Desire not the night, when people are cut off in their place. Job 36:20
Rudy Davis has listed Ross Ulbricht, the founder and operator of the Silk Road narcotics and illegal goods website as one of his prison pen pals on his yearofjubile.com website. On Davis’ companion YouTube channel, Lonestar1776, I searched for Ulbricht’s name. Out of 10,000 uploads, only one video was tagged and that was a July 27, 2016 Shaeffer Cox video where Rudy Davis spends an hour and a half reading a letter. I have no idea why Ulbricht’s name is tagged with this video, except perhaps for the warning image shown below.
The source of this image is identified as Exposing the Ugly Ugly Judge.com, a domain that has never been registered.
In Part I on Ross Ulbricht, Founder of the SILK ROAD Dark Web Marketplace, I focused on his sentencing, and I provided a link to the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit decision of May 31, 2017 which provided an exhaustive analysis of every point which the defense wanted re-examined.
Of interest in the Appeals document is the discussion of whether or not the actions of two corrupt government agents in the Baltimore Task Force- Silk Road investigation had any impact on the fairness of the Ulbricht trial.
Prior to addressing all of the defense’s arguments, the Appeals decision stated, “At the same time, the venality of individual agents does not necessarily affect the reliability of the government’s evidence in a particular case or become relevant to the adjudication of every case in which the agents participated. Courts are obligated to ensure the probative evidence is disclosed to the defense, carefully evaluated by the court for the materiality to the case, and submitted for the jury’s consideration where admissible. But courts must also take care that wrongdoing by investigators that has no bearing on the matter before the court not be used as a diversion from fairly assessing the prosecution’s case. Like any other potential evidence, information about police corruption must be evaluated by reference to the ordinary rules of criminal procedure and evidence, a task to which we now turn.”
There were two Task Forces which were intensely investigating the Silk Road; one in New York and the other in Baltimore. In conjunction with law enforcement agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the I. R. S., and the U. S. Postal Inspection Service, DEA Special Agent Carl Mark Force IV conducted the primary undercover communications with Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) AKA Ross Ulbricht, whereas Secret Service Special Agent Shaun W. Bridges served as the specialist in computer forensics and anonymity software derived from TOR. The Ulbricht case was tried in the Southern District of New York federal criminal court, and it was the New York task force that became responsible for ensuring that the Silk Road case was not contaminated by any of the actions of the two corrupt Baltimore task force agents.
As noted in Footnote 6 in the Appeals document, the end result of the criminal investigation into the two agents resulted in both Force and Bridges pleading “guilty to money laundering and obstruction of justice; Force also pleaded guilty to extortion. Force was sentenced to 78 months in prison, and Bridges received a 71-month sentence.”
TOR (The Onion Router)
The Silk Road enterprise took place in that dark, nether world of the internet which is accessed using the TOR browser. Chris Skinner, an independent commenter on the financial markets, stated in a July 2015 article on thefinanser.com, How to Crack Anonymous: The Silk Road Story, that “TOR – The Onion Router – was developed by the U. S. Navy in the 1990’s with the aim of protecting U. S. Intelligence communications online. After its release and subsequent enhancements since 2002, it’s become the preferred network for drugs, fraud, and other illicit activities, as it allows users to browse the web almost completely anonymously. TOR achieves this by directing internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than six thousand relays to conceal a user’s location and usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis.”
Skinner also notes that the Silk Road story is a fascinating one because it “demonstrates the libertarian versus statist stand-off”. He explains, “The libertarian versus statist movement is a very active one and, again for those who have not encountered it, is led by many bitcoin activists. The bitcoin activists claim they have invented money without government, and believe that society should be free to operate as they want. If people want to exchange drugs, paedophilia or organize terrorist activities, that is a lifestyle choice and they should be allowed to do just that. The view being that if these activities are viewed by the collective as inappropriate, then the collective will shut it down rather than the government.”
While TOR is known for providing anonymity, when it comes to anonymous commercial transactions, these activities are subject to exposure for various reasons once they leave the dark web and enter into the every-day reality of delivery systems and financial exchanges involving bitcoins and U. S. dollars. In fact, the government’s investigation into Ulbricht’s activities was triggered by the discovery of a package of illegal drugs being delivered via the mail system.
