Note from the author: This is version 1 of a long post. I will continue editing, formatting and linking this article throughout the night and into the day tomorrow, I just want to be certain that a draft is posted before Ulbricht’s sentence is delivered.
Tomorrow, Judge Katherine Forest will be handing down sentence to Ross Ulbricht, the owner, founder and administrator of the Silk Road, the (in)famous darknet marketplace.
Ulbricht himself wrote a letter to Judge Forest which acknowledged his guilt and pled for anything less than the life sentence that the government is hoping for, in order to have a light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to. Along with that, the judge recieved numerous letters in support of him and his character.
On the flip side, the Government provided the judge with an 18 page missive, asking the judge for a long sentence not just due to the crimes for which he was found guilty, but to send a message to those who have followed, or intend to follow, his footsteps. In order to drive it’s points home, the government plans to have the parents of six Silk Road customers who, they say, died as a result of the site, speak in order to urge the Judge to dole out the maximum possible sentence.
Meanwhile, the Judge herself has been doing research on her own, looking for more insight into the Defense’s claim that Silk Road provided a harm reduction service by requesting:
1) hundreds of pages of correspondence between “DrX” (a licensed physician who dispensed free opinions and advice to all who asked via Silk Roads forums
2) copies of academic papers (two, specifically) that studied Silk Road and, among other things, explored it’s possible effects on harm reduction.
Needless to say, tomorrow will be a long, tense day for all parties involved, and regardless of the outcome, numbers of people will question whether justice was adequately served.
There is still a large contingent of people who claim for Ross’s complete vindication. Of course, having already been found guilty, there is zero chance of that occurring, but still, a contingent of exists that continues to believe and claim that Ulbricht was framed and/or railroaded through a scam of a trial. It’s time that subject is put that to bed. Here’s why:
The government used illegal tactics in uncovering and locating the Silk Road web server, so therefore all of the evidence derived from that server, which goes to include the laptop and all data on it, which was in Ulbricht’s possession at the time of his arrest.
Yes, even with the trials conclusion, it is not at all clear how the Government managed to find the server in the first place. But for reasons that are even more unclear, Ulbricht and his attorney, Joshua Dratel, made no effort to raise the question during pre-trial or the trial itself.
Even setting aside the question of how the government located the server in question, many arm chair analysts tried to make the case that because the server was Ulbrichts “possession”, evidence derived from it could be suppressed due to his Fourth Amendment right for himself and possessions to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures.
To do this, Ross’s council would have simply asserted that Ross had a material interest in the server while the jury was excused. If the motion had succeeded, then the evidence resulting from the search of the server (to which nearly all of the evidence presented at trial was linked) would have been inadmissible.
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Some watchers noted that Ross faced a catch-22; at that point, he denied being the Dread Pirate Roberts (“DPR”), but in order to seek to suppress that evidence he would essentially have to admit that he was. What many people didn’t note was that had the motion failed, the prosecution would not have been able to raise the issue unless Ross chose to take the stand.
To many onlookers, it appeared to be a risk-free strategy. Either they win in the motion and eliminate nearly all of the prosecutions evidence, or they fail and the jury is none the wiser. Inexplicably, Ross and Attorney Dratel did not seek to supress this. Even the Judge seemed surprised at this.
So, to anyone that clings to the notion that the governments case was a sham, using illegally collected evidence, well, that COULD still be true, but Ross and his attorney made absolutely no attempt to raise that issue.
Still, many of Ross’ supporters mistakenly believed that he didn’t seek to assert a privacy interest in the seized server in order to not implicate himself in Silk Roads operation. But almost as soon as the trial began, Ross acknowledged having developed and launched Silk Road, but claimed that shortly after its launch, he sold the site to persons unknown, only to be later “lured” back into the administrator role in order to serve as a fall guy.
As non-sensical as that story is – claiming that he got so nervous about his creation shortly after launching it that he dished it off to a third party in order to protect himself (when the site was virtually unknown), only to somehow be convinced to retake the reigns years later, after the size of the site and its userbase had grown dramatically, after the site had taken on employees of which he would have had no means of betting, and most importantly, after the site had had a big bullseye painted on it by Senator Chuck Schumer, why they would even attempt that story given knowledge of the evidence the government had obtained from his personal laptop is almost equally baffling.
