The Silk Road Bust

The Silk Road Bust

The Silk Road was one of the most notorious black markets on the Internet. Run by the notorious, anonymous Dread Pirate Roberts, this online bazaar allowed its users to trade cryptocurrency for illegal drugs, items and services. But, buried beneath layers of digital proxies, the Silk Road was almost impenetrable to law enforcement. Almost. Sophia Di Martino joins former FBI Special Agent Chris Tarbell to tell the story of how a combination of cyber-savvy and old-school detective work brought down the biggest name on the Dark Web.
Read the transcript →

True Spies, Episode 119, The Silk Road Bust

+++Disclaimer: This episode contains strong language throughout.

Welcome to True Spies, the podcast that takes you deep inside the greatest secret missions of all time. Week by week, you’ll hear the true stories behind the operations that have shaped the world we live in. You’ll meet the people who live life undercover. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? I’m Sophia Di Martino, and this is True Spies from SPYSCAPE Studios.

CHRIS TARBELL: At one point he said, "How about $20 million to let me go?" Then we kind of got into a kind of kidding situation - well, what are we going to do about this guy driving? Are we gonna kill him? How are we gonna get away with all this?

NARRATOR: The Silk Road Bust. It’s the summer of 2011 and somewhere in a New York FBI office, cyber security agent Chris Tarbell is punching numbers into his computer. 

CHRIS TARBELL: Cyber was a new division to New York. It had been around for less than a year.

NARRATOR: He’s just arrested the leader of one of the most notorious hacking outfits of modern times. Not bad for a rookie.

CHRIS TARBELL: There was a group called Anonymous that was going crazy, hacking into everything. They were in the news all the time and their hacking arm was being called ‘LulzSec’ - or “laughing at your security”. The leader of their group was a guy named Sabu. And so everyone was out looking for him and trying to find him. They were in the news every day. They had ‘F*** FBI Fridays’. Every Friday, they would release information about the FBI, which is embarrassing, but still a little bit fun for us to watch what was going to come out.

NARRATOR: Anonymous was just the beginning for our True Spy, Chris Tarbell. In this episode, we tell the story of the Silk Road, a clandestine website that became the most notorious online black market in the history of the Internet, and how the FBI brought it down. Imagine the illegal version of Amazon where you could find everything from heroin to hitmen - all without fear of being traced. Silk Road was so audacious, that one high-profile senator described it as “the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen”. But before we get there, let’s go back to 2011 to the newly created FBI cyber division operating out of a faceless office somewhere deep inside the Bureau's New York headquarters in Manhattan’s Tribeca district.

CHRIS TARBELL: LulzSec became so important - and so out there in the community of hacking - they didn't have to hack anymore. And so, other hackers would bring in their hacks just to be part of it. Jeremy Hammond was one of those guys.

NARRATOR: After Sabu, Jeremy Hammond quickly became the FBI's number one cyber target. He had hacked his way into a private intelligence firm with connections to the military. Unlike the great Sabu, who was caught after just once forgetting to use a VPN or anything else to hide his identity - just one time - Jeremy Hammond was harder to find. He hadn’t slipped up yet. He was diligently using a piece of software called TOR or - The Onion Router - that up until now had kept him fully anonymous online. I’ll let Chris explain.

CHRIS TARBELL: Tor is a tool that is used to anonymous Internet traffic by not allowing an investigator or anyone in technology to trace the path. So normally on the Internet, if I have a place I want to go to, I want to go to I type that into my browser. My browser then uses DNS or Domain Name Services in order to change that into a number - sort of like a telephone number for a computer.

NARRATOR: This investigation is when Chris learned the importance of separating hackers from their laptops before you arrest them. After being identified and located via traditional detective work, the FBI just needed to catch Jeremy Hammond in the act. The moment the SWAT team burst into Jeremy’s apartment, he simply closed his laptop, encrypting its contents behind a password. The arrest had effectively been for nothing. Or had it?