The foundation for regulating behavior is not just having a “collective standard”, but there must be the authority and power to enforce those rules of conduct.
In the situation involving the exposure of the two corrupt government agents, unfortunately it was not internal procedural or supervisory controls within the Baltimore Task Force that identified the corruption within their ranks. Rather, it was Bitstamp, the crypto exchange, that was the source of their undoing. This reality collides with the bitcoin activists’ argument that the Collective ought to be the regulating force rather than the Government. It took both a participant in the so called Collective and the Government’s resources and authority to deal with all of the wrongdoers associated with Silk Road.
It needs to be remembered that when Ross Ulbricht discovered persons in his midst that threatened exposure of his wrongdoing, he paid enormous sums using bitcoins, to hire anonymous assassins to track down the real identities of his enemies, so that they could be murdered. In his world, Ulbricht was the sole dictator who had the authority and power to execute his own version of “justice”. The U. S. Government, despite corrupt agents within, still displays the capability of bringing to justice wrongdoers in accordance with rules of evidence which favors the discovery of truth, while protecting the fragile rights of both the public and individuals.
While initially it was Bitstamp who found the activities of Force to be suspicious, subsequent interviews of Shaun Bridges were pursued when the government observed that he was making “inaccurate statements”. On March 18, 2015, Bridges resigned after being told he was suspended.
The Affidavit underlying the arrest warrant for Force and Bridges
The Affidavit provided by Special Agent (IRS) Tigran Gambaryan on March 25, 2015 in support of the criminal complaint against Force and Bridges (150325 – Charges Against Former Federal Agents in Silk Road), noted that “On April 29, 2014, Bitstamp’s General Counsel advised BRIDGES by telephone from the Northern District of California that Bitstamp suspected FORCE of wrongdoing and intended to formally bring it to the attention of law enforcement via a Bank Secrecy Act filing. Bitstamp did so on May 1, 2014. By May 4, 2014, FORCE submitted a letter of resignation after 15 years of service to be effective later that month.”
Gambaryan continues, “On approximately May 2, 2014 the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California opened an official investigation into FORCE concerning his activities with his Bitstamp account and bitcoin holdings. On approximately May 4, 2014, the Public Integrity Section opened an official investigation into FORCE concerning his improper use of a subpoena to Venmo. On May 8, 2014, the Northern District of California and Public Integrity investigations were merged.”
The U. S. Sentencing Memo on Bridges
At this point, I am going to focus on the United States’ Sentencing Memorandum in the criminal case United States of America v. Shaun W. Bridges (A/K/A “Number 13”), dated December 7, 2015. The United States Attorneys argued against a downward departure or a variance in this case from the applicable sentencing guidelines. The defendant Bridges had pleaded guilty to money laundering and obstruction of justice. The Probation Department had applied a 2-level enhancement for sophisticated means, and the sentencing guidelines for Bridges’ offenses ranged from 57 to 71 months. (all bolding in the following excerpts is mine.)
The United States Attorney’s Office stated on page 2, “By his egregious conduct and flagrant abuse of his authority as a sworn law enforcement officer, Shaun Bridges has shown that he is not someone who deserves a sentence at or below the low-end of the Guidelines range. Rather, Shaun Bridges is someone who abused the public trust and tarnished the reputation of law enforcement in the process. For those reasons and others discussed below, the United States seeks a high-end Guidelines sentence of 71 months’ imprisonment-the same sentence recommended by the Probation Department.”
It was further noted by the AUSA that the defendant had objected to the application of the sophisticated means enhancement; however, it was explained that the money laundering offense involved the sophisticated means of “conduct such as hiding assets or transactions, or both, through the use of fictitious entities, corporate shells, or offshore financial accounts…”.
On page 3, it was explained that “Bridges stole bitcoins from various Silk Road accounts using the log-in credentials from one of the website’s customer support representatives- a target whom they had arrested- and transferred the bitcoins to Mt. Gox, an offshore bitcoin exchange company in Japan. Over several months, Bridges then made nine separate wire transfers – all under $100,000 each – totaling $822,851.19 from the offshore exchange to a Fidelity account in the name of Quantum International Investments, LLC (“Quantum”), a shell corporation Bridges created in the United States…The sole and exclusive purpose of this LLC was to receive and hide those criminal proceeds…further, as the PSR notes, bitcoin is a sophisticated technology/currency.”
