Blake Behnthall in the Mission after the Giants' World Series victory.
Are you at a Bay Area coffee shop right now? Look to your left. Look to your right. One of the three of you is secretly running an online drug market. At least it feels that way after the arrest of Blake Benthell yesterday. Here's all we know about the head of Silk Road 2.0.
According to Ars Technica, though the site was started by a user who went by the identity Dread Pirate Roberts, by December, day-to-day operations had passed to Benthell, 26, who lived in the Mission and went by the screenname Defcon. In May, a law enforcement infiltrator managed to gain access to the site's server, located in an undisclosed country. That server was registered to email@example.com, which was the same email that Benthall used in his public posting on Twitter and Github. Benthall appears to have been paid at least $273,000 in Bitcoin, some of which he used to buy a Tesla Model S. The FBI kept Benthall under electronic and physical surveillance for most of the spring, summer, and fall of 2014. You can find his Twitter account here, his LinkedIn profile here, and his Facebook page here. There's a good round up of his bio here.
A Texas native, Benthall appears to have lived in San Francisco for at least three years. He attended Florida College from 2007-2009, where he played in a rock band. After moving to San Francisco, he immersed himself in the local tech scene and for five months (until March) worked at Elon Musk's SpaceX as a flight software engineer.
Law enforcement infiltration of the site began ever before it was operational, with an undercover agent eventually becoming a staff member. The undercover agent even got paid for his work by the site—more than $30,000 worth of Bitcoins in all. (Side note for people working on Silk Road 3.0—stop worrying so much about technical encryption and pay more attention to human infiltration. Call it the Richard Aoki principle—it doesn't matter how smart your code is if one of you is one of them.)
The FBI says that the Silk Road did $8 million per month in sales and had 150,000 users. Six Britons have been arrested in conjunction with the crackdown, which spanned 17 countries. Europol has seized "drugs, guns, and €180,000 in cash, gold and silver, and $1m worth of Bitcoin virtual currency," according to the Guardian.
At his initial hearing yesterday, Benthall appeared wearing a gray sweatshirt with the words INTERNET BETTER printed on it. At the hearing, prosecutors claimed that Benthall had admitted to "everything" minutes after his arrest. He's due to be transferred to New York City, where he faces trial for one count each of conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, and one money laundering conspiracy.