2014: Year of the Silk Road

American Museum of National History's Camel Caravan creation

American Museum of National History’s Camel Caravan creation

This year’s theme is “Caravansary“. It’s meant to evoke traditions of the Middle East, silk pillows and teeming marketplaces in caravan oases on the great Silk Road of Asia Minor. The original Silk Road ran from new Burner regional location Israel to new Burner regional location Shanghai.

Burning Man’s Silk Road homage is envisioned as a “bazaar of the bizarre”.

This year we will create a caravansary that occupies the crossroads of a dreamland: a bazaar of the bizarre wherein treasures of every sort, from every land and age, flow in and out to be flaunted, lost, exploited and discovered. This is not a tourist destination, but a home for travelers who come here bearing gifts. Amid the twisting and the turnings of its souk, participants will come upon an inexhaustible array of teeming goods and unexpected services. Anyone may pose as ‘merchant’ here, and anyone may play a ‘customer’, but nothing in this strange emporium shall have a purchase price — no quid, no pro, no quo — no trade at all will be allowed in this ambiguous arcade. According to a rule of desert hospitality, the only thing of value in this ‘marketplace’ will be one’s interaction with a fellow human being.

Is it just another coincidence that, at around the same time this theme is picked, and in the very same neighborhood – literally two miles away – a different “Silk Road” bazaar from San Francisco is the biggest news of the day? Or is this another case of BMOrg trying to attach themselves to the latest Silicon Valley trends? Recent examples of this are “the sharing economy”, the “Bundy Standoff“, and, arguably, Mike Judge’s hilarious new show Silicon Valley.

What Silk Road are we talking about, if not Caravansary? The “Amazon of vice” one, created (allegedly) by “crime kingpin” Ross Ulbricht, a 29-year old San Francisco resident who was busted in the science fiction section of a public library in Glen Park. Glen Park is at the edge of the Mission District, a 2.6 mile walk from where Burning Man just moved its headquarters.

They might have got the front man, but they couldn’t shut the Road down.

The Huffington Post headline reads “New Silk Road Selling Even More Drugs Than Old Silk Road”:

Silk Road is back, and it’s busier than before.

Six months after the FBI shut down the notorious black market website known as “the eBay for drugs,” a new version of Silk Road is offering even more illegal narcotics than its predecessor, according to a report released Wednesday by the Digital Citizens Alliance, a group that advocates against online crime.

The report found nearly 14,000 listings for drugs on the new Silk Road, compared to 13,000 listings found on the site at the time it was shut down last fall.

Ross and Pussy

Ross and Pussy

“What we see on Silk Road today is more drugs, increasing vendors and an even greater commitment by this community to keeping their ‘movement’ alive,” said Garth Bruen, a senior fellow for the Digital Citizens Alliance, in a statement.

In October, the FBI shut down Silk Road and arrested its alleged mastermind, Ross William Ulbricht, a 29-year-old self-professed libertarian and San Francisco resident. Authorities alleged that Ulbricht ran the booming marketplace for illegal drugs, computer hacking tools and other illicit goods and services.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that there was a flow effect to the Burner community from the Feds cracking down on Bitcoins:

Cornelis Jan “SuperTrips” Slomp had more than $20,000 in cash and hopes of making a splash on the South Beach party scene when he landed at Miami International Airport in August.

But before he could pick up the Lamborghini sports car he’d hired, the young Dutchman was arrested by customs agents working with Chicago prosecutors.

Supertrips: a "very modern" Internet drug dealer

Supertrips: a “very modern” Internet drug dealer

Just 22, Slomp was a very modern millionaire, the feds allege: an international Internet drug dealer who accepted payment in bitcoins for ecstasy, cocaine, LSD and other drugs.

Now, in one of the biggest cyber drug cases ever brought, his lawyer says he’s agreed to plead guilty to selling huge quantities of dope through the underground website, Silk Road.

