Photo: Flickr / CC.
It's been less than a week since Ross Ulbricht, the Silk Road founder better known as the Dread Pirate Roberts, was taken down by federal agents, and the heads continue to roll.
The Telegraph and the BBC are both reporting that four Britons have been detained in connection to the now-shuttered dark web marketplace, widely known as the eBay of drugs. The arrests were carried out by the UK's National Crime Agency, whose officers worked side-by-side with US law enforcement in a concerted jack-hammering of the Road, which in less than two years managed to broker $1.2 billion in sales in everything from illicit drugs to murder-for-hire services.
The four arrests all took place mere hours after Ulbricht got a perhaps unexpected federal manhandling as he fired up his laptop in a San Francisco library. Ulbricht is now facing charges of computer hacking, money laundering, narcotics trafficking and, to the shock of many, attempting to use that very murder-for-hire service—twice, no less—to bump off snitches.
It's a warning shot that the newly-formed NCA promises to be part of an ongoing round-'em-up of some of the site's bigger fish.
"These arrests send a clear message to criminals, the hidden internet isn't hidden and your anonymous activity isn't anonymous," Keith Bristow, Director General of the NCA, told the Telegraph. "We know where you are, what you are doing and we will catch you." Bristow added:
It is impossible for criminals to completely erase their digital footprint. No matter how technology-savvy the offender, they will always make mistakes and this brings law enforcement closer to them.
It's not yet clear if those slip ups are similar to those that ultimately led to Ulbricht's and the Road's undoing. And it's likewise unclear just who they are: None of the identities have been released.
What we do know is that three of the detainees, all men in their 20s, were arrested in Manchester on charges of supplying controlled substances. The fourth vendor, an older fellow in his 50s, was taken down in Devon, leading some to believe he's one 'PlutoPete'. As the Daily Dot notes, chatter of a Devon raid shot through Silk Road message boards "for the last week".
PlutoPete ran a headshop there, and also peddled drug packaging to various Silk Road vendors. His business, for all we know, was legal, but his known involvement with the marketplace was enough to see the NCA seize his computers, some salvia, cash, drug-testing kits and, crucially, the names of an unknown number of some of Pete's vendors.
His detainment didn't last long. Indeed, he's out on bail until February, and shortly after being released was sounding the alarm on the Silk Road. (See: above.) “Unlike other vendors, my address was no secret,” Pete wrote. “PlanetPluto is a registered business selling legal products." Not surprisingly, he had some choice words for the Man:
I'm not sure who trains these plod but they didn't even know that cannabis seeds are legal and i've said that if they're destroyed or badly stored they'll be liable for the cost at a rate of £5 per seed.
The hangover continues.