BOSTON Oct 2 Before it was shut down by U.S.
agents this week, people looking to buy street drugs, hire
hackers or hitmen, and acquire stolen e-commerce accounts
anonymously online could go to Silk Road, the Amazon.com of
For more than two years, according to U.S. authorities, the
website allowed users to buy and sell illegal goods and services
on the assumption that they were safe from the law. The buyers
were cloaked by technology designed to keep identities secret
and transactions were processed with bitcoin digital currency.
Silk Road's alleged creator, 29-year-old Ross William
Ulbricht, was arrested in San Francisco by FBI agents on Tuesday
after investigators apparently linked his personal email address
to the website, which has been shut down.
Ulbricht's lawyer Brandon LeBlanc, a public defender,
declined to comment.
The crackdown on Silk Road is the latest in a series of
moves by law enforcement against digital currencies, which
critics say are a magnet for drug transactions, money-laundering
and other illegal activities.
"Silk Road has emerged as the most sophisticated and
extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today," FBI agent
Christopher Tarbell said in the criminal complaint.
Based on court documents filed since the arrest, Silk Road
-named for the ancient trade routes between China and the West -
offered a wide array of wares.
Customers could buy a gram of cocaine for 0.8956 bitcoin, or
about $127 at an exchange rate of $142 per bitcoin. That
exchange rate fell to as low as $110 per bitcoin on Tuesday,
after the Silk Road bust was announced.
A half pound of "hydroponic bud" was running about 17.2
bitcoins and 25 LSD blotters were on offer for 1.48 bitcoins,
according to court filings that included screen shots of the
product listings. Vendors showed photos of crushed white powder,
marijuana, pills and other illicit-looking substances.
The website included nearly 13,000 listings for controlled
substances as of Sept. 23, according to the court documents.
"Quality is superb ... Best stuff I've seen in a while," one
user reported, according to the documents, saying he received a
shipment of heroin overnight from a dealer known as "gotsitall
Gotsitall 5.0 charged an extra $12 to insure his product,
which he described as "high quality #4 heroin all rock,"
according to the documents.
Another vendor offered the services of "hitmen" operating in
more than 10 countries, according to the FBI. Tarbell said in
the complaint that buyers could also purchase firearms and the
services of hackers offering to break into ATMs and social
networking accounts on Facebook or Twitter.
They also sold computer viruses that could be used to attack
personal computers, as well as access to compromised accounts on
online services such as Amazon.com Inc and Netflix Inc
, he said.
CAUGHT IN A LIBRARY
The end for Silk Road came in the small Glen Park branch of
the San Francisco public library system on Tuesday afternoon.
At least six plainclothes FBI agents seized Ulbricht as he
lingered at a corner table on the second floor near the science
fiction section, pressing him up against a window and announcing
he was under arrest, a library spokeswoman said.
A Silk Road wiki had offered advice on how to avoid getting
caught by authorities. A seller's guide advised sellers to
vacuum seal packages containing narcotics to avoid detection by
dogs or electronic sniffers, according to the complaint.
The court documents allege that altogether bitcoins worth
some $1.2 billion changed hands through the Silk Road site,
which charged commissions of between 8 and 15 percent before it
was shut down after a 2 1/2-year run.
Silk Road processed all transactions with bitcoin, which
leaves no traditional money trail for investigators to follow.
The site also routed traffic through a no-cost,
anti-surveillance service known as the Tor network.
Tor sends traffic through multiple virtual "tunnels" and
relays in a bid to keep Web users' identities secret. It also
provides "hidden services" to help websites keep the locations
of their servers confidential by routing traffic to them from
Tor, which was originally developed with a seed grant from
the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, is an open source project
backed by people who say they are concerned about internet
surveillance. It is accessible to anybody, including criminals.
The complaint describes some of the steps by which
investigators came to the conclusion that Ulbricht was the owner
of the site, known online as "Dread Pirate Roberts."
It said the mistakes included using a Google email address,
email@example.com, for communications linked to Silk Road,
such as promotional material about the website dating back to