Ross Ulbricht, a former Penn State physics grad student from Texas, was busted in a San Francisco public library near his modest apartment and charged by federal proscutors with collecting $80 million in illegal profits from drug sales and other covert transactions using the Silk Road, his anonymous online market, which used the online currency Bitcoin to avoid governments and regulators.
Ulbricht professed a libertarian political-economic policy he said was a pacifist, free-market response to murderous, controlling modern governments. He signed his plain-spoken online manifestos as the Dread Pirate Roberts, the dashing outlaw persona in William Goldman's snarky-charming novel The Princess Bride.
But the FBI says Ulbricht also contracted hitmen in hopes of killing two associates who threatened to expose his network. Ulbricht had to rely on others' technical and business skills; when they showed signs of acting in their own interests instead of his, the FBI alleges he tried to become a small, murderous version of the state power he claimed to be overthrowing.
Will smarter swashbucklers improve on Silk Road with more-secure networks? Can and should the government catch up and put them out of business? Read about Ulbricht's Silk Road and how the FBI says it used his surprisingly sloppy software-coding and communications trails to catch him, by Nate Anderson and Cyrus Farivar in Conde Nast's Ars Technica here.