Equipped with only a laptop, an iPhone and a backpack — he planned to buy clothes in Miami, the feds say — Slomp amassed more than $3 million in bitcoins shipping 104 kilos of MDMA, 566,000 ecstasy pills and 4 kilos of cocaine and other drugs through the mail, court papers state.

Some drugs ended up in Chicago, but Slomp shipped to almost every continent, boasting he had “big stockpiles of product, you literally cannot empty me out.”

On Silk Road, where anonymous traders sold illegal drugs and other illicit products, he developed a reputation for ecstasy pills marked with his logo, a green question mark. He was planning to hand off his U.S. business to an unnamed associate when he was arrested, the feds say.

According to a new release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, he has agreed to plead guilty and faces between five and 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine, plus the forfeiture of approximately $3,030,000 in alleged drug proceeds. The government says it seized the equivalent of that amount in bitcoins, a digital currency, and exchanged it for cash.

U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon — who formed a new cybercrime unit last month — said, “Illegal drug-trafficking is not new but drug-trafficking using a sophisticated underground computer network designed to protect anonymity of buyers and sellers presents new challenges to law enforcement that we are prepared to meet.”

Slomp’s attorney, Paul Petruzzi, agreed that “the Internet is the future of drug dealing.”

Asked about the huge sums Slomp was able to quickly make, Petruzzi added: “Young people are much more adept on the Internet.”

Petruzzi refused to comment on whether Slomp, facing up to 40 years in prison, is cooperating with authorities. But just two months after Slomp was quietly arrested and brought to Chicago, Silk Road was shut down by the feds.

Chicago’s Homeland Security boss Gary Hartwig described Slomp as “a prolific vendor on Silk Road.”

Silk Road’s collapse in October 2013 followed the arrest in San Francisco of its alleged founder Ross William Ulbricht — who allegedly went by “Dread Pirate Roberts” — and is accused in a New York federal court case of drug trafficking, soliciting murder, facilitating computer hacking and money laundering.

The feds say that during an 18 month undercover investigation of Slomp, they seized more than 100 packages he sent, including a large shipment of ecstasy seized at O’Hare Airport in April 2012.

The government seizures may be to blame for Internet chatroom rumors about Slomp being a scam artist who did not deliver the drugs he’d been paid for.

One Silk Road user complained two weeks before Slomp’s arrest in August that “I ordered a huge order from (SuperTrips)… it has yet to come.”

“Now the problem is I’m leaving for Burning Man in a few days… Can anyone give me some useful advice as to what I should do?”

Supertrips ratted out his partner, “Underground Syndicate”. As a consequence they arrested “the world’s biggest drug dealer” [yeah right!].  Angel Quinones faces a maximum of 20 years, which commenters suggest may indicate he is co-operating with authorities. Sundayworld reports via the Chicago Sun-times:

LamboCARS photographyThe 34 year old who went by the name ‘Underground Syndicate” worked with the Dutch drug dealer Jan “SuperTrips” Slomp to create the biggest illegal market for drugs, on the dark web’s Silk Road.

Angel William Quinones, was taken into custody after ‘SuperTrips’, his partner, turned state’s evidence and admitted all, before a Chicago Court.

Quinones was the U.S. arm of the ecstasy business and helped launder the funds through bitcoins, helping to convert them into cash.

However, one his partner was arrested at Miami airport Quinones’s days were numbered and he now too has decided to co-operate with the authorities.

His house was raided and agents reported finding €157,000 in cash and keys to several postal boxes used for the delivery of drugs, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

It looks like the Anonymous Burner and Silk Road user didn’t spend too long worrying. “Silk Road 2.0”, aka Dark Net, is back, and bigger than ever. From ExtremeTech:

The Silk Road 2.0 is now bigger and better than ever before: What’s the FBI to do?

