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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It’s been just over a month since Silk Road got seized and Ross Ulbricht, allegedly the site’s founder Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested. A new Silk Road market has opened up, 24 hours after a false start which saw administration try to get things going at the poetic time of  4:20 pm GMT on 5th November . But is it truly the phoenix of Silk Road, a honeypot or an ingenious con?

This is what visitors will be greeted with at the new Silk Road.  More screenshots below

This is what visitors will be greeted with at the new Silk Road. More screenshots below

Few people imagined that the closure of the largest illicit drugs market in the world would stop people from wanting to procure narcotics. In fact many predicted it would set off the so-called ‘Hydra effect’ – cut off the head and five more spring up in its place. And that’s pretty much what happened.

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Since the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, allegedly Silk Road’s Dread Pirate Roberts, conspiracy theories have been coming thick and fast and they range from the plausible to the absurd.

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A lot of them involve his friend Rene Pinnell, for whom Ulbricht relocated to San Francisco – either that Pinnell is the real DPR and set Ulbricht up for the fall right from the beginning, or they are in it together and will provide each other’s reasonable doubt. Then there’s the one that it’s all an ingenious ruse that is going to plan so that double jeopardy laws can be invoked later. Or it’s all a setup so law enforcement can be seen to have done something. Or there’s a good chance of parallel construction of evidence by the authorities.

I’m not much one for wearing a tinfoil hat, though I get a kick out of reading all the theories. But there has been something odd happening, which probably has a totally innocent explanation, but it’s a bit weird.

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I owe much of this post to the work of Nicolas Christin, the researcher who previously provided the analysis of Silk Road’s income. He is much cleverer than me or you. Give him a follow on @nc2y

One of the most dramatic revelations to come out of the New York Criminal Complaint in relation to Ross Ulbricht, the alleged Dread Pirate Roberts, was that Silk Road had enjoyed a turnover of $1.2 billion since its inception 2½ years ago, which equated to a commission of $80 million for its owner.

This is how we have been reporting the FBI's claims

This is how we have been reporting the FBI’s claims

Actually, that’s not exactly what the document said. What it said was:

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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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Hey, if the person who emailed me an encrypted message headed “Scoop” and said they wouldn’t be going back to that email addy could re-send it, I got a Decryption Failed (no public key) error. I need your public key. Use the safe-mail addy in my About page if you want.

Today's mainstream media piece

Today’s mainstream media piece

I have a new feature in The Age today. Of course, I’d really like you all to go out and buy the paper, but if you can’t do that, here’s a link to the online version: The road’s closed to these drugs. Or below is the TL;DR version.

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If the Bitcointalk hackers are reading this, can you please let me know if I’m a lousy journo and missed the smoking gun, or if it was part of a deleted post?

I originally wrote the below in response to a lengthy, well thought-out comment by a reader on a previous blog about the changing face of Dread Pirate Roberts. But then I figured, why waste what became the length of a blog post in itself? So here is my comment, recycled and slightly amended.

I’ve been mulling over the conclusions I drew in my blog post a few weeks ago, “Which Pirate is That?” in light of revelations from the FBI documents following the arrest of Ross Ulbricht.  Clearly, if the FBI docs are accurate – the gmail address was linked to altoid in 2011 and they swooped on Ulbricht as he was logged in as DPR – then it looks like there was only ever one DPR.

Allegedly the previous 'nym of Dread Pirate Roberts

Allegedly the previous ‘nym of Dread Pirate Roberts

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