“Deep Web” is a documentary from 2015 created and directed by Alex Winter. The documentary debuted on March 15, 2015 at SXSW and was featured on the EPIX cable network. The film goes into great detail and tells the unbiased story of the Silk Road, and the trial of its alleged creator and admin, Ross Ulbricht AKA Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR). Winter’s goal with the film was not to take sides, but to explain what the Silk Road was – a political community and movement of like-minded individuals. He also felt that law enforcement created a completely untruthful narrative of the entire case, and it needed some explaining. I discovered this documentary after Alex Winter was featured on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, and was immediately fascinated by the story he was trying to tell. Here’s the trailer.
Winter featured in a few famous films from the late 80s and early 90s, such as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), BT’s Bogus Journey (1991), The Lost Boys (1987), and Freaked (1993). He’s been interested in the internet and tech world for his whole life. He created another internet-related documentary, Downloaded, released at SXSW in 2012. He also gave a very interesting TED talk on how the Dark Net is key to our privacy. And here he is talking about Ross.
Deep Web is the impartial, unbiased account of the Silk Road deep web marketplace, and the trial of its alleged creator, Ross Ulbricht or DPR. For what its worth, the case of Ross is an account of the government having it’s head in the sand and trying to shove our heads in also. The Silk Road was created in 2011 by a group of like-minded individuals with various libertarian and anarchist political beliefs. It combined the use of TOR (anonymous browser) and bitcoin (anonymous currency) to create a completely anonymous black market. Any goods can be exchanged on the site, but it was mainly used to exchange drugs. Counterfeit currency, stolen goods, and other things that would hurt people were not allowed to be listed for sale on the site. The overall philosophy behind the site was to create a new relationship between the government and the people, where the government can’t control what the people buy and sell. Another minor philosophy the group shared was putting an end to the drug war.
DPR was the screen name of the main admin and creator of the site. For those not familiar with this name, it’s from “The Princess Bride” novel and film. It’s a character whose name – Dread Pirate Roberts – is passed down to a new person periodically. This little tidbit is important to the names as it applies to The Silk Road. For example, DPR did an interview with Andy Greenberg. In the interview, DPR says that he did not create the Silk Road, his predecessor did, and he took over the screen name at some point.
Almost immediately after the site was launched, it was infiltrated by undercover law enforcement who participated in the drug deals. Law enforcement also had informants working for them on the site. The investigation caught speed with an undercover officer named “nob”. Nob started contacting DPR regarding large-scale drug deals, and if he could be connected with a buyer of weight. DPR connected nob with a user named “chronic pain” who bought from nob, the federal agent, and gave his home address as the shipping address.
Needless to say, chronicpain was arrested, which freaked out DPR. Then DPR told nob they needed to have chronicpain beaten up, which eventually changed to he should be executed. A photo of chronicpain’s bloody was sent to DPR as proof the deed was done. This was one of six total alleged murder for hire schemes. Of note is that two of the victims’ names in these schemes were found to be fictitious.
Christopher Tarbell of the FBI eventually located the Silk Road’s server in data centers in Iceland and Germany. It’s still a mystery how Tarbell located these servers legally. At 51:40 in the film, a summary of the explanation given by Tarbell on how he accessed the server is given. This expert calls Tarbell’s story “a heaping pile of bovine excrement”. This explanation is actually contradictory to what was given by the FBI. Regardless, both Tarbell’s and the FBI’s explanations don’t make sense. Therefore, it was most likely an illegal hack. Which, if true, means Ross’ 4th amendment rights were violated.
Eventually, in October 2013, Ross Ulbricht was arrested in San Francisco at the Glen Park library. He was actually logged in to the DPR account on the Silk Road and was unable to encrypt his laptop before he was arrested. They found a journal documenting Ross’ activities in creating the Silk Road, as well as millions (around 3.6 million worth) in bitcoin. Recall three paragraphs above, the Andy Greenberg interview. There was at least two people who have used the DPR screen name. Even though we know about this interview, to the casual observer, it would appear Ross was caught with his pants down. Since this arrest, Ross has been held in prison, he was not allowed bail due to the violent nature of his murder-for-hire charges. Even with Ross in jail, a new “Silk Road 2.0” popped up, ran by a new DPR.
At 59:55 we get a powerful opinion from ex Baltimore cop Neill Franklin, current director of the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Franklin discusses his memories of violence against families due to drugs, specifically recalling the murder of an entire family of seven by one drug dealer. He says, “If Baltimore moved from street corners to online services, do you know how many fewer shootings we would have every year, which equates to fewer homicides?” He goes further by pointing out that, by using the internet, buyers are removed from the dangerous situations that arises from being around drug dealers. Another interesting fact he brought up is the multi-billion dollar drug testing industry.
I also found the interview with Amir Taaki to be very interesting. Taaki was involved with the creation of Bitcoin. He states that the next step is to make decentralized drug markets, a la torrenting. This way, the government can never bring down the whole thing. The weak point of the Silk Road was there was a central server, and there was a main admin and creator.
By the time of Ross’ trial, all the violent charges were dropped from his indictment. Regardless, the public and jury were still tainted. The simple fact that there were violent charges against him at one point was a smear against Ross’ image. It’s hard to believe someone with a quote on their LinkedIn profile such as:
“Now, my goals have shifted. I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind…To that end, I am creating and economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”
could have a violent bone in his body. He had his trial in early 2015. It was a sham to say the least. Considering the very technical nature of the case, expert witnesses were not allowed to be called by the defense. The judge said the case did not require expert knowledge. Also, remember “nob”, the undercover drug seller who contacted DPR about selling weight? He was found to be stealing millions in bitcoins from people on the Silk Road. This little tidbit, that the law enforcement officer responsible for the original break in the case was now being investigated for corruption, was also not admitted into the trial. He was sentenced to life without parole. He essentially wasn’t able to defend himself, and is appealing.
Luckily, as of the time of this documentary in March 2015, Ross has avoided violence while in prison. This recent update on his appeal shows his defense is focusing on corrupt law enforcement officers. The case of Ross Ulbricht might be a textbook example of obstruction of justice on the part of law enforcement. Please do what you can to support Ross in his fight against false charges.
“I’ll never give up hope of being free again.” – Ross Ulbricht
That’s all I have for today. Thanks for reading. Check out Deep Web by Alex Winter. And FREE ROSS ULBRICHT!