Science & Technology

What Effect Should the Revelations About Silk Road Investigators' Crimes Have Had on Ross Ulbricht's Trial?

Any Libertarian Seemed Suspicious in the Hunt for "Dread Pirate Roberts"


Sarah Jeong at Forbes tries to think through the revelations, which I reported about two days ago, regarding two federal agents, Carl Force of the DEA and Shaun Bridges of the Secret Service. They were charged with mass criminality including bitcoin theft from the government and others regarding their role in the federal investigation that took down Silk Road. What effect, Jeong wonders, might their story gave had, had details of it been known before Ross Ulbricht was convicted in January for his role in starting and running the darkweb sales site?

Although the investigation into Force and Bridges began approximately nine months before Ulbricht's trial, Ross Ulbricht's defense team was kept unaware of it until about five weeks before the trial date, at which point prosecutors moved to keep the information sealed. Nothing about either Force or Bridges made it into the trial.

"The Government's efforts to keep the Carl Force scandal out of the public eye at trial is in itself scandalous," said Joshua Horowitz, one of Ulbricht's defense attorneys. "The recently filed Complaint which names Carl Force as a defendant demonstrates that the Government's investigation of Mr. Ulbricht lacked integrity, and was wholly and fatally compromised from the inside."

Worse, says Horowitz, because facts about what Force and Bridges did weren't allowed to come to light, Ulbricht never got the trial he was entitled to. "The Government used the ongoing grand jury investigation of Carl Force to deprive the jury from hearing critical facts about the corrupt nature of the Government's investigation, consequently depriving Ross of due process and a fair trial."

Jeong reproduces some shocking emails sent from Force to Mt. Gox boss Mark Karpeles (briefly brought up during the trial as someone at least one federal agent suspected might have been the true Dread Pirate Roberts). Force tried and failed to get Karpeles to help him essentially fence some stolen bitcoin, before Force was part of the federal civil seizure of the bitcoin exchange—after which Force emailed Karpeles:

Subject: 🙂

told you should have partnered with me!


Jeong also has a good summation piece about the various revelations in the court papers so far revealed in the case against Force and Bridges, including one tidbit that I first drew attention to in my December Reason feature on the rise and fall of Silk Road—that the crypto-minded bitcoin-boosting "Dread Pirate Roberts" allegedly paid for a murder-for-hire with an $80,000 bank wire transfer.

And the most interesting part for libertarians, showing how dangerous it was to be a Rothbard and Konkin fan on the web while the feds were Dread Pirate Roberts hunting:

On April 1, 2013, Carl Mark Force attempted to blackmail the Dread Pirate Roberts from the Silk Road account DeathFromAbove, saying he knew his real identity. The "real identity" that Force tried to use against DPR was taken directly from the investigation's internal files. This is literally who law enforcement thought DPR was.

We know from the trial that Anand Athavale is the real life identity of poster "libertystudent," whose blog can be found here. Why did the Silk Road investigation think it was him? A language analysis, that showed both occasionally spelled "a lot" as "alot," "labor" as "labour," "real time" as "real-time," "let me" as "lemme," "phony" as "phoney," and "route" as "rout." Both liked to end sentences with ", right?" Both used terms like "intellectual laziness," "agorism," agorist," "counter-economics," "altruistic," "phoney," "paleo-human," and "anarcho-capitalist."

They also both occasionally used all-caps for emphasis, didn't capitalize the first word in sentence when in a hurry, and used "the symbol for backslash on the computer to split words with similar meaning."

They also discussed authors Murray Rothbard and Samuel Konkin.

Libertarians of the Internet beware. The Feds are watching.

My Reason piece on the bad news for justice and peace implicit in Ulbricht's conviction.