CHRIS TARBELL: His password ended up being chewy12345. Chewy was the name of the cat. I don't think Jeremy has heard me tell this story before, and he's threatened me if I was to say his cat's name again on some sort of medium like this. So his cat's name is Chewy. So good luck. Good luck Jeremy.

NARRATOR: Yes, one of the world's then most notorious hackers was ultimately brought down for having possibly the world’s most guessable password. Despite the fact that it nearly went south, to his colleagues Chris Tarbell’s the new guy that almost single-handedly brought down two of Anonymous’ top hackers. Obviously, he has a talent for collaring cybercrooks, but law enforcement wasn’t always in the cards. Chris originally studied to be a doctor, but joining his University’s Campus Cadets - college cops, if you will - directed his passion away from saving lives and toward fighting crime, then he met someone who would change the direction of his life forever.

CHRIS TARBELL: I became friends with a guy named Sid Hartman, who was a sergeant at the time, and Sid convinced me - this was 1998 - that computers were going to be the wave of the future, that computers are going to be part of every crime.

NARRATOR: For the digital natives among you who might think this screamingly obvious, in 1998, most of us were still relying on dial-up Internet connections, and we were almost 10 years away from the release of the first smartphone - we had little clue that the Internet would change the world in the way it did. But Sid’s words had enough of an impact that Chris switched his studies to computer science so that he could understand how cyber crime worked. After college, he joined the police and learned the ropes until he had enough experience to apply for a job at the Bureau. The next thing he knew, he was doing knuckle push-ups at the FBI training facility in Quantico, Virginia. And then he got his posting.

CHRIS TARBELL: There are 56 field offices in the FBI and you get to order them the way you want to before career night, but no guaranteeing where you're going to be. I put New York and I put ‘cyber’ as my top choices. I think I was about the sixth or seventh person that night to open my orders. And I got both New York and Cyber.

NARRATOR: In little more than his first year at the Bureau, Chis had two significant ‘gets’ to his name. But he and his small cyber team start to think bigger. What if they didn’t go after individual hackers but instead went after their tools?

CHRIS TARBELL: Jeremy Hammond was using Tor. Around that same time, you'd go into the FBI systems and you'd be looking up IP addresses for leads and that sort of thing, and you'd read a case file and the case would be like, ‘Came back as Tor. I can't do anything so case closed.’ And you were reading this day after day after day. It was a big problem we were seeing in the FBI. 

NARRATOR: During the Anonymous investigation, Chris and his colleagues had been looking at websites that ran on this pesky Tor network. If they could bring one of those sites down, perhaps they’d figure out how to crack this Tor open - or, at the very least it might show would-be hackers it’s not as secure as they thought - and Operation Onion Peeler was born.

CHRIS TARBELL: Because we were a hacking crew, we investigated hacking crimes. We found 26 onion sites on TOR that had sold either hacking services or hackers for hire or hacking tools. And so we opened Operation Onion Peeler on 26 different sites.

NARRATOR: Twenty-six websites running on Tor, impenetrable to those not in the know and operating with impunity. But of those 26 there was one Chris set firmly in his crosshairs.

CHRIS TARBELL: In the case file, Silk Road was the number six on the list, but we knew that that was sort of the golden ring at the time. If you wanted to get into the media and kind of get the message out, Silk Road was going to be the big one.

NARRATOR: Chris’ official job was to stop hackers, which was one of the illegal services for sale on Silk Road, but he knew that it was also the largest online market for narcotics, which meant its impact was much farther reaching. Anonymous was a loosely connected group of hackers going after high-profile corporate targets but Silk Road was different, it was deliberate, focused, and organized.

CHRIS TARBELL: Silk Road opened up in January of 2011 and started gaining some publicity pretty quickly. There was a media presence. I believe Senator [Charles] Schumer had mentioned it on the floor of Congress that it was going to be an issue.

NARRATOR: So much for the ’dark web’. Silk Road was brazenly transparent. 

