Is the Dread Pirate Roberts Really Ross Ulbricht?
David Segal delves into the case of the alleged Silk Road mastermind
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2014 11:21 AM CST
In this Oct. 4, 2013 file photo, an artist rendering showing Ross William Ulbricht during an appearance at Federal Court in San Francisco is shown.   (AP Photo/Vicki Behringer, File)

(Newser) – Oct. 1, 2013, brought the news that the FBI had taken down Silk Road, and with it the online drug marketplace's alleged mastermind, "Dread Pirate Roberts"—a man the FBI claims is actually Ross Ulbricht, an "ordinary nerd" who allegedly ordered hits to protect his operation. In a 5,000-word New York Times piece titled "Eagle Scout. Idealist. Drug Trafficker?", David Segal dives into the man (described as a "soulful and sensitive guy" who once jumped to help a woman in a wheelchair and was, indeed, an Eagle Scout) and the case. Standout details from the piece:

  • When the FBI descended on Ulbricht in the sci-fi section of a San Francisco library branch, they had a crucial aim: not just to arrest Ulbricht, but to make sure his laptop—believed to be the nexus of the organization—stayed open. The FBI anticipated that, if closed, password protections would have made the computer all but impenetrable. The FBI wouldn't tell Segal what "tactics" were used, but when the dust had settled, Ulbricht was arrested, and his laptop was ... open.

  • Screenshots released by the feds show a page that was open when they obtained the laptop, one inconspicuously labeled "mastermind"; there was also a completed application for citizenship in the Caribbean's Dominica.
  • We previously reported that authorities believed Dread Pirate Roberts tried to take out two hits on people who threatened the operation; an indictment places the number at six; none actually happened. One "hitman" was a federal agent pretending to be a drug dealer. Segal explains the ins and outs, but the government's ruse ultimately included photos of one of Silk Road's lieutenants "doing a fine impression of a corpse," writes Segal.
  • Ulbricht's lawyer intends to argue that Ulbricht is not Dread Pirate Roberts, which Segal notes will be tough due to a sworn statement Ulbricht made last month asking that the millions in Bitcoins taken from his laptop be returned to him because he is an "owner/possessor" of them. His lawyer will need to explain how he amassed such a virtual fortune if not via Silk Road.
  • How did the FBI zero in on Ulbricht? Some details remain hazy, but a 2011 IT job listing that directed applicants to "rossulbricht at gmail dot com," an intercepted package containing nine fake IDs bearing Ulbricht's photo, and the discovery of Silk Road's main servers in "a certain foreign country" all played a role.
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