buying illegal drugs on the dark web -- 10/30/17

Today's selection -- from American Kingpin by Nick Bilton. In 2010, Ross Ulbricht, a young man with libertarian ideals from the suburbs of Austin, Texas, set out to build a website where people could buy drugs without interference from governments and the law:

Ross Ulbricht Photograph by Julia Vie.

"[The latest show Ross Ulbricht and his girlfriend Julia] had become obsessed with was Breaking Bad. They would cuddle on the bed, warmed by the glow of Ross's screen, as Walter White transformed into the terrifying and mysterious drug kingpin Heisenberg, a man who justified his evil along intellectual lines. Ross liked the drama, and it was hard not to appreciate what Heisenberg had done. Once an underachieving, largely browbeaten high school chemistry teacher, Walter White found in drugs the best way to express his technical brilliance as a chemist and businessperson. What he did may have been terrible and destructive, but he did it with such beauty and so adroitly that, to him at least, the very sin was absolved by the manner in which it was carried out. ...

"When he wasn't watching the show, Ross was now tinkering with his new idea in their Austin bedroom: an anonymous Web site where you could buy or sell anything imaginable.

"The genesis of this concept had been lodged in Ross's mind for some time. Just another one of the daydreams he hoped to build in the future. The only problem was, when he had first had this particular aha moment a year earlier, the technology he needed to realize it simply hadn't existed.
At the time, he had contacted a man he'd met online who went by the nickname Arto. They had exchanged a few e-mails, with Ross asking Arto if it would be possible to build such an anonymous online store (primarily for illegal drugs, which Ross didn't think should be illegal) that the govern­ment would have no control over.

"Arto, who was clearly an expert on such matters, explained that most of the technology needed to make this idea happen existed. There was a Web browser called Tor, which enabled people to slip behind a curtain online into another, separate Internet -- one where the U.S. government couldn't track people because, thanks to Tor, everyone became invisible. Unlike the normal Internet, where Ross's every move was stored in data­bases by Facebook or Google or Comcast, on this side of the Internet, called the Dark Web, you simply couldn't be found.

"But there were complicating factors to Ross's idea. Specifically, in 2009 there wasn't a good way to pay for these things anonymously online. Cash was too risky, and credit cards would leave evidence of someone buying a bag of cocaine from an illegal drug Web site. ...

"And so, for a year, the idea sat on a shelf in Ross's mind. That was, until now. Ross had come across a technology that had recently emerged called Bitcoin. It was being billed as a new form of digital cash that was, from the research he had done, completely untraceable. Any­one in the world could use it to buy and sell anything without leaving digital fingerprints behind. ...

"So in the summer of 2010, ... Ross Ulbricht, the failed physicist who wanted so badly to make a difference in the world, sat down at his beloved laptop to realize the idea that had been lodged in his mind for so long. A Web site that would be a free and open marketplace where people from all over the planet could buy anything and everything. Things that they couldn't currently get their hands on because of the restrictions of the U.S. government -- most important, drugs. As his fingers touched the keyboard and code appeared on his computer screen, he daydreamed that the site could potentially grow quickly. So quickly that the government would become petrified by its power. It could be living proof, Ross fantasized, that legalizing drugs was the best way to stop violence and oppression in the world. If it worked, it would change the very fabric of society forever.

"Sure, he wanted to make money. That was the libertarian way. But he wanted to free people too. There were millions of souls crammed into jails
across the country because of drugs, mostly inconsequential drugs like weed and magic mushrooms. A vile and putrid prison system kept those people locked away; lives destroyed because the government wanted to tell people what they could and could not do with their own bodies.

"This new Website he was working on could change that.

"Coming up with a name for his store was a challenge, but he finally settled on the Silk Road, a title borrowed from the ancient Chinese trade route of the Han dynasty."



Nick Bilton


American Kingpin:The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road


Penguin Press


Copyright 2017 by Nick Bilton


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