The dramatic takedown of the Silk Road drug market and the arrest of its alleged owner on drug trafficking and murder-for-hire charges last month began in part with an offhand tip to Department of Homeland Security investigators in Maryland in mid-2011.
The informant told DHS investigators in Baltimore about an online drug bazaar where international sales of illicit drugs and other contraband were conducted with impunity and with the ease of buying cocktail stirrers or underwear on Amazon.
“You guys are in law enforcement. You might want to look at this,” the informant told DHS investigators, according to federal law enforcement officials familiar with the case who asked not to be identified.
The informant directed investigators to the site, accessible only through the Tor anonymizing network, and explained how transactions for the sale of heroin, cocaine and LSD went down using the digital currency Bitcoin.
But that wasn’t all Silk Road was selling — there were stolen credit and debit card numbers, fake IDs, counterfeit currencies, hacking tools and login credentials for hacked accounts.
The tip, which arrived about six months after Silk Road was launched and coincided with the emporium’s growing notoriety following a June 2011 Gawker story, spawned a multi-agency task force based in Baltimore — dubbed “Marco Polo” in reference to the drug market’s historical namesake — that eventually included investigators from the FBI, DEA, DHS, the IRS, U.S. Postal Inspection, U.S. Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Simultaneously, other investigations were launching in New York and Chicago. In the wake of the Gawker story, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Joe Manchin (D- West Virginia) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and the head of the DEA urging them to crack down on Silk Road and Bitcoin exchangers. The DEA and FBI launched an investigation and task force out of New York, and in Chicago, U.S. postal inspectors and DHS Customs and Border Protection agents were already seizing suspicious packages from an international mail center that they would later tie to Silk Road buyers and sellers, evidence that is now playing a role in cases in New York and other jurisdictions.
daily alternative | alternative news – How the Feds Took Down the Silk Road Drug Wonderland