The New York Times has just done the most in-depth piece we've seen so far about the case against Ross Ulbricht, the man accused of being the founder of illegal drug-trade site The Silk Road and also accused hiring hit men to kill a couple of people he'd had business scuffles with. We've heard previous descriptions of 29-year-old Ulbricht as a harmless hippie who liked taking off his shirt a lot, but here we've got a more complete profile of the man, which points to the distinct possibility that he was a sociopath leading a double life.
We learn that he was an Eagle Scout, and his parents have provided photos to prove it. His parents have his back still, and are relocating to New York to be near him while he stands trial. We have a college friend saying that, in no uncertain terms, "It’d be like they accused my mother of trying to kill someone. He’s one of the most guileless and nonaggressive people I’ve ever met."
But in the online universe and in conversations with an undercover federal agent, Ulbricht, under the name Dread Pirate Roberts, allegedly ordered the executions of six different people, none of whom were ever actually killed it seems because all these exchanges were handled online and paid for with Bitcoin, someone in Canada, and maybe more than one person, was scamming him in addition to the feds setting him up.
Going back a few years, one can see that Ulbricht was forming pretty staunch ideas about libertarianism, government, and taxation, and The Silk Road fits pretty neatly into a goal of "creating an economic simulation to give people a firsthand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force."
Inspired by the possibilities of an anonymous marketplace and the currency of Bitcoin, he (or the Dread Pirate Roberts) wrote, in March 2012:
Now it is profitable to throw off one’s chains, with amazing crypto technology reducing the risk of doing so dramatically. How many niches have yet to be filled in the world of anonymous online markets? The opportunity to prosper and take part in a revolution of epic proportions is at our fingertips!
What's going to get really interesting here is if the government's case against Ulbricht might fall apart, at least in part, based on how they gathered their evidence. If some of the NSA's controversial spying techniques were employed, for instance when the feds reached out to the foreign nation that was hosting Silk Road's servers in order to make a "mirror" copy of all their data last July. There are questions about whether any laws might have been broken, and Ulbricht's attorney, Joshua L. Dratel, has experience defending Guantanamo detainees against government overstepping. He's hoping that all or most of the government's evidence could get thrown out of court if it was obtained illegally.
But then they certainly still may have a case against him via the undercover agent and the communications about executions, and Ulbricht has essentially admitted that he is the Dread Pirate Roberts when he filed an affadavit requesting the return of his Bitcoin fortune, which is estimated to be worth in the vicinity of $100 million right now.
Will the Silk Road case end up being, like Edward Snowden's, a scandal that exposes more shady tactics by the feds? We shall see.