US: "Dread Pirate Roberts" of Digital Silk Road Arrested

Published: 04 October 2013


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Ross William Ulbricht, the man who they say ran the trafficking website Silk Road under the alias "Dread Pirate Roberts", on Tuesday.

Ulbricht, 29, allegedly owned and operated Silk Road, described as the "eBay for drug dealing" by The Guardian, using Bitcoin, an difficult-to-trace, decentralized online currency used by some legitimate businesses as well as criminals. The FBI worked with local law enforcement in New York to arrest Ulbricht after he himself tipped off authorities to his identity.

Ulbricht left unintentional hints of his management role at Silk Road on his LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube profiles as well as making a revealing post on the online coding forum Stack Overflow. Ulbricht also allegedly gave an order to an undercover FBI agent to have a former employee "beat up" and murdered in exchange for US$80,000, according to the criminal complaint filed by authorities.

Ulbricht had spoken to Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg in August using his "Dread Pirate Roberts" alias, a reference to The Princess Bride , a 1973 novel and a 1987 film. He declared that he was interested in disrupting the social status quo and sidestepping government. "We’re talking about the potential for a monumental shift in the power structure of the world," he wrote. "The people now can 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."

The FBI shut down Silk Road, which had been operational since 2011 providing an outlet for anonymous vendors to sell drugs and other illegal goods to more than 100,000 customers, according to The New York Times. Users all around the world hired hitmen, bought and sold illegal goods, including fake IDs, erotica, and other illegal items, although the site was primarily used for illegal drugs, reports The Guardian. The site utilized software called Tor which allows users to access websites anonymously and transactions were only made with anonymous Bitcoins. An FBI investigation of Silk Road revealed that the site hosted 9.5 million in Bitcoin sales, valued at about US$1.2 billion. Investigators believe that Ulbricht himself had earned more than US$80 million operating the site.

"As far as my monetary net worth is concerned, the future value of Silk Road as an organization dwarfs its and my liquid assets. … I wouldn’t sell out for less than 10 figures, maybe 11," he had written to Greenberg. "At some point you’re going to have to put Dread Pirate Roberts on that list you all keep over at Forbes. ;)"

Ulbricht was confronted by law enforcement in a library in San Francisco where he was arrested on narcotics and money-laundering charges.