Moral Low Ground


FBI Seizes Silk Road Online Drug Market, Arrests Founder Ross Ulbricht

Silk Road closed

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has shut down a popular underground online drug marketplace and arrested its founder on suspicion of money laundering and of trying to arrange a murder-for-hire.

The New York Times reports FBI agents seized the hidden site Silk Road and arrested its 29-year-old founder, Ross Ulbricht– aka ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’– on Tuesday afternoon at a library in San Francisco. Ulbricht stands accused of engaging in a “massive money laundering” operation, as well as of soliciting a Silk Road user “to execute the murder-for-hire of another Silk Road user, who was threatening to release the identities of thousands of users of the site,” according to a criminal complaint.

Silk Road, often called the ‘worst-kept secret’ on the Internet, was accessible through Tor, a popular online tool that allows users to maintain anonymity. Using bitcoins, a virtual peer-to-peer currency, Silk Road users could purchase a wide array of illegal narcotics, as well as forged documents and computer hacking software. The illicit goods would then be shipped to an address provided by the user.

According to the FBI, the site had sales revenue exceeding 9.5 million bitcoins, the equivalent of around $1.2 billion, although the fluctuating value of the virtual currency indicates Silk Road’s worth is likely much less. Last year, Gawker reported the site was doing $22 million in annual sales. Investigators claim Ulbricht collected commissions of around $80 million from Silk Road transactions; so far, they’ve seized around $3.6 million.

Ross Ulbricht

Ross Ulbricht

Those who know Ulbricht told the Times he lived a low-key life in San Francisco. One of the two housemates there said he went by the name ‘Josh’ and was always in his room on his computer.

In an August interview with Forbes, Ulbricht said he views himself as a libertarian revolutionary in a rapidly changing world.

“What we’re doing isn’t about scoring drugs or ‘sticking it to the man,'” he said. “It’s about standing up for our rights as human beings and refusing to submit when we’ve done no wrong. Silk Road is a vehicle for that message.”

“We’re talking about the potential for a monumental shift in the power structure of the world,” Ulbricht added. “The people can now control the flow and distribution of information and the flow of money. Sector by sector the State is being cut out of the equation and power is being returned to the individual.”

But for now, at least, it appears as if the State’s got its tentacles tightly wrapped around Ulbricht, and like the ancient Eurasian trade route it was named after, Silk Road has been relegated to the annals of history.

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