CHRIS TARBELL: They had a forum where you could go and learn about it. So by this time, you could Google ‘Silk Road’. It would come back with that onion address and you could just copy and paste it into the Tor browser and get there. 

NARRATOR: And, just like Amazon or eBay, users could leave reviews or enjoy cheaper shipping if they bought in bulk. It was a virtual bazaar of criminality. But perhaps most surprising to Chris was that, as far as he could tell, the site was being run by just one person - and he adopted a fictional swashbuckler as his alter ego.

CHRIS TARBELL: DPR is Dread Pirate Roberts. He's the system admin or the guy running the show, or as his words put it on the site, “the captain of the ship”. And if you didn't like the rules, you could get off his ship. Those were his quotes.

NARRATOR: From the office in New York, Chis worked alongside his colleagues Ilhwan Yum - a bitcoin specialist - and Tom Kiernan, a computer scientist and the longest-serving member of the cyber team. They got to work pulling on the few threads they had. And while Silk Road might not have been on the ‘regular’ Internet, fortunately for the team, people who were using it were. Chris, Ilhwan, and Tom spent hours poring over forum threads discussing Silk Road, looking for anything that might be a lead. A username that matches a public profile or even just a hint at where the site was based. Eventually, they stumbled on some savvy users on popular social community website Reddit claiming that certain parts of the site weren’t properly hidden by Tor. If true, this meant Silk Road could be leaking an Internet address - known as an IP address - and that would be an important crack in the site's armor.

CHRIS TARBELL: And so, we go through [it] and - just using techniques available to the public - we found that some of the information on the server was leaking. It narrowed it down to what company it was being hosted at. That company only had a range of IP addresses. So you go through and start entering this IP. Nothing is leaking. Nothing's going until we hit one where the page - and the front page was sort of matched up - and there were certain parts of it that were coming through on the true IP.

NARRATOR: Chris turned to look at Ilhwan and Tom. All three of them were wide-eyed like a group of kids who had just found a $100 bill. This wasn’t just a clue, it was a bona fide lead. A tangible, physical piece of evidence that pointed directly to a server located in a data center in Iceland. There was only one way to find out if this was where Silk Road was being hosted. Next stop? Reykjavík.

NARRATOR: Just days later, Chris and Serrin Turner - an attorney for the Southern District of New York - find themselves in front of Icelandic law enforcement asking if they will open a local investigation into the server. They want access to the data center where the IP address was pointing to. They know it has something to do with Silk Road, but until local law enforcement agrees to investigate, their hands are tied. Chris suspects that the Reykjavík data center is the main server that makes Silk Road possible and that perhaps it even contains chat messages or transaction details. But as it’s outside their jurisdiction, they can’t just issue a subpoena and demand to see it. To their relief, not only are the Icelanders willing to open a local investigation, but they say it might even be possible to provide them [with] an entire physical copy of the server. 

CHRIS TARBELL: They did not have legal process. They had to get it and establish it. 

NARRATOR: Chris and Serrin head back to New York. They’ve done all they can, now it’s in the hands of their Icelandic collaborators. But just a couple of weeks later, a package arrives.

CHRIS TARBELL: They sent the drive to Serrin Turner over at Southern District. Serrin walks over, gives me the hard drive, and says, “Hey, this is what I got from Iceland, let me know if I have anything.” I take it back into our lab. And so, go back in there and plug it into the computer and pull it up, and it's encrypted. I can't do sh** with this. I called Tom Kiernan back into the lab and we kind of looked through it and tried to come up with ideas. What can we do with this? What can we do with that? Is there anything we can pull out of here in small pieces?

NARRATOR: Let’s put this in perspective. If this server, this nondescript black box in a rack somewhere in a warehouse, is what Chris thinks it is, it’s the digital equivalent of a smoking gun. Potentially even more than that. The one thing about cybercrime is that computers are designed to remember - well, everything. Potentially, this box even holds every chat message and transaction ever made through Silk Road. But Chris will never know, as, once again, he’s been defeated by a password field. Hours wasted and Dread Pirate Roberts, as far as Chris knew, didn’t have any pets named Chewy or otherwise.

