The battle for the Web’s drug corner is on
August 28, 2013 5:30 AM   Subscribe

Meet the Dread Pirate Roberts - the man behind booming black market drug website Silk Road
posted by Blazecock Pileon (67 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Clearly I should not choose the heroin in front of ME.
posted by delfin at 5:37 AM on August 28, 2013 [23 favorites]


So is he left handed or not
posted by mhoye at 5:44 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


“What we’re doing isn’t about scoring drugs or ‘sticking it to the man.’ It’s about standing up for our rights as human beings and refusing to submit when we’ve done no wrong.”

I'm in awe of the brass neck here, and always thrilled to see a counter-attack in the War On DrugsTM. That is my only interest in this site.

So do they deliver overseas? No reason.
posted by billiebee at 6:12 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wait, I thought this was what Craigslist was for?
posted by cjorgensen at 6:15 AM on August 28, 2013


Related story - Russian cybercriminals try to frame journalist Brian Krebs by ordering heroin through silkroad in his name and having it delivered to his home. (Via NPR's On the Media.)
posted by aught at 6:18 AM on August 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


I finally got curious, installed the tor bundle, made an account and looked around. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect: drugs, ebooks, porn site passwords, fake high-end fashion stuff (Think: Fauxlex watches), and other bric-a-brac. It's like an online flea market.

I have to say that the 'home and garden' category was something of a surprise, but there wasn't too much in there.
posted by jquinby at 6:20 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


...and yeah, the vendors appear to ship all over the world. That's the part that has me sort of confused - that you can order weed, heroin, MDMA or whatever and it shows up in your mailbox via the USPS.
posted by jquinby at 6:21 AM on August 28, 2013


jquinby: There was an instance when an Australian man was caught after a bunch of his orders were intercepted at customs; they never arrived and he just kept ordering.
posted by BiggerJ at 6:26 AM on August 28, 2013


I can't keep up with all the craziness in the world. I like how the police officer in the Krebs report link says he's trying to slowly unplug his presence from the Internet world by the time he retires.
posted by gt2 at 6:33 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


He credits Silk Road’s creation to another, even more secretive entrepreneur whom he declined to tell me anything about and who may have used the “Dread Pirate Roberts” nom de guerre before it was assumed by the person I interviewed. The current Roberts discovered the site shortly after its creation in early 2011 [...] Eventually, the current Roberts says, he bought out Silk Road’s creator and assumed full control.

He is now living like a king in Patagonia.
posted by Hactar at 6:43 AM on August 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


> Wait, I thought this was what Craigslist was for?

Is that a joke? You're begging to get busted that way.
posted by planetesimal at 6:53 AM on August 28, 2013


Dread Pirate Roberts is also the name of the Cheif Justice of the Supreme Court. Coincidence???
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:09 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


BiggerJ: "jquinby: There was an instance when an Australian man was caught after a bunch of his orders were intercepted at customs; they never arrived and he just kept ordering."

I think that even if it slipped through customs, I think I'd just be too nervous to stroll out to my mailbox (or open a post office box) with a bunch of highly illegal stuff inside. It just seems way too risky, but if the figures in the Forbes article are correct, it must mostly work or no one would bother.
posted by jquinby at 7:09 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


you can order weed, heroin, MDMA or whatever and it shows up in your mailbox via the USPS.

I guess this is what's interesting to me. The odds of the USPS getting wise to what's in the package are probably vanishingly small, but if they do, what are the potential consequences in comparison to an in-person transaction?
posted by uncleozzy at 7:12 AM on August 28, 2013


It just seems way too risky, but if the figures in the Forbes article are correct, it must mostly work or no one would bother.

That's my thing. I see how the security/anonymity works on the front end. That's trivial, or at least transparent to me. But you're giving them your address for these materials. If you are found out, you're done because they've got you when you come to the mailbox just by looking at the shipping label.

I guess I can see it as an improvement if you're going to buy drugs anyway but I don't see it as a safe or better gateway experience for people who wouldn't otherwise buy drugs to do so. Or is it? Because isn't that sort of their modus operandi?

Or is the silk road just the upper level middle man for distributors at a local/personal level? Because if that was the case then I can't help but think they'd be generating a lot more investigation/scrunity/busts than if the former were the case....
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:16 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


> what are the potential consequences in comparison to an in-person transaction?

