Archive for the ‘Drugs’ Category

Silk Road may be gone and Silk Road v.2 yet to prove itself, but the site has become culturally significant enough to attract the attention of some serious academic researchers. And unlike the plethora of tabloid news pieces, their starting position is not always that the online black market is a den of evil inhabited by junkies and thieves with no redeeming features whatsoever.

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The National Drug and Research Institute is a Curtin University-backed research body committed to minimising the harm associated with drug use. The NDRI is calling for Silk Road users to participate in research and interviews about their experiences using the site.

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There are certainly winners from last week’s shutdown of Silk Road, the online black market where every illicit drug imaginable could be bought at the click of a button. But it’s not a win for the War on Drugs, nor for people affected by drug addiction, or for the Australian taxpayer.  The people who will welcome the FBI’s seizure of the site most enthusiastically will be bikie gangs and other organised crime involved in illegal drug importation.

Back when I first started reporting in the mainstream about Silk Road, I wrote a post, ‘Why politicians and law enforcement should embrace Silk Road‘. I argued it was a safer alternative than the current model and reduced the violence associated with the illegal drug trade.

Winning! You can buy your drugs from him now

Winning! You can buy your drugs from him now

Now that Silk Road has been closed down and hard-earned tax dollars all over the world are being spent busting computer nerds, amongst the hyperbole and hysteria that comes from much of the mainstream media, there are some commentators piping up with the same arguments. Because they make sense.

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“Atlantis admins shut down the site and ran away with the coins. It’s the truth.” - Cicero, Moderator of Atlantis Marketplace forum

Image: bitcoinexaminer.org.

Image: bitcoinexaminer.org.

A little under six months ago – not long after they opened shop – I conducted the first in-depth interview with online drug barons Loera and Vladimir, founders of Atlantis Marketplace.  The two were excited at the prospect of not only wrenching market share from incumbent black market giant Silk Road, but also bringing new business in and legitimising the online illicit drug market space.

Last week, Atlantis announced it was shutting down due to mysterious and unspecified “security concerns”.

The announcement, repeated on the Atlantis Facebook page, official forum, Reddit and Twitter, called it “terrible news” and the owners sounded truly contrite. They gave users a week to withdraw their crypto-currency, after which it would be donated to a “drug-related charity”.  That was the last anybody ever heard from anyone representing the administration of Atlantis.

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In Puberty Blues (the book, not the movie or TV show), there is a classic line where the protagonist’s mother warns her not to sit on the aisle at the movie theatre because “some pusher might come along and jab god-knows-what into your arm”.

An Aussie classic

An Aussie classic

Growing up I was always being warned about malevolent people who would seek me out and trick me into trying drugs, providing them for free until I was hooked.  Then they would charge extravagant prices once they had me in their evil clutches.  We had police officers coming to school to scare the bejeezus out of us with descriptions of the tricks they would use, disguising them as lollies, or jabbing us unexpectedly, with one hit leading to a lifetime of addiction and certain early death.

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“We will be an adversary not to be trifled with. We have big plans for Atlantis, and we’re here to stay.”.

As online drugs marketplace Silk Road sustains blows from an ongoing attack its owner says “appears to be DoS in nature,” the forums are awash with queries, rumours and speculation about newcomer, Atlantis Marketplace.  Is it responsible for the attacks on Silk Road? Is it a better, more stable alternative? Who runs it? Is it just one great big honeypot for law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence on drug dealers?

Newcomer Atlantis Marketplace aims to cannibalise Silk Road's market share

Newcomer Atlantis Marketplace aims to cannibalise Silk Road’s market share

There is something a little bizarre about chatting to directors (yes, they have a board) of an underground black market about their company model.  But that’s what I did last night when two of the founders of Atlantis, ‘Loera’ and ‘Vladimir’ answered my questions in real time (over encrypted chat, naturally).

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The most successful Australian vendor on Silk Road has conned their customers out of tens of thousands of dollars

Red pill, blue pill or no pills?

Red pill, blue pill or no pills?

Aussie vendor EnterTheMatrix had a simple and effective business model.  Purchase Australia’s most popular party drugs from overseas vendors on Silk Road, add a 400% markup and resell them to Aussie Silk Road customers.  Although there were plenty of grumbles about the prices, those who wanted their drugs quickly (ETM sent by Express Post) and did not want to take the risk of importing via Customs (legal consequences are much harsher when ordering overseas) begrudgingly paid a premium.  After all, it was around the same as street prices and at least the quality of the goods tended to be consistently high.

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If small-time drug dealer shadh1 had purchased his drugs from Australians, his jail term would be less than half what he received.

As a drug dealer, shadh1 was really really bad at his job.  One of the key performance indicators is an ability to stay off the radar of law enforcement authorities, who are obliged to arrest and prosecute people who sell drugs to other people when they find out it’s happening.

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Shadh1 failed miserably at the whole stealth thing.  He allowed customers to pass on his phone number to complete strangers for the purposes of ordering drugs, kept every single incriminating text message ever sent or received and left all the paraphernalia that screams ‘drug dealer’ strewn around his house.  He ordered drugs to his home address and his own name from countries from which mail is known to be more heavily scrutinised.  When twelve pieces of mail went missing, he just kept ordering more – to the same name and the same address – without stopping to wonder what happened to the ones that never showed.  He created a vendor account on the most famous online black market in the world, choosing an unusual username – the only other place it could be found was on his BMW’s numberplate.

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Last week, after one of my articles was unexpectedly submitted into evidence in court, an odd little online publication called Vexnews published a vicious, bizarre and inaccurate attack on me.

Screenshot of the Vexnews article

Screenshot of the Vexnews article

I said I wasn’t going to give it any oxygen in my last post, but I really think it should be pulled apart for the appalling piece of journalism it is.  Let’s have a look at Andrew Landeryou’s Vexnews piece, para by para:

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I haven’t yet written a background blog to my latest Fairfax Feature, Dancing With Molly.  If you happen to have come to my page as a result of that article, please have a quick look at a couple of relevant earlier posts:

Crap analysis shows wee problem with tough ecstasy laws – what happens when resources are directed into cracking down on MDMA? You create a crystal meth problem.

Why politicians and law enforcement should embrace Silk Road – to me, this is a microcosm of what life might be like with legalised drugs.  Knowledge of what is in the drugs you are buying, cutting out drug-related crime in Australia (though sadly still propping it up overseas), eradication of violence arising from drug deals.

I hope to see an intelligent debate on drug reform in Australia.  The fine folk at Australia21 must be incredibly frustrated to see their hard work and extensive knowledge ignored by the major parties.

For two weeks, users of online drugs marketplace Silk Road have been unable to log in to the site more often than not, reporting timeouts, missing catchpas and other technical difficulties.  Millions of dollars in Bitcoin has been inaccessible to the site’s thousands of members and trading has halted.

Where’s my Bitcoins?

The reactions of the community have run the gamut from hopeful acceptance to threats of violence against the site’s owner, admins and other random anonymous people.  Amazon has stocked up on pitchforks and tinfoil hats as speculation on the forum has reached fever pitch.

Here are five of the theories for its temporary demise, in one easily-digestible blog:

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