CHRIS TARBELL: I call Serrin and I say, Serrin? Yeah. No. Encrypted. We have to find another way of doing this case. Brute force this thing open or something. And Serrin goes, “Oh, they sent a password for that!”

NARRATOR: Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. Now fully armed with the password, Chris slowly pecks it in. What he sees before him is everything he hoped for. There appears to be every chat message, detailed information on purchases, and even some customer addresses. Ilhwan and Tom immediately go to work sifting through the reams and reams of Silk Road files that spill out in front of them and try to make sense of it all. For Chris, it is a chance to learn a little more about the mysterious DPR. Especially as he now has a copy of every chat message he’d ever sent on the site.

CHRIS TARBELL: We still didn't know who DPR was, even looking through the 600 pages of chat line. I got a personality of who DPR was. But one thing I learned during the LulzSec case is that… who people try to make others believe they are online is not necessarily in line with who they are in reality.

NARRATOR: Either way, Chris finds himself with a trove of information. Not only are there endless chat messages, surprisingly, there are megabytes of details about who bought what and from whom - complete with shipping addresses. Chris’ small team of ‘cyber dorks’, as their FBI colleagues called them, are also surprised. Using the transaction data they are able to get a sense of Silk Road’s scale. They knew it was doing good business, but order data revealed that ‘good’ might have been an understatement. Bitcoin logs reveal over $1bn worth of transactions have taken place so far - about the GDP of a small Caribbean nation. But Chris’ Icelandic server scoop hasn’t gone unnoticed by other agencies running parallel investigations into Silk Road.

CHRIS TARBELL: They didn't know how we got it. They didn't know what was on it, and we weren't really going to tell them. So that's when a deconfliction meeting was scheduled to happen down in D.C. 

NARRATOR: The cyber team in New York is the FBI’s investigation into Silk Road, but they're not the only ones looking into the Dread Pirate. The New York District Attorney’s office and a task force in Baltimore that includes Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Agency are also on the hunt. For Chris, Ilhwan, and Tom in New York, the other investigations have just been background noise up until now, but now everyone knows they have a copy of the server, and egos begin to get in the way. Everyone makes the case that their investigation is the most important one. Somewhat ironic for a deconfliction meeting.

CHRIS TARBELL: I said, “I'm not going. I'm not driving. I'm too busy,” I said I gave ‘em a… “I'm too busy but I'll join by video conference.”

NARRATOR: Frustrated and disinterested, Chris joins the call but he isn’t really listening. After all, he - and he alone - has the server, so what could he possibly learn from the others? Then, one of the Homeland Security agents takes to the mic. He describes how he has started finding large amounts of drugs being shipped through Chicago’s O’Hare airport, all of them with links back to Silk Road. Chris’ ears perk up.

CHRIS TARBELL: There's a guy named Jared Der-Yeghiayan. Jared was forthcoming. He was honest about all of his evidence. He laid it on the table. He was just a guy that put it out there. And I said, “As soon as this call's over, we're getting Jared on the phone and he's flying out to New York and we're going to talk to this guy.”

NARRATOR: Jared was Chris’ kind of agent. Before joining the FBI team in New York, he’d been working on his own investigation and he’d made impressive progress. After intercepting the drugs in Chicago, he’d followed the thread back to Silk Road. He’d had the idea to go undercover as a user and had managed to become friendly with DPR - friendly enough that he was made a low-ranking administrator on the site. Jared is now the nearest thing the FBI has to a man on the inside. Over a coffee one morning, a few weeks after joining the cyber team, Jared explains how DPR had set up a chatroom for the admins using something called ‘Jabber’. From the way DPR had set that room up and the hours they were online the FBI crew determined that - whoever it was - they were located on the West Coast of the US. Until now, they couldn’t even have been certain DPR was even in the country, so this is a huge development. Meanwhile, the Icelandic data had recently revealed another secret - Silk Road uses a second server located in the US. 