Federal charges.
posted by planetesimal at 7:16 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


> That's trivial, or at least transparent to me. But you're giving them your address for these materials.

I think I'd be more worried that the dealer has your address. Say they get busted in a sting, and are encouraged to rat out others to get a lighter sentence. You could then be a convenient scapegoat.
posted by planetesimal at 7:18 AM on August 28, 2013


Isn't transporting controlled substances across state lines already a federal crime?
posted by cmfletcher at 7:22 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could be wrong, but it's my understanding that it's only a problem if they can prove you picked it up. Just having it SENT to your address is not enough. So if the package gets rerouted to the post office, or if customs calls you to say you have to come get it, or if the DHL man asks you to sign for it, there's trouble. But just getting it in your mailbox with no proof that you took if is not enough (otherwise, we could all just mail heroin to people we hate).
posted by AmandaA at 7:22 AM on August 28, 2013


cjorgensen: "Wait, I thought this was what Craigslist was for?"

No - that's for finding murder victims. Silk Road is more for finding the people to do the murder for you.
posted by symbioid at 7:27 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I could be wrong, but it's my understanding that it's only a problem if they can prove you picked it up.

Well yea, ok, sure, say that is the case... but ordering implies pickup right? I mean... otherwise what's the point? I doubt you'd get a courtesy email sometime after the shipping notification and before the delivery date from your dealer notifying you they got busted in a sting and that you may be in danger of getting busted as well....
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:28 AM on August 28, 2013


I could be wrong, but it's my understanding that it's only a problem if they can prove you picked it up. Just having it SENT to your address is not enough.

This is more into "how good is your lawyer?" territory. You can still get arrested.
posted by planetesimal at 7:31 AM on August 28, 2013


but ordering implies pickup right?

Right, that's what I means by "prove". Yes, it IMPLIES pickup, but if they can't PROVE pickup you're home free. Again, this is totally rumour and I have no idea if it's actually true.
posted by AmandaA at 7:31 AM on August 28, 2013


Jokes aside, I am suspicious. There's little reason to believe that any such organization is sustainable, and if I were the Feds watching these orgs start up and playing whackamole with them, I'd do a big honeypot or make a deal to get a backdoor a la PRISM.

Of course, if the government was smart, they'd love this: they'd make a deal to leave Silk Road alone so long as SR refused to carry child porn, tools for counterfeiting, and weapons.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:32 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's better to not repeat rumors in a popular forum about legal consequences if one doesn't know the facts.
posted by planetesimal at 7:33 AM on August 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think I'd be more worried that the dealer has your address. Say they get busted in a sting, and are encouraged to rat out others to get a lighter sentence. You could then be a convenient scapegoat.

I think this would mostly depend on how far up the supply chain the seller is. Any deals made with dealers are usually to get them to give up their supplier right? They catch a fish and use that fish to catch larger fish, not smaller ones.

I don't think it would really be worth the time and effort for the DEA to arrest and charge a thousand users like that. I am kind of curious about how they'd be able to link the Bitcoin transactions to the addresses. They might be able to prove that someone placed an order with that dealer to ship drugs to an address but they shouldn't be able to trace the source of the order. Basically, I think that they'd only be able to prove that the dealer mailed some drugs, not that anyone at the other end bought any.
posted by VTX at 7:40 AM on August 28, 2013


They catch a fish and use that fish to catch larger fish, not smaller ones.

In practice, dealers would rather rat out someone who can't arrange for their stabbing in prison. Lots of nobodies are doing time because they got set up by an informant.
posted by planetesimal at 7:43 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems Dr. Benway and Interzone, Inc are alive and well on the Dark Web in the 21st century.
posted by chambers at 7:51 AM on August 28, 2013


I thought that Silk Road had already been shut down. I gotta admit I'm curious as hell, but as daddy always tol' me, you gotta know your dealer.
posted by klangklangston at 8:24 AM on August 28, 2013


He sounds like a friend of mine from high school that I haven't seen in years, but I suspect anyone who knew a mid-90's vintage Libertarian/Objectivist with a side order of being too smart for their own good and a strong interest in the Internet and Cryptography would say the same.
posted by davros42 at 8:26 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think it would really be worth the time and effort for the DEA to arrest and charge a thousand users like that.

