While the alleged mastermind behind the online drug market Silk Road didn't say much in his first interview from behind bars, there are new details revealing how the FBI tracked and eventually caught their Internet fugitive.
The mystery surrounding Ross William Ulbricht, the 29-year-old accused of running Silk Road, the anonymous market placefor drugs, fake IDs and all manner of illegal fare, has swirled since his abrupt arrest last week, charged by the feds with computer hacking conspiracy, narcotics trafficking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. His former roommates thought he was a freelance currency trader, they told Forbes' Ryan Mac, and knew him as Joshua Terrey. They were unaware the quiet, reclusive guy subletting in their San Francisco house was allegedly known online as Dread Pirate Roberts.
The man now known as inmate ULW981 at the Almeida County prison outside of Oakland spoke toSan Francisco magazine's Lauren Smiley, but unfortunately he didn't want to talk about Silk Road very much. He really only granted her the interview — his lawyers told him to avoid the press — because it gets lonely behind bars:
He doesn’t want to say anything to me that will be held against him. Our conversation has several stops and starts as he clams up to any question about his case—does he want to comment on his guilt or innocence? “No.” Will he be posting bail? ‘No comment.” Who’s been visiting him in jail? What internet cafes did he work out of in San Francisco? Nothing, nothing. At one point he even says we should talk about me. The only subject about which he will truly open up is his jail life.
As more and more details are revealed about Ulbricht's life, the crackdown on users who used the service to deal drugs is spreading across continents. The ongoing examination of how exactly he was caught is getting deeper, too, coughing up new information showing how the FBI was able to track the allegedly secure, allegedly anonymous marketplace. Icelandic police confirmed they handed over data to the FBI for the investigation into Silk Road. The original FBI complaint claimed two servers were hosted in Iceland, but a Reykjavik Metropolitan Police claimed the website was hosted there.
But some believe the information that led to the Silk Road's eventual take down came from a different country. Iceland doesn't have an legal agreement to share information about criminal investigations with the U.S. Their deal with the FBI was apparently special for this investigation. The Verge's Adrianne Jeffries explains:
It still looks like the bulk of the information that broke open the case did not come from Iceland, however. The complaint says "an image of the Silk Road Web Server was made on or about July 23rd, 2013, and produced thereafter to the FBI" as a result of a request made to a foreign country under a formal MLAT.
That image, or bit-for-bit copy, of the Silk Road server gave authorities access to private messages between the Silk Road's owner and other members of the site. It was instrumental in seizing the site and arresting Ross Ulbricht, the man police allege was behind the Silk Road.
The only other servers we know of that hosted Silk Road information were in the U.S., Latvia, and Malaysia. Latvia has an MLAT agreement with the U.S. but Malaysia does not. Another similar special agreement can't be ruled out, but Latvia is the most obvious suspect so far.
[Pictured: an artist's sketch of Ulbricht during his court appearance following his arrest.]