Thursday, October 10, 2013

Were the Edward Snowden Leaks the First Step in Busting Silk Road?

This is nothing more than speculative thinking out loud, but please consider.

Long term EPJ readers will recall that right from the start I had mixed feeling about the Edward Snowden leaks. On June 16, 2013 in a post titled, Why I Am Not Impressed with the Edward Snowden NSA Leaks, So Far, I wrote:
Are we being set up for a more open aggressive tracking by the government? I have no reason to question the sincerity of Glenn Greenwald and his desire to break open the secretive tracking of Americans by the United States government. However, I am very suspicious of the manner in which MSM jumped on the story and pushed it so hard.[...]Anyone paying close attention to the news would have suspected, a long time ago, that something like this type of spying and data collection was going on. Indeed, I regularly commented on such here at EPJ, most recently  on May 4, in a post titled, Are All Telephone Calls in the US Recorded by the Government?[...]
I don't think there is enough information to make a call on this from the outside, at this time. That said, I am not impressed with the Snowden leaks to date. He has only leaked information that a closer follower of government snooping would have already known about or suspected..
I went on to say:
[I]t appears we have something of a limited hangout here by USG. The purpose is unkown, though I suspect what may be going on is that the USG may be wanting to use in court cases some of the data they are collecting. BUT in order to do this, they have to acknowledge they have the data in the first place, which may be what the leak to Greenwald is all about (and the leaks to WaPo about USG tracking internet data).
Could the Silk Road bust be the first where the USG will admit that NSA data was used? There are two new articles that speculate the NSA was indeed involved in the Silk Road bust, one by The Guardian in a story titled, Silk Road: suspicions grow that server was hacked ahead of arrests and a second story from Forbes, titled,  Did The NSA Help With The Silk Road Investigation?

In the Forbes article, written by Kashmir Hill, we have this:
In the New York criminal complaint against Ulbricht, the FBI says it worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Homeland Security. The NSA isn’t noted as a partner agency but given its abilities to compromise Tor — the anonymity technology that Silk Road built its business model around — it certainly would have been a helpful aide in figuring out who was behind Silk Road, or where the servers that powered Silk Road were located. Once the FBI got their hands on those, they were able to see all of the communication and transactions on Silk Road and were able to start identifying lots of notable users. And they’re now acting on that information: in addition to Ulbricht, major Silk Road dealers around the world have been arrested over the last week.

“We are not going to comment on the sources/methods of operations and intelligence gathering in this ongoing investigation,” said a FBI spokesperson in response to a query as to whether any data, information or evidence was provided by the NSA.

So what if there were streams of mildly extra-judicial information used to bust the Dread Pirate? For one, Ulbricht’s attorney could try to force prosecutors to come clean about exactly how they compiled the evidence against Ulbricht so that they could challenge the constitutionality of its collection or its veracity depending on the methods. Ulbricht wouldn’t be the first to do that, though he would certainly be the most high-profile.

“I’m getting lots and lots of calls from defense attorneys on this point,” says Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Defense attorneys are saying they know these NSA programs exist. There are gaps in how evidence was collected in their cases. They think there is NSA-initiated surveillance at issue.”

Reuters reported in August on a host of defense attorneys around the country, mostly involved in drug cases, who are trying to figure out whether parallel construction was used in their cases.

“What’s unique about Silk Road is that is predominantly about Internet behavior,” says Fakhoury. “The type of evidence at issue is what the NSA is good at collecting and analyzing: phone calls, Internet activity and metadata. In a physical case, that Internet surveillance can only get you so much. But with Silk Road, almost everything is happening online and these NSA programs can catch especially revealing details.”
So first we had the Snowden "leaks," which have done nothing to slow down the NSA, and have only resulted in Dianne Feinstein crafting new legislation that will do nothing but broaden NSA spying and now we have a possible major internet crime bust, which may have included NSA spying, which will come as no shock to the public, because of the Snowden leaks.



  1. If the government estimate of $1B+ in transactions going through Silk Road during its short lifetime is correct, it doesn't matter how foolhardy such an endeavor is. Others will follow.

  2. "crafting new legislation" -- sic for "crapping new legislation."

  3. I can't refute your thesis. Who knows? Here at the height of the war on journalism, the fact that you haven't come to an untimely end like, say, Tom Clancy, is enough to cast a shadow of doubt and suspicion of shill-hood on you. Manning was the real deal. And though I wish him no evil, I'd like to think that Edward Snowden is genuine too.
    Also,as you point out lately the exposure of massive and blatant wrong-doing by the regime does seem to herald its eminent legalization.
    But let's not overlook the role of colossal incompetence in the proceedings even if opportunities for further oppression are exploited.
    After all, under the glorious war on drugs they don't have to charge you with anything just to seize your assets and I understand that the take was pretty sweet this time around.

  4. saying that the Edwards Snowden revelations are good is just not true. I don't think the NSA wanted anyone to know that they are listening on people's conversation because now that people know they are going to be very careful about what they say over the phone they will encrypt their communications as much as they can and they will not be sharing information that previously they thought was confidential over technology communication lines. and just because this bitch feinstein wants to pass legislation doesn't mean she will be able to. The NSA was doing whatever they wanted before any laws were passed. further legislation wouldn't allow them to snoop more on people because the NSA is a bunch of criminals and they break the law for a living, hellooo?! They don't need no stinking laws, silly goose!
    all that we're going to get from these revelations is that people will resist more than they used to and the cryptographic cyber war will go through the roof. The NSA , FBI and the DEA are fighting a losing battle, now that people know they're being snooped on new better cryptographies will come about that will be impossible to break and if the owners of those drug dealing sites are smart they will be able to run their businesses for decades.
    the FBI has won a battle in a very long war that they will lose. They are in the RIAA shutting down napster stage right now. but Tower Records went bankrupt 10 years later anyway. Trust me, if FBI could be bankrupt, it'll take a lot less than 10 years to admit that they have failed the online drug war. It'll be interesting to watch