What was found on his laptop?
Millions of Bitcoins which had come directly from the wallets on Silk Roads servers.
The scanned ID’s of each of the markets moderators, which lead to their arrests, with some pleading guilty to assisting DPR and his marketplace.
Hundreds and hundreds of pages of logs of TorChat logs, with him discussing administration of the market from its inception through its seizure. They even contained his discussions with persons unknown about a ruse in which he told his friends that he was no longer involved with the site, and that he thought they believed him even though he acknowledged it to be a falsehood.
Worse still than that? When discussing operational security with his minions, he actively sought their assurance that none of them would be so stupid as to have logging enabled in their chat programs, while his own chat program actively logged nearly every conversation he ever had.
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And the conversations that weren’t logged? His inner thoughts? He actively “logged” those as well, by keeping a detailed diary, just in case he ever drew enough attention that people might be interested in his thoughts and his life story. To be clear, his diary contained all the minutiae of life as DPR:
* notes about how he grew his own mushrooms at first in order to have something for sale on his site
* his struggles with trying to learn how to code SQL and PHP by the seat of his pants.
* his experience dealing with hackers and blackmailers who sought to interrupt service to his site either for fun or for profit.
And so much more.
The laptop in his possession had been recorded as being purchased by him on Amazon.com, and he referred to the expenditure as a start-up cost in the spreadsheet he used for tracking the sites profit and losses.
Speaking of that, he kept his laptop meticulously organized, documenting all of the servers and accounts under his control, with user names and passwords.
And, while his laptop did use and encrypted file system in order to deter people from accessing it’s data, he made no effort to secure his files beyond that; everything from Silk Roads launch onward was there in one consolidated place, nothing was password protected. In other words, he took no precautions for if the laptop was taken out of his possession while he was logged in. Maybe that wouldn’t have been an issue if he did all of his work from home behind closed or locked doors, but instead he worked from his laptop everywhere – at his rented apartment, at the coffee shop, and at the public library where he was ultimately arrested.
Let’s rewind to his claim to have established the site, sold it, and then gotten lured back in. Given all of the damming information that was found on his laptop covering the time he claimed to be away from the helm, how did he want to explain it?
That due to his propensity for using BitTorrent, hackers could have surreptitiously uploaded those files through a port opened in his computers firewall by his BitTorrent client. Never mind that any IT or computer security professional would make clear that that assertation is basically impossible.
But wait! Things get more interesting. After the conclusion of his trial, a DEA agent who had been investigating Silk Road, Carl Force IV, was arrested on numerous charges, including corruption, using subpoena powers unlawfully, stealing Bitcoin’s from Silk Road and its users, stealing Bitcoins from exchanges, and feeding DPR information about the DEA’s investigation.
The “Ross was framed” contingent wants us to believe that Agent Force could have planted the “faked” evidence on Ross’s laptop post-arrest. This would include all of the above information, which also includes alleged attempts to have people assassinated, and for which large Bitcoin transactions can be found on the blockchain to corroborate those “attempts”.
Mr. Force was also implicated in using Curtis Greene’s (a sub-administrator of Silk Road) to steal Bitcoin’s from several dealers on the Silk Road site, an action which allegedly drew such ire from DPR that he, DPR, discussed the situation with his inner circle (again, ALL logged by his TorChat client) and concluded that Greene had to be assassinated. At which point, he approached Force (with whom they had befriended one another, with Force operating undercover with an alias of “nob”) to carry out the contract for Greene’s killing.
Aha! Rebutters say – why does the government keep asserting this but not press charges for that crime. Simple – the government, having many division and agencies, had multiple investigations running at the same time. Postal Inspectors. Department of Homeland Security. DEA. FBI. IRS.
And so forth.
The thing is, Ross was arrested upon the culmination of the investigation led by FBI Agent Christopher Tarbel, out of the agency’s New York office, for which he just faced trial (and was found guilty). The murders-for-hire are contained within the Maryland indictment, which was unsealed after his arrest, and f0r which he still stands to face trial. That should explain why he hasn’t been charged for the attempted murders as of yet.