CHRIS TARBELL: On this backup server, we see that there's a computer connecting to the backup server and running admin stuff. And the name of the computer connecting to it is ‘Frosty’. So we have this name. So we know that DPR is running a computer named Frosty and there are only now two people in the world that know this: DPR and me.

NARRATOR: You’ve seen it on crime dramas: The suspect says they don’t even have an axe and the detective raises an eyebrow, dryly replying, “We never said that the killer used an axe.” Chris was about to have his own real-life version of this during another, otherwise dreary group call between the different investigations.

CHRIS TARBELL: Serrin sees my big chart on the wall, all the different things I'm connecting and putting together. An IRS guy gets on the call and says that he used Google to find that someone was posting back when Silk Road first came out. “Hey, I'm starting an onion site and I'm going to use Bitcoin as part of the onion site if you know anything and can help me reach out to me at In our world, that's a clue.

NARRATOR: What the IRS agent has found is interesting - super interesting - but not criminal. Posting on a tech support forum isn’t breaking any laws. Chris jots it down as maybe something to follow up on. And then the IRS agent says a magic word that instantly catches Chris’ attention.

CHRIS TARBELL: But, that guy who had posted on that website looking for it had posted under the name ‘Frosty’. So now we have a poster by the name Frosty. The one clue that only I and DPR knew together - Frosty - and this email address who - [with a] little bit of research - puts him in San Francisco, West Coast.

NARRATOR: Now that’s a clue. Chris wasn’t about to mention how the Baltimore investigation could have known all these months earlier if they had been a little more tech-savvy. That backup server in the US? The Baltimore investigation had almost found it half a year ago.

CHRIS TARBELL: Come to find out that this ISP - Internet Service Provider - for that server, was in someone's house in Philadelphia. The team down in Baltimore had served a search warrant there because an IP connected to DPR through their investigation led them back to that same ISP. It was the computer under the backup server. They had literally gone and probably put their hand on the Silk Road backup server months before.

NARRATOR: Chris secretly enjoys knowing that the other investigations were making such glaring mistakes. It means he had time to follow up on his Frosty lead. Finding Ross Ulbricht was easy. A simple Google search brings up his LinkedIn profile. Chris even found his YouTube ‘likes’ on videos with libertarian ideals - a favorite topic of DPR’s. He would often write posts about Silk Road’s higher purpose as a sanctuary where anyone could do, (or sell) whatever anyone else was willing to buy - as long as it didn’t impact the freedoms of others. Little does he know that Chris is exercising his freedom too. The freedom to fill out the paperwork needed to place DPR under surveillance at his San Francisco home. With Jared’s privileged access to the Jabber chat, the hope is that the surveillance team could match up DPR logging on with Ross Ulbricht using his laptop.

CHRIS TARBELL: He's logging on at the exact same time as DPR’s logging on, within seconds - like whatever it would take to put a username and password. DPR logs off, his connection falls off. We find a pattern of this.

NARRATOR: It’s now 2012, over a year since Chris drafted up his list of onion sites. During that time, Silk Road has continued to grow in size. There was even talk that DPR had put a ‘hit’ out on an admin that had been talking to cops. So far, the investigation has been a heady mix of deadends, detective work, and the occasional dash of dumb luck. But now it’s turning sinister. After all, Jared is both an admin and an actual ‘cop’. What’s to say DPR hadn’t put a hit out on him as well? Thankfully, Chris is finally confident they have DPR in their sights. They just needed to write up their case for ‘probable cause’, present it to a judge, get a warrant, and arrest him. But crucially, they need the laptop too.

CHRIS TARBELL: It was the only time I've ever gone over to Southern District and Serrin and I took the judge's private elevator up to his chambers. I don't know anybody else that's ever done that. It was pretty exciting for me. And he sat and he read this and he's like, “Guys, this is going to be huge.”