On page 6 of the Sentencing Memorandum, special notice and condemnation is given for Bridge’s handling of a cooperator in this case, stating, “In addition, the government believes that defendant Bridges’ sentence should be severe given his treatment of the cooperator, GC, in this case. Bridges did not simply steal from Silk Road, he stole from Silk Road and the operator of Silk Road–whom Bridges knew by his online moniker, “Dread Pirate Roberts”–through the administrator account of CG. Of course, Ulbricht and a Silk Road administrator believed that CG had stolen from them since they were unaware that CG was cooperating and had given Bridges access to his account.”
“Being a wealthy and dangerous operator of a narcotics trafficking site, Ulbricht responded in a predictable way to the perceived thefts by CG – he looked for associates to murder CG. Bridges was aware that Ulbricht wanted to murder CG almost immediately because Bridges assisted Force and other agents in faking CG’s death. Bridges did nothing to prevent Ulbricht’s belief – and the belief of the other agents and the AUSAs- that CG was the actual thief. The AUSAs announced that they would not provide CG with a 5K recommendation due to their belief that he had stolen from Silk Road while promising to be a cooperator. CG protested, but the agents and AUSAs did not believe that one of their own could have been responsible for the theft and did not believe him. That Ulbricht contracted Force’s UCE legend of Nob to murder CG was fortuitous because Nob could obviously control his part of the situation by not murdering CG but letting Ulbricht believe that CG had been murdered by Nob. But Bridges did not know that would be the result.”
“In addition, law enforcement is aware that Ulbricht did not limit his solicitation to murder CG to Force/Nob. Ulbricht actively contacted other Silk Road users that Ulbricht believed could murder CG. That was an eventuality that Bridges, of course, foresaw. The solution for the agents was to order CG not to leave his house until Ulbricht was apprehended almost a year later. CG was confined to his home in fear for his safety day after day. Had the New York-based investigation not located and arrested Ulbricht when it did, CG could have been left to the equivalent of house arrest up to this very day.’
“This type of abuse of a cooperator is absolutely unforgivable. Bridges allowed his greed and deception to endanger the life of a man who was actively striving to assist the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force with its investigation….This type of abuse of a vulnerable cooperator strikes a powerful chord with prosecutors and law enforcement who rely on these types of relationships to solve crimes. This type of abuse cannot be taken lightly by federal law enforcement or the Court. Bridges should be sentenced on the basis of his abuse of CG along with his fraudulent and deceitful conduct.”
The rest of the 12 page United States’ Sentencing Memorandum on Shaun Bridges continues to describe the egregious conduct of this former Secret Services Special Agent, who presently sits in prison as punishment for his offences.
The deeper the darkness of Anonymity on the Internet, the more egregious are the crimes which materialize, undermining the safety and protections necessary to maintain a free society.
The illegal activities conducted by Ross Ulbricht done under the cover of the anonymity provided by the dark web browser, TOR, not only included the distribution of dangerous controlled substances, such as heroin or the assassin’s poison cyanide. But as the Appeals Court decision (footnote 66) describes, he also sold “illegal goods such as counterfeit identification documents and computer hacking tools and services…The specific computer hacking tools available included software for compromising usernames and passwords of electronic accounts, including email and Facebook; Remote Access Tools (“RATS”) that allow hackers to obtain remote access to a victim’s computer, including turning on and using the computer’s webcam; keyloggers, which allow a user to monitor keystrokes inputted by a victim to discern their passwords and other sensitive information; and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) tools, which allow hackers to disable websites by flooding networks with malicious Internet traffic. Silk Road also offered money laundering services through vendors who sold U. S. currency and anonymous debit cards…”.
It is time for internet broadcasts and writings, especially those done in the name of Christ, to provide documentation to back up their conclusions. Because of the continuous streaming of false and defamatory conclusions on the internet, we are in danger of losing the freedom of speech and press privileges which we currently enjoy, if stringent measures are put into place to correct this situation.