Origins of FBI Investigation into Silk Road 2.0 Unclear

By Kyle Torpey Nov 6, 2014 7:01 PM EST

blake benthall silk road

NEW YORK (InsideBitcoins) — Many people will remember the long list of mistakes made by alleged Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht, which were supposedly what led to his eventual downfall. When taking a close look at the recent criminal complaint against alleged Silk Road 2.0 operator Blake Benthall, it’s easy to see a similar pattern.

It’s possible that this version of Dread Pirate Roberts was just as sloppy as Ulbricht, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It seems that another similarity between the two Silk Road cases is that the FBI isn’t interested in spilling the details in terms of how the servers behind these darknet marketplaces were found in the first place.

The FBI is managed by underpants gnomes

The following is a summary of how the FBI, according to the criminal complaint, identified the supposed Silk Road 2.0 server:

  1. Begin search for the Silk Road 2.0 server.
  2. ????
  3. The Silk Road 2.0 server is in a foreign country and is operated by Blake Benthall.

 

Blake Benthall

Blake Benthall

In the criminal complaint against Blake Benthall, the identification of the Silk Road server is simply glossed over as if it’s not important. Instead of explaining how the server is found, the complaint simply states, “In or about May 2014, the FBI identified a server located in a foreign country that was believed to be hosting the Silk Road 2.0 website at the time.”

The problem with not explaining this process is that finding the server was the basis for the entire investigation against Blake Benthall. Once the server was found, finding out the identity of the main operator of the server was a rather trivial matter.

This non-attention-to-detail has also been found in the case of the alleged operator of the original Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht. Although the FBI has been forced to come up with the story of how they found the original Silk Road server, many security researchers, and even Tor employees, have noted that the evidence presented by the FBI simply does not add up. As one researcher put it, “The idea that the CAPTCHA was being served from a live IP is unreasonable. Were this the case, it would have been noticed not only by me, but the many other people who were also scrutinizing the Silk Road website.”

To much of the computer security community, it seems that the FBI actually hacked the original Silk Road website. Others have noted that the use of parallel construction cannot be dismissed. The lack of transparency from the FBI on this key point in both criminal investigations is rather telling.

Benthall’s series of errors

Although the origins of the original investigation in the Silk Road 2.0 server are suspicious, Blake Benthall didn’t exactly make law enforcement’s job difficult once they had their target. Here are some of the troubling mistakes allegedly made by Benthall during his escapades:

Excerpt from the Benthall criminal complaint

Excerpt from the Benthall criminal complaint

  • Blake Benthall allegedly attached his personal email to his account at the service provider where the Silk Road 2.0 server was hosted. The email account in question was blake@benthall.net.
  • Benthall allegedly emailed onion links to himself as notes, which contained private messages only viewable by members of the Silk Road 2.0 forum.
  • Benthall allegedly used a “US-based Bitcoin exchanger” to turn his bitcoins into US dollars during the course of his management over the Silk Road 2.0 website. The first deposit he made to this particular exchange was made the day after the launch of Silk Road 2.0. It seems likely that the exchange in question was either Coinbase or CampBX, although it is not mentioned by name. Benthall also allegedly tried to sell some of his bitcoins on “a certain website that offers a service enabling users to post offers to buy or sell bitcoins from other users of the site.” It’s likely that this other website was LocalBitcoins.com or another, similar website.
  • Benthall allegedly purchased a Tesla Model S with his profits from the Silk Road 2.0 website.
SilkRoadCriminalComplaint-2

Excerpt from the Benthall criminal complaint

Benthall  26,  is charged with one count of conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of conspiring to commit computer hacking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison; and one count of money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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