NARRATOR: Three days later, the New York team is in San Francisco making early preparations for the plan. Chris knows that the local branch of the FBI has jurisdiction here and they have to play by their rules. But in the back of his mind, he really wants his team to be the one to make the arrest. He’d worked too hard on it to give that pleasure over to the Californians. Not to mention, he’s seen before what happens if you go in heavy-handed so he gathers his crew for a private debrief.

CHRIS TARBELL: We're out in San Francisco. We meet up for dinner. I talk about the plan. I tell the Jeremy Hammond story to the table and explain to them that we need to make these arrests so this laptop stays alive. This is our big plan. We cannot have the same thing where Jeremy Hammond closed the laptop. There had been some talkings that Ross had a Degausser or a device that you hit a button and it blows away the whole hard drive. So all about keeping the laptop alive.

NARRATOR: Chris and Tom even go to a local electronics store to buy, as he describes it, “every adapter that was available” to make sure Ross’ laptop can be kept alive. The New York crew has their plan, but they are still at the mercy of the San Francisco office. The local FBI supervisor has made it clear that they are planning to catch Ross their way - once again with a SWAT team. 

CHRIS TARBELL: I explained to him the Jeremy Hammond story. “You can't do that. It's not going to work. He'll close it.” And so the boss sits back and he sits there and he thinks about it. He goes, “Okay, we'll send in three SWAT teams.” He was going to have a SWAT team rappel down from a helicopter, one come up through the basement, and one break through his window. And I said, “That's not going to work. Give me a couple of days.”

NARRATOR: The local boss reluctantly gives Chris another day - he’s tracking Ross’s movements in order to catch him in the act - but Ross is a no-show. The following afternoon, the local FBI calls a briefing down in San Jose to plan the SWAT team's maneuvers. The operation is to take place the next morning. Any last hope of catching Ross his way is slipping through Chris’ fingers. Worse, he has to head down to San Jose for the briefing about the mission he is certain isn’t going to work.

CHRIS TARBELL: Just when I'm about to leave, we got a call from the surveillance team that Ross just walked out of his house, and he's got a laptop bag over his shoulder. So we scatter, we go and run. I come out of the cafe and take a left and I go to the crosswalk and there's Ross right in the middle of the crosswalk. It's just me and him going head-on. I have an arrest warrant in my pocket. I got my gun. I got my cuffs. I'm ready to throw him on the ground. Case over. But I remember that we got to get the laptop, so I just walked past him.

NARRATOR: Chris feels a wave of adrenaline rush over him, but he has to keep to the plan. They needed to keep eyes on Ross, so he circles the block and finds Jared posted outside the library where he’s just spotted Ross going in. From the bench outside, Jared opens his laptop and logs in to his undercover admin account. Sure enough, moments later, DPR is online. They have a visual on their suspect. Ross Ulbricht, the great DPR, turns out to be your average 29-year-old white American male. Mild-mannered, slender, almost forgettable-looking. The sort of person you might see in a cafe - or library - just casually working on their laptop, and never notice. Not your stereotypical drugs baron, that’s for sure. Chris gives the signal for the plain clothes agents to move in. He reminds them that if Ross runs, let him go, the important thing is to get the laptop.

CHRIS TARBELL: A female agent who, she'll tell you, she's five feet tall. I don't think she's five feet tall. She sat at the same table reading a magazine. He's a drug czar of a one-billion-dollar empire sitting across from an FBI agent at a library table. An older male agent and a female agent walked behind Ross, and the female agent cocks her hand back and punches the male agent right in the jaw, and says, “Fuck you.” Ross thought that was pretty exciting. So he turned around to take a look at them. And the five-foot-tall little agent sitting across just simply pulled the laptop across to her and kept it open and alive and unlocked, handed it off to Tom Kiernan, who then plugged it in and kept it alive.=

NARRATOR: Those power adapters were money well spent. While Tom makes sure to keep the precious laptop alive, another agent explains to Ross that he is under arrest. By now, Chris has made his way upstairs and the commotion has settled down. Finally, it is the moment he’s been waiting for.