You have to give it to shadowy, corporate-funded lobby groups: You can get some seriously cool data when there’s big money on the line. This week saw the release of the newest report from a DC-based activist group called the Digital Citizens Alliance, an anti-piracy organization that is often accused of astroturfing for large media conglomerates. The report focuses on the current state of the Deep Web drug market and how, despite the shut down of the Silk Road last year, Silk Road 2.0 is already bigger than its predecessor. If the FBI or other law enforcement agencies want to put a real dent in the Deep Web, it will have to try a lot harder.

The overall aim of the Digital Citizens Alliance is to create panic among those less informed about the internet… its latest report on the state of Deep Web drug markets …The core insight is that, following the Silk Road shutdown last year, the Silk Road 2.0 has risen to attract more drug listings than we’ve ever seen before.

silk road chart 1

It’s not just the Silk Road that’s grown, either. In the wake of the Silk Road’s temporary demise users naturally ran to alternatives, and though most of those quickly fell under the weight of scams and thievery, the basic diversification of the user base remains. Though SR2.0 is by far the largest dark market, it still only accounts for about 41% of all listings — down from more than 70% last year. Competitors like Agora and Pandora collectively hold the majority now, and that’s as assessed by a report which openly admits that it excluded a further 25 small dark markets of which its authors were aware.

TOR talk on Netflix's House of Cards

TOR talk on Netflix’s House of Cards

While it’s true that the Silk Road is bigger than ever before, that’s mostly a result of the fact that the Deep Web is bigger than ever before, as well. The Silk Road bust was the single best thing to ever happen to the Deep Web — a criminal Streisand effect seems to be at work here, as the Deep Web makes its way into everything from political speeches to House of Cards. After the bust several new high-profile markets sprang up to sell drugs, hacking, assassination — though of course we have no way of knowing how legitimate most of it really is.

People seem to have forgotten that immediately after the raid, conventional wisdom warned against ever again buying from any vendor who was active at that time; anyone selling during the bust could now very easily be an FBI plant. (Read: How to use Tor and get on the Deep Web.)And that’s the problem. For every user exalting the rise of a new Silk Road, there’s another addressing the rampant scamming and theft it now hosts. Many users on the official Silk Road 2.0 forums are worried that drug vendors are being added regularly despite vendor registration having been closed for months — a sign many take to mean the site’s mods are instating fake vendors. Are they cops? Bots? Russians?

Ross Ulbricht’s arrest sparked interest in super-security, but that rush has ended. Now, popular Silk Road vendors like “weedgirlz” start Twitter accounts and clearnet” websites advertising their illegal businesses. There’s simply no institutional or individual memory here — a fact that makes individual busts very easy for police, but overall victory almost unimaginable. Just as in “real life” crime, Deep Web rings are intractable, dynamic populations that resist the kind of social engineering these arrests aspire to be. As long as the technology to do illegal things online even might exist, people will use it.

The Deep Web’s true strength is not in encryption or anonymity, but in confidence. The FBI needs to imbue this community not with fear of prison, but with fear of their friends. If it can’t, then law enforcement will simply never get a handle on Deep Web criminals, and the markets will keep growing as they have been for years now. The occasional, aimless bust won’t change that.The best chance to really hurt the dark markets has already passed. If the Silk Road 2.0 has in fact been a honeypot all along (and many still suspect that to be the case), that would be a major and above all long lastingblow to the Deep Web. Not because of the arrests or the convictions, but because of the method by which they were acquired.

“We have no way of knowing how legitimate most of it really is”…ummm, newsflash, people. Drugs, murders, fake passports? This is clearly NOT legitimate!

Social engineering on the Silk Road? Hmmm, where have I heard that before…[32:50]

Ulbricht claims he is not “the Dread Pirate Roberts” that facilitated the online transactions and is wanted in relation to at least 6 murders. Reddit brings us an eyewitness report from the bail hearing:

We arrived at 11:15am, near the beginning of Turner’s remarks on why Ross Ulbricht should be denied bail. We got seats, although it was standing room only by the end. Two of six rows were filled with Ulbricht’s family.