Given American asset-forfeiture laws, that's an awfully big pile of chips to be pushing into the middle of a rigged table.
posted by mhoye at 8:26 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


They may be rumors, but they are the rumors that keep the site running. If there's no way to prove that YOU ordered whatever it was that arrived in your mailbox, it does stand to reason that you might have some sort of defense. In practice I would imagine that attempted prosecutions just don't happen enough to prove or disprove those rumors.
posted by makeitso at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2013


Unlike other Bitcoin-based underground sites, Silk Road bans all but what Roberts defines as victimless contraband. He won’t permit the sale of child pornography, stolen goods or weapons, though the latter is a gray area.

The man's got standards. I like that in a pirate.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:51 AM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I recently got myself set up to see it. You can buy LSD!

LSD is available for sale! Most excellent!
posted by Meatbomb at 9:08 AM on August 28, 2013


The going exchange rate for punching someone in the dark is pegged at 8.72 bitcoins per wallop.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:08 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


How about for an open hand? The Slap Bet Commissioner may need to be consulted.
posted by delfin at 9:25 AM on August 28, 2013


"I recently got myself set up to see it. You can buy LSD!

LSD is available for sale! Most excellent!
"

I'm always worried about how easy it is to ship blank sheets of paper. But good quality acid is so hard to find… (I consider it a serious failure of the marketplace to know that I could get heroin or coke with, like, two phone calls, but getting acid or actual MDMA, let alone other fun PIKAL/TIKAL is a near impossibility.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:26 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


They may be rumors, but they are the rumors that keep the site running.

If people were routinely getting busted for buying things via Silk Road, we'd have heard about it by now.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:18 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, you can always get the drugs delivered to a P.O. Box.

The thing that concerns me more about this general trend is that it's not only likely to make a whole lot of bitcoin multimillionaires, but it's also likely to increase access and use of other Tor businesses.. such as contract hit men.
posted by markkraft at 11:53 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The man's got standards. I like that in a pirate.

It's like Omar from TheWire told Bunk; "A man gotta have a code."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:53 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think small time buyers stand much chance of being busted, unless the package was inspected at the post office for some reason. Why would the feds go through the trouble of trying to prosecute someone for a few pills or some weed when they likely don't even have solid evidence of the crime? The sellers are definitely at greater risk.
posted by orme at 1:00 PM on August 28, 2013


I remember a guy in college got busted for having his brother send him some hash from Amsterdam. They staked out the mail boxes, he went to check his, and boom, cops everywhere. I don't know how much it was, but I don't think it was a whole lot.

The Postal Inspectors are not going to go, ah, it's all good, if they learn about a package with any quantity of contraband, I'm afraid.
posted by thelonius at 1:08 PM on August 28, 2013


Hang on, this guy is named after a film called The Princess Bride? I haven't seen this film, but i'm guessing it features a lot of pink dresses?
posted by maiamaia at 1:10 PM on August 28, 2013


It's a better book, but both the movie and the book are excellent.
posted by klangklangston at 1:14 PM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Re: pure LSD. Drugs are a marketplace. What's most profitable is what is both addictive and most likely to force its addicts to commit crimes to obtain it, such as theft, burglary, prostitution (harm to yourself - no, don't give me the alternative bs, 99% of prostitution is self-harm, the rest is vanishingly rare - though, i agree, this could one day be othewise - and so a crime against yourself). Only a tiny group of people, such as Mrs. Prince Charles' nephew (/similar relative) are rich enough to addict themselves to death without committing crimes (other than not paying taxi drivers in his case). So 'legalisation' and 'freedom' are going to end up with Krokodil/Yabba/heroin, not pure LSD and the sort of marijuana people grow for themselves in Australia where you get a really happy, peaceful high and it's not addictive. Like how i feel after going swimming. I cry to think of living without it (=not going to the pool regularly, i don't mean being disabled i just mean visiting a swimmingbaths), but it could never drive me to commit crime. Saleable, top-selling drugs have to have that something extra, which according to Grand Central Winter was comedowns so terrifying you'd do anything to escape them. Heavily-controlled legalisation is i think the answer. For instance, did you notice that people from outside the EU always complain about the quality of cigarettes here? Turkish, Chinese etc fags are WAY stronger. We have laws that keep you off the hard stuff. Same with (UK) liquor - weaker than american. I don't like this answer - it's bureaucratic, politically uncool and annoys everyone. If you don't want all drugs banned it's socially compulsory to want them all freely available, not have a detailed answer. But addiction is stronger than us, in the sense that the state/society can't just 'deal' with its effects on society (addictive means 'can't control yourself') so we need to prevent/ban it. And allow, too, good stuff!
posted by maiamaia at 1:24 PM on August 28, 2013