CHRIS TARBELL: I handcuffed him and brought him downstairs, read him his rights, and then showed him his arrest warrant that said, “Ross Ulbricht, a.k.a. DPR, a.k.a. Dread Pirate Roberts.” And it washed over his face after that.

NARRATOR: While Chris reads Ross his Miranda rights, Tom stays in the library taking photos of every screen or app that he could find running on the laptop. Now there is just the small issue of the hundred or so agents down in San Jose preparing for the - now redundant - SWAT raid.

CHRIS TARBELL: They were in a warehouse waiting for us. And when we called them and said, “Hey, we just arrested Ross”, they called us a bunch of fuckin’ cowboys. They were not pleased. 

NARRATOR: The local FBI may have been annoyed that these out-of-towners had gone rogue, but either way they had their man. Local forensics drive up to San Francisco to collect the laptop that Tom is still tending to like a newborn child. Chris had bundled Ross into a surveillance van until there was a secure police vehicle available to transfer him to the station to be booked.

CHRIS TARBELL: I sat next to him and we drove off to the San Francisco FBI, which is about half an hour away. Because of US laws, I can't really talk to him about the case, but I can ask him how he's feeling. “You're okay. You're breathing all right?” You know? It's got to be a scary f-ing day for people when they're arrested by the FBI. So I think he felt some of that compassion. At one point he said, “How about $20 million to let me go?” Then we kind of got into a kind of kidding situation. “Well, what are we going to do about this guy driving? Are we going to kill him? How are we going to get away with all this?” 

NARRATOR: The mysterious Dread Pirate Roberts may have been caught, but the operation’s not over yet. There’s a satellite team over in Iceland making sure that the server and all the evidence it contains is secured after Ross’ capture. After all, there’s still a chance he’s left a tripwire, or maybe he tasked a faithful admin with instructions to delete everything if he’s missing for a certain period of time. Not to mention the important job of finding all the spoils - the ill-gotten bitcoins. That job fell to Tom.

CHRIS TARBELL: He had found Ross Ulbricht's password and he and Ilhwan were working on Ross's laptop, going through things and they found - the keys to the kingdom and all Ross's bitcoins And then the two of them did what was called the ‘ultimate high five’. That's what we labeled it as. Now, I picture them as jumping up like a Toyota commercial. Neither one of them was touching the floor and they describe it as their hands hit together so hard that they couldn't eat lunch that day because their hands were still throbbing in pain. 

NARRATOR: While we may never know the true scale of Silk Road, we do know that the FBI seized at least 144,000 Bitcoins. In 2013, when Ross was arrested, they would have been worth around $28m. And that’s only what they were able to recover. As you’ll hear in the next episode of True Spies, today those bitcoins would be worth many, many times that amount.

CHRIS TARBELL: We moved the bitcoin in 324 chunks because you can't move it all at once over the course of the blockchain. So we decided to chop it up into 324 bitcoins at a time. On the telephone, 3,2,4 is ‘FBI’.

NARRATOR: For Chris, it was one last chance to troll the hacking community that had been cheering for Ross the whole time.

CHRIS TARBELL: They figured that out pretty quickly and they thought we were assholes because of that. 

NARRATOR: As you might imagine, there’s a postscript. On February 4, 2014, Ross Ulbricht was charged with conspiracy to sell narcotics, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and conspiracy to commit computer hacking. He was later convicted on all counts and in May 2015 he was sentenced to double life imprisonment plus 40 years with no chance of parole. I’m Sophia Di Martino. Next time on True Spies, the Silk Road saga continues with a digital heist of mindblowing proportions.

Guest Bio

As a former computer forensic examiner with the FBI, Chris Tarbell was involved in worldwide rapid-response investigations related to terrorism, botnets, and other cybercrimes.

No items found.
No items found.