By now everyone has heard about the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged founder of the website Silk Road: a website frequently used as a marketplace for illicit drug sales.
Lesser known, though, is how exactly the bust went down, and why timing is everything.
Ulbricht had reportedly been identified by the FBI after the “bonehead” mistake of posting under his own real name. Then he allegedly contacted an undercover officer posing as a hit man and ordered a hit on a former employee he was afraid would “squeal.”
At that point, the FBI had Ulbricht dead to rights, but they didn’t just storm after him, they watched and waited until just the right moment.
Nate Anderson and Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica report that Ulbricht had left his home and headed to the library:
Then, at 3:15pm, staffers heard a “crashing sound” from the sci-fi collection and went to investigate, worried that a patron had fallen. Instead, library Communications Director Michelle Jeffers tells us that the staff came upon “six to eight” FBI agents arresting Ulbricht and seizing his laptop. The agents had tailed him, waiting for the 29-year-old to open his computer and enter his passwords before swooping in. They marched him out of the library without incident.
Joshua Foust, a former intelligence analyst turned freelance reporter, outlines just how incredible the FBI’s planning and execution was:
By waiting until Ulbricht had input his password into his laptop, FBI agents were able to get full access to his archive and accounts — a treasure trove of intelligence on the criminal network that made up the Silk Road.
Moreover, by moving about so freely in public, Ulbricht made himself vulnerable, thinking his supposed anonymity would be enough cover to escape scrutiny. It was not.
At first, the initial thoughts of other Silk Road users might have been concern for goods or services purchased that cannot possibly now be rendered.
Certainly, knowing that Ulbricht’s hard drive has been compromised, the damage goes well beyond foiled drug transactions.
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