And not just the lack of murder charges; it also explains why the idea that Carl Force planted fake evidence on Ross’s computer after his arrest. Namely, he had no knowledge, no involvement in the operation to nab Ulbricht. Immediately upon his arrest, the FBI began documenting their evidence in order to meticulously preserve the chain-of-custody.
Firstly, they connected a “mouse wiggler” device to the computer in order to prevent it from going into sleep mode, which would have cleansed the OS’s decryption keys from its memory. They then made an image of the hard drug, generated a cryptographic signature of both the image and the hard drive in order to be assured that files could not be surreptitiously added, modified or removed as the laptop changed hands within the FBI. Carl Force, not being involved in the arrest of Ulbricht, simply had no opportunity to plant evidence on Ross’s laptop subsequent to his arrest.
And speaking of his actual arrest. Just before he was arrested, an FBI agent operating one of Silk Road’s moderator accounts (Cirrus) messaged DPR, asking him to review certain items on the site. As soon DPR acknowledged logging in to review the items in question, the FBI pounced, nabbing Ross and removing his laptop from his possession.
On the screen were an until then unknown administration page, aptly named “mastermind”, along with an open chat window with Cirrus, demonstrating that Ross had been logged into both the Silk Road site and TorChat as DPR.
But what about Ross being denied the from calling witnesses on his behalf?
Judge Forrest gave a very clear reason for her denial of his last minute witnesses, in that, despite having over a year to prepare for the case, his attorney had never mentioned them, scheduled them, or notified anyone of these potential witnesses. Her response made clear, she had no objection to the witnesses themselves, only Attorney Dratel’s attempt to “sandbag” the prosecution by announcing and introducing witnesses at the last possible moment. Had Dratel simply scheduled his witnesses with the court as is generally customary, there wouldn’t have been any issue with calling them to the stand.
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Along with all of the hard evidence against Ross, there’s more.
The first recorded mentions of Silk Road on the internet came from forum posts to both Shroomery and Bitcointalk by a user going by the handle “Altoid”.
Months later, “Altoid” posted to BitcoinTalk again, this time attempting to recruit IT Pro’s to help with a Bitcoin-related venture. In that post, “Altoid” provided the email address of “RossUlbricht@Gmail.com” for anyone who wished to reply.
A user at StackOverflow registered using Ross’s Gmail address in order to ask a question about developing a hidden service (a website that operates on the Tor network). After posting the question, the user subsequently changed his monicker to “email@example.com”.
The confiscated server was set to automatically accept connections from a user named “frosty”, so long as that user presented to the proper certificate when logging on.
Ross’s username on his laptop? Frosty.
Ross’s LinkedIn profile made vague references to his running a project that resembled Silk Road.
The Dread Pirate Roberts and Ross Ulbricht were both big fans of the Mises economic forum.
The Dread Pirate Roberts and Ross Ulbricht shared other similarities, such as when DPR reported being on vacation, Ulbricht happened to be on vacation as well.
Whether you agree with the laws or not, that’s a whole other story. But the facts are the facts, and here are the facts that Ross either did not dispute or poorly disputed:
He didn’t question the lawfulness of the methods the FBI used to locate the Silk Road Server.
He didn’t question the constitutionality of using evidence generated by himself against himself (the data on the server)
Nor did he attempt to rid the prosecution of any of the other “fruit from the poisonous tree”, including all of the evidence discovered on his laptop, which was only zeroed in on after the imaging of the server revealed which IP addresses it would accept SSH connections from
Neither did he credibly suggest that evidence had been planted on his computer. He made no argument that the FBI or DEA had corrupted the evidence obtained after his arrest, though he did suggest that “someone” could have planted files on his computer before his arrest.
Again, whether you believe the laws are just or unjust is not what I’m asking here. What I’m saying is that the evidence is pretty clear that Ross Ulbricht was THE Dread Pirate Roberts. And nearly every “out” that I’ve seen thrown around on the various forums, intending to cast doubt that Ulbricht was DPR, or that the FBI acted improperly in its investigation of him, neither Ross nor his attorney have made any attempt to raise any of those arguments in the court of law.
References /Further Reading:
How the FBI caught Ross Ulbricht, alleged creator of criminal marketplace Silk Road (CNN.com)
DOJ Indictment Against Carl Mark Force IV (justice.gov)