The first thing we heard Turner mention is Ulbricht’s stash of Bitcoin; Turner argued that given the “sophistication” of the defendant and the rules of the Bitcoin protocol, it is plausible that he could retrieve and/or instruct someone to retrieve the stash from a remote location if he is released on bail.

Much to the dismay and annoyance of Judge Fox, Turner proceeded to repeat the complaints we have already read; after multiple attempts to steer Turner away from regurgitating content from the complaints, Turner began to outline some of the content found on Ulbricht’s computer. This included: a journal of Silk Road’s creation, extensive spreadsheets with costs of maintaing the site (murder-for-hires included), “emergency” to-do lists, general to-do lists (again, murder-for-hires present on list), among many other incriminating documents not directly mentioned.

Turner then segued into the redandwhite/FriendlyChemist story, and how redandwhite “reported” to Ulbricht that FriendlyChemist had implicated another individual (tony76) in the blackmail plot before he was “killed.”

Ulbricht instructed redandwhite to kill him, but redandwhite responded that he lived with three individuals and it wouldn’t have been possible to kill him while he was in the house; redandwhite said they could wait for him to leave the house and kill him, but they would then be unable to retrieve drugs/money located in the residence. Redandwhite offered to kill all of them. Ulbricht responded that ‘[he] would refer to their judgment on the matter.’ He ended up paying $500K USD in Bitcoin for all four hits. Turner mentions the blockchain here and says the transactions are visible there.

Finally Turner discussed Ulbricht’s attempt to secure dual citizenship in Dominica and used that to argue the flight risk Ulbricht posed. Turner painted Ulbricht as having “two sides” and given his alleged tendency towards violence, the stash of Bitcoin and flight risk potential they moved for him to be denied bail…

Turner mentions that there is evidence that Ulbricht solicited was planning to grow “magic mushrooms” to be listed on SR as its first product, there is also evidence that he has helped facilitate the movement of drugs and finally he loaned someone 500KUSD (not sure in what form) to start a joint drug operation. As such they believe Dratel’s argument to that effect is null and void.

Turner also states that Ulbricht’s family and friends do not know this “other side” of Ross and in no way could attest to his true character. On the subject of flight risk, they point out that he was living under a false name and ordered over 10 fake IDs, a sort of sophistication that would make it easy for him to disappear.

Despite the crime links, and his claim to lack of any connection to them, he insists the $34 $87 million of Bitcoins belongs to him and the Feds need to give it back so he can pay his lawyers:

After his arrest in October, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht maintains that he is not the Dread Pirate Roberts, mastermind of the online drugs marketplace Silk Road. But he also says the Bitcoins the authorities seized from Silk Road belong to him, and the government should give them back.

Since shutting down the secretive online shop, the FBI claims to have confiscated electronic wallets containing more than 173,000 Bitcoins from Silk Road – an amount worth about $33.6m in real-world currency.

colombia cartel seizureThe authorities claim these funds are the proceeds of a criminal conspiracy involving drugs trafficking and money laundering. Ulbricht, on the other hand, says that’s got nothing to do with him – yet the New York Post reports that he has also filed papers with a federal court in New York City demanding that the seized Bitcoins be returned to him.

In a notarized statement dated December 11, Ulbricht reportedly says he “has an interest as owner” in the seized funds and argues that as a virtual currency, Bitcoins are “not subject to seizure” under federal forfeiture laws.

It’s a neat argument. Since the Silk Road raid was the largest Bitcoin forfeiture in US history, the courts literally have never heard a case quite like it. It’s possible that a judge could rule that Bitcoins don’t count as the kind of property that can be seized in a criminal prosecution.

It’s unlikely, though. In past cases, courts have seen fit for authorities to seize everything from cash to cars, boats, houses, artwork, and even intellectual property such as internet domain names. Just the fact that Ulbricht wants the Bitcoins back would seem to establish that they have value and are therefore fair game for forfeiture.