@klangklangston I shall try it, but it's more the slightly unexpectedness of his having watched/read it? Mind you, i very much enjoy (sorry it's vulgar, but men have said they also enjoyed) the Rammstein video on youtube for Sonne, russian version, apparently the result of Rammstein watching Snow White the Disney film, so perhaps there is a connection between hard-ass men and soppy kids' films. Or maybe the FBI have their first clue - this man has a daughter of the age where he had to take her to see that film when it came out/buy the DVD? (That still doesn't explain why Rammstein watched Disney while taking drugs. Back to problem..)
posted by maiamaia at 1:29 PM on August 28, 2013


Thinking a little more, the commenters above may be right: you pay in bitcoin, one bitcoin is $100, i know very little about drugs but isn't that a lot to 1) receive through the mail, now that the only thing the postman ever brings are bills and junkmail (ignore if you still send letters and parcels in america) and 2) to store around your bedsit?
posted by maiamaia at 1:33 PM on August 28, 2013


You know, by the time I figure out the best way to get Bitcoins and find a good cannabis vendor on the Silk Road the damned stuff will be legal in my state.
posted by merelyglib at 2:05 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Silk Road and its competitors continue to prosper and capture more of the market for illegal drugs, the next step is for national governments to outlaw TOR, or maybe license the use of encryption.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:16 PM on August 28, 2013


Kevin Street, would that even be possible?
posted by merelyglib at 2:21 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always been puzzled by Silk Road, because I was under the impression that every Bitcoin transaction was necessarily public and recorded — making it a Bad Idea to use them for anything illegal, right?

This article mentions "laundering services" — but unless this kind of "laundering" works very differently than normal money laundering, I'm now even more confused. Yeah, sure, you can claim that your drug profits came from a legitimate business. But wouldn't the inherent traceability of Bitcoins make it obvious to anyone who bothered to check that you were lying?
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:22 PM on August 28, 2013


I don't know, merelyglib. But if buying drugs from TOR sites goes "mainstream," and some large fraction of the world's drug traffic ends up using these sites (if Forbes is correct, Silk Road and it's competitors are still only a tiny sliver of the total market), law enforcement agencies will have to find a way to do it. To do otherwise would be like admitting defeat.

If they lean on the Bitcoin exchanges to link accounts with real IDs, that will only encourage the development of secret, anonymous exchanges. It would slow down growth in the market, but not stop it.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:28 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


All the prosecution needs to secure a conviction is a case "beyond reasonable doubt". If they have evidence that the drugs were sent to your home or PO Box then they have already a substantial case. Other evidence might be, e.g., that they found the packaging with your fingerprints on it or that you have TOR routing software installed. Put enough bits of evidence together and you meet the standard.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:30 PM on August 28, 2013


If they really wanted to catch buyers, the DEA or whoever could set themselves up as vendors on Silk Road and catch whoever buys from them. But that's a poor use of law enforcement resources, because it doesn't do anything to stop the real sellers.

In the end, buying from Silk Road is like downloading from the Pirate Bay, or being one wildebeest in the herd: it's security through anonymity. The lions might get one or two, but they're unlikely to get any particular individual.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:39 PM on August 28, 2013


Every bitcoin transaction is public and recorded for all time, but that doesn't mean there is necessarily any information tying your legal identity to your bitcoin address. You can create as many bitcoin addresses as you want and transfer money among them as you wish. You don't have to sign up for an online service; you can run the bitcoin software on your own machine.

