FBI shutters Silk Road, an eBay-like drug bazaar: victory or defeat? [POLL]

Filed Under: Law & order

Screenshot of seized Silk Road websiteAfter seizing the domain and servers of Silk Road - a black market, eBay-like online bazaar for heroin, ecstasy, other illegal drugs and every known type of prescription drugs - federal prosecutors on Wednesday released two separate set of charges against its alleged kingpin.

That man is 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, allegedly aka Dread Pirate Roberts, DPR, or Silk Road, among other aliases.

In the court documents - an affidavit from FBI agent Christopher Tarbell and a criminal complaint against Ulbricht filed in the state of Maryland, Ulbricht is accused of narcotics trafficking, money laundering, hacking, and of attempted murder by paying $80,000 to have a former employee killed.

The intended victim was a Silk Road employee who, Ulbricht allegedly feared, would turn him in to law enforcement.

Ulbricht allegedly contracted a hitman - in actuality, an undercover agent who then provided faked photos of the purported murder.

Another intended victim was somebody who, prosecutors say, was a Silk Road user who was trying to blackmail Ulbricht after hacking one of the site's vendors and learning the identities of thousands of the site’s users.

Officials have been unable to confirm that killing, for which Ulbricht allegedly paid $150,000.

Prosecutors on Wednesday estimated that the illegal drug empire - a forum for making matches between drug dealers and buyers worldwide - saw $1.2 billion in sales over the last three years, earning its alleged founder $80 million.

For his part, whoever's behind Silk Road, be it Ulbricht or not, has claimed that there were simply no victims left in the wake of its dealings.

Silk Road Marketplace screenshot from September 2012When Forbes's Andy Greenberg in August interviewed the Dread Pirate Roberts persona behind Silk Road, he described the drug market as a "victimless libertarian experiment."

In a collection of DPR's writings that Forbes posted in April, the Silk Road founder described the market in economic terms:

Silk Road was founded on libertarian principles and continues to be operated on them. It is a great idea and a great practical system…It is not a utopia. It is regulated by market forces, not a central power (even I am subject to market forces by my competition. No one is forced to be here). The same principles that have allowed Silk Road to flourish can and do work anywhere human beings come together. The only difference is that the State is unable to get its thieving murderous mitts on it. [10/1/2012]

He also takes aim against the US War on Drugs, the potential for drug cartels to form on Silk Road, the "heroes" who risked their lives and liberty selling drugs on the market, issues of trust, whether he founded Silk Road just to make money, and much more.

It's makes an interesting read if you're open to libertarian notions - is drug usage a victimless crime? Are drug laws inflicted on us by governments that should, perhaps, spend their resources elsewhere?

DPR expressed a noble desire to help others:

I just want to look back on my life and know that I did something worthwhile that helped people.

The thing is, Ulbricht intended to leave bodies in his wake, prosecutors allege. That's hardly victimless, if it proves true, and it certainly points to the downside of a market that functions outside of the law.

Laws can be darn good. They dissuade people from killing each other, for one thing.

Ulbricht is being held without bail. According to the Los Angeles Times, he appeared briefly on Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco but did not enter a plea.

He's scheduled to return to court Friday.

In light of all this, would you deem the shuttering of Silk Road a victory against lawlessness or a defeat at the hands of government?

Please cast your vote in the poll below.

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8 Responses to FBI shutters Silk Road, an eBay-like drug bazaar: victory or defeat? [POLL]

  1. ScottK · 351 days ago

    I'm curious how people view the closure of the Silk Road as a defeat at the hands of the evil utopian-hating government.
    How is this any different from a drug raid on a dealer's house?

    • Mark · 351 days ago

      I just don't think it's any of the governments business ,nor is prostitution or abortion.. The DEA is a bigger drug dealer than that, when are they going to be charged? Just my opinion..

  2. Larry Marks · 351 days ago

    Not sure if I want to take this poll. The NSA will see my response and my IP address.

  3. Deramin · 351 days ago

    And Al Capone was just a business man trying to give the people what they want. He certainly never harmed anyone doing it either, no sir-y.

    Libertarian anarchy is great in theory, except that people are still running it so it tends towards corruption, abuse of power, preying on the weak, and hierarchies enforced with violence over time. The whole point of societies is to limit the absolute freedom of all to a set of behavior the collective deems mostly harmless, to equalize power to some degree, and to reward behavior that is beneficial to the collective (though maybe not the individual directly).

    It's true that some, maybe even much, of what went on at the Silk Road was mostly harmless. It's true that laws (or any set of behavior-modifying codes) often produce unintended effects that are harmful. But it's also true that some of the dealing on Silk Road were very harmful, or supported harm elsewhere. And it's equally true that even flawed laws and flawed societies have consistently protected people better than lawlessness.

    So Ulbricht can't front all he wants about being a hero, but he's still a wet-eyed crocodile.

  4. Jack Wilborn · 351 days ago

    I did not vote either. I would like to point out that abuse of drugs is, in most cases a victimless crime. Other countries that have less drug laws, save the money as the drug abuse percentages seem to be about the same, whether legal or illegal. I hope that some day the legislature will realize that you can not legislate morality which is what we are all after. And these laws don't stop murder, how much of an affect they have on them has always been questionable.

    If what they say is true, then it's a distribution point for drugs. If drugs were legal, where would we be? Here in the US, the states of Colorado and Washington have had little problems with legal Marijuana in small quantities, maybe that's a good idea. Since the DEA and their affiliates have little knowledge of actual Marijuana facts anything out of their mouths can be safely disregarded. I'm sure they think they are doing right, just 6 decades or more of it being pounded in their heads is difficult to 'withdraw' from...

    Jack

  5. Thomas · 351 days ago

    As with most polls, the wording of the two optional opinions are problematic. Perhaps a better definition for Victory and for Defeat would be more appropriate. I offer only one example, many more could be possible.

    Victory: It eliminates a dangerous misuse of the internet.

    Defeat: It violates the freedoms of the internet. The FBI shouldn't interfere.

  6. Eric Williams · 351 days ago

    Taking down one site will not change anything, another one will simply pop up to take it's place. I am however pleased to see someone arrested who was trying to hire a hitman, that is way more scary than illegal drugs.

  7. Andrew · 345 days ago

    selling contraband on line is not a good thing as you never know who will be involved in it and who will be harmed from it. So I say well done to the FBI and whoever else is involved in tackling this particular criminal activity.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.