Still, Ulbricht could certainly use the money. Although he was represented by a public defender in his first few court appearances, he has since retained the services of New York attorney Joshua Dratel, and his case looks like it could be a long one. Among other offenses, he is charged with commissioning the contract killings of as many as six people (although there is no evidence that anyone was actually killed).

In November, Ulbricht’s family, friends, and supporters chipped in $1m to secure his release from the New York jail where he now resides, but Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis ultimately denied him bail.

It remains to be seen whether those same well-wishers will be willing to put those funds towards Ulbricht’s legal fees now that he has admitted to owning more than $30m worth of Bitcoin at the time of his arrest

His mom also swears he’s not “the” Dread Pirate. Because you always tell you’re Mom you’re a drug dealer! From Ars Technica:

fbi-bitcoin-address-500x312Lyn Ulbricht says that she and her husband have no doubt in their minds that their son is not Dread Pirate Roberts, the accused mastermind behind the original Silk Road website.

The underground drug website, which was shut down as part of a federal raid late last year, was only accessible through the anonymizing tool Tor. The government alleges that Ross Ulbricht, as Dread Pirate Roberts, “reaped commissions worth tens of millions of dollars” through his role as the site’s leader and also attempted to orchestrate six murders-for-hire.

Since Ross Ulbricht was arrested in October 2013, a new site also calling itself Silk Road has taken the original site’s place and boasts a leader calling him or herself Dread Pirate Roberts—a handful of others have attempted to fill the void left by the first Silk Road. Dread Pirate Roberts is a reference to a character from the movie The Princess Bride. In the film, Roberts’ persona is passed down among various people.

Business Insider has quite a remarkable photo gallery provided by the family, attesting to Ulbricht’s innocence with kittens and skipping. Seriously – it’s worth a look! This may not go over well in jail – and it doesn’t look like the judge is buying it either, in the face of tough prosecution.

Larry Harvey was asked if Burning Man would accept Bitcoins during the mysterious “The Founders Speak” presentation at Columbia University last year. This footage was promised to be shared with the public, but has embarrassingly gone missing. The Burning Man Project seems to prefer talking, to sharing…

I’m in Dr Kittay’s class at Columbia University called Technology, Religion, and Future. Today, we had an event on Burning Man, where the Burning Man committee including Larry Harvey (Founder of Burning Man) came in to talk about the event with our class. The link is below


I asked if they would consider accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment. They unanimously said yes! At first Larry was like, hmm never thought about that. Then one guy said, well its not really that stable yet but hell, if it makes people happy lets do it! They all nodded in agreement. Woot! Now they just have to follow up on it by adding the ‘Pay in BTC’ button to the ticket purchase section of their site.

barlow and friendEFF Founder John Perry Barlow was up there on stage with Larry in New York, as one of The Founders of the Burning Man Project. The EFF have been strangely silent on this particular civil liberties case, which has huge bearing on the future of cyberspace and even the nature of our society. This is literally the frontier of civilization – but before you rush out to the markteplace kiddies, remember – we’re hearing about these guys because they caught them. They were arrested for a crime, they’re probably guilty and they’re probably going to do time for what they did. So don’t do it. Drugs are bad, mmmkay! Whether related to Burning Man or not, this is also a tale of our times, and an interesting one to observe. The criminals seem to be several steps ahead of the legal system and the cops, even if it’s harder for them to outwit the FBI and NSA.

Bitcoins won’t get you tickets to Burning Man, yet. Maybe on Craigslist. This year there is a Camp Bitcoin, for all you crypto-enthusiasts. One of their crew is named “Candose”:


12 comments on “2014: Year of the Silk Road

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  9. Only five to forty? The MDMA and pressed tabs are a ten year minimum in those quantities. Must be a rat.

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