If you want to exchange bitcoins for government currency, there are services which will help you do this anonymously, but in the end you can simply put an ad on craigslist or go to a bitcoin meetup and sell your bitcoin to someone for plain old anonymous cash.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:58 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lotta people writing Law Enforcement Fan Fiction in this thread.
posted by meadowlark lime at 3:06 PM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


The risks of downloading from The Pirate Bay changed when predatory law firms realised that they could prosecute people cheaply with a practically-automated operation. The same thing might apply to Silk Road: how hard would it be to use one illicit delivery to identify all similar packages? We already know that all mail is photographed.

Stage 1: identify one illicit package. search for similar packages and create a list of some people who have received deliveries via Silk Road.
Stage 2: get a warrant to search other packages they receive, and flag their mail for inspection.
Stage 3: see who picks up drug deliveries and arrest them.

This is like shooting fish in a barrel: the arrest rate would be nearly 100%. What defense is there to a charge of possession? They saw you with it!
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:19 PM on August 28, 2013


Can you be more specific, meadowlarklime?
posted by merelyglib at 3:20 PM on August 28, 2013


But how would they search for similar packages? They can look like anything. In the link aught posted near the top of the page, Russian criminals tried to frame Brian Krebs by sending him heroin. It arrived in an envelope containing a magazine, with little packets of drugs taped to a page inside. There are countless millions of legitimate magazine and newspaper subscriptions going through the mail every day, and maybe the USPS can photograph them, but they can't see inside each one.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:29 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember the Atlanta media did a big "look at these assholes" coverage when they arrived to tour US - was that national, or was it that they came in through our airport?
posted by thelonius at 3:57 PM on August 28, 2013


Never have i been so happy to be able to buy pre-rolled joints legally in a licensed dispensary as i am after reading that article.

Hell, i can play poker and buy cannabis legally w/out crossing state lines or going on the Internets.

I love California.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:48 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Can you be more specific, meadowlarklime?"

He's just trawling for favorites.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:58 PM on August 28, 2013


"Can you be more specific, meadowlarklime?"

He's just trawling for favorites.


Speaking as the first dude to favorite that comment, I took it to refer to the constant "oh, the cops could do this, the cops would do that' comments w/ zero informational content or reference to actual real-world events. It's a mildly-annoying plague of the web, closely akin to 'oh you can't do that or you'll get sued by someone' and 'but the DMCA/NSA/MPAA will get ya' uttered by non-lawyers, which you can find cluttering discussion threads on nearly any subject.

I thought 'law enforcement fan-fiction' was a pretty good way to describe it.
posted by hap_hazard at 7:25 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kevin Street asked: how would they search for similar packages? They can look like anything.

Does every trafficker vary their packaging every time? Even if they do (and it's a lot harder to be random than most people think) the risk of detection is mostly on the receiver, not the despatcher, and the criteria for detecting similar packages could be completely non-obvious. Computer learning is surprisingly good at finding patterns in data, and you don't need to find every package; you just need to find enough packages. Let's suppose that you find 10% of the packages sent by a particular dealer. Why wouldn't you go after that 10%, given that you have an easy basis for conviction?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:56 PM on August 28, 2013


Think of the number of man-hours the police would have to spend just to make a single one of those busts, then add the number of man-hours a prosecutor would have to burn on the case, and consider that you're talking about doing this dozens or hundreds of times over for what is going to be a completely insignificant quantity of drugs in almost every case, held by people who are disproportionately likely to be educated, employed professionals with access to good lawyers.

Further, consider the fact that Silk Road is global: one dealer's customers are likely to be spread across many countries, even multiple continents. Who is going to coordinate this project? Any law-enforcement organization whose jurisdiction is large enough to contain a significant number of a single dealer's customers is almost certainly not going to have enough manpower to execute the busts itself. So we have to budget even more hours burnt coordinating all the activity and convincing the local cops to play along... and somebody, somewhere, has to be convinced that this is the most important thing for all these people to be doing with their time. It will never happen.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:02 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


hap_hazard described exactly what I meant. And Mars Saxman just nailed the reason SR has the edge on law enforcement. Beat 'em by spreading 'em thin.
posted by meadowlark lime at 10:32 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


soppy kids' films

Now look: The Princess Bride is not a "soppy kids' film".
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:24 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


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