service agent, and Carl Force’s boss The two of them had interrogated Curtis Green, who told them his login details for Silk Road Bridges then carried out the bitcoin heist, as well as siphoning government bitcoin funds into a fake business account

In all, he laundered $800,000 Remarkably, it seems that Force and Bridges acted independently of each other There is no evidence connecting their crimes – it just so happened that when Bridges carried out the theft that led Ulbricht to order Green’s murder, Ulbricht asked Force to do it Both agents did their best to obstruct the task force and to cover their tracks Perhaps if they’d worked together, they would have spotted each other’s mistakes

Ross Ulbricht is currently serving a life sentence The information he kept on his computer led to the arrest of Carl Force, and subsequently Shaun Bridges It also led to the arrest of Roger Thomas Clark, who authorities believe is Variety Jones, the man who helped build Silk Road and encouraged Ulbricht to remove his problems by assassinating them He was caught in Thailand and is still awaiting extradition He claims to have explosive information about more corrupt federal agents

The story of Silk Road is marked by vice, murder, corruption and hubris The anonymity offered by the dark net and bitcoin was not as powerful as these men thought The FBI closed Silk Road in 2013 But its story may not be over Further black market sites are preserving its legacy

Currently, Silk Road Reloaded fills the gap left by the original And if Variety Jones’ claims are true, then the online black market may have more help from officers of the law than we know…

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