Last week, the public learned how two US law enforcement agents allegedly made hundreds of thousands of dollars off the digital black market Silk Road, while simultaneously working to take down the site.
One of the officers, Carl Mark Force IV, is also being charged with acting as a paid double agent by providing information obtained in his position as a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent to the Silk Road's owner.
It now seems that Silk Road 2, the site that was set up just weeks after the original, may have also had a similar arrangement—either with Force, or another law enforcement informant who was leaking information to the black market's operators.
Motherboard interviewed two Silk Road 2 staff members who independently claimed the existence of such an informant. This informant was paid $500 a week—the same salary Force is under investigation for receiving from the original Silk Road under one of his many alleged monikers—in exchange for information about the government investigation, according to the staffers. The arrangement began in November 2013, just after the original Silk Road was shut down, they said.
Both staffers claimed their informant was the same source that the first Silk Road enjoyed before it got busted.
"He missed the extra income," Silk Road 2 moderator DoctorClu told Motherboard, before he was arrested in January of this year. "Only reason he approached us."
After Silk Road was shut down by the FBI in October 2013, it didn't take long for users to begin rebuilding the site.
According to a source who had admin access and dealt with customer support of Silk Road 2, the staff of the second site was approached before its launch by an individual with the moniker "Lonewolf," who claimed to have information from law enforcement.
When Lonewolf asked for too much money—somewhere in the region of a few thousand dollars—another pseudonymous user reached out to the staff. This user, called "Oracle," said she was a "consultant/friend [of] Ross," according to one of the Silk Road 2 staffers. ("Ross" refers to Ross Ulbricht, who was recently convicted of setting up and running the Silk Road.)
Oracle claimed to be a woman. She said she worked for the DEA as a Spanish-English translator, according to one of the Silk Road 2 staffers.
(Those who have been following the story of Silk Road 2 may be familiar with the name Oracle. This user had a habit of appearing at times of crisis and confusion on the site's forums, and in June 2014, a long, rambling "memoir" was written by her, and republished on the news site Deep Dot Web. In that post, Oracle said she was paid by Dread Pirate Roberts 2 to spread disinformation, and also claimed to have intimate knowledge of some of the backstage workings of the marketplace.)
The tips from Oracle, according to the Silk Road staffer, were mostly to do with arrests. When the prolific drug dealer SuperTrips was busted, the administrators of both the original Silk Road and Silk Road 2 claimed to know about it long before it went public.
Oracle claimed to be a woman. She said she worked for the DEA as a Spanish-English translator
Dread Pirate Roberts 2 (DPR 2) alluded to SuperTrips' arrest, and the government's botched attempt to repurpose the busted dealer's handle in order to investigate further, in an interview with Ars Technica in February of 2014. "[It] was quite boring the third time law enforcement decided to use the 'SuperTrips' moniker and claiming to be him as a free man, when I know just as well as ICE where he is now," DPR 2 told the site.
The arrest of SuperTrips was not publicly reported until April of 2014. It appeared that the Dread Pirate Roberts 2 did indeed have some sort of source in law enforcement.
The information about SuperTrips was also provided to DPR 1 by "alpacino," one of the monikers that Force is under investigation for using. It is possible that the inside information was communicated to the Silk Road 2 staff by someone who obtained it from behind the scenes at Silk Road 1, but there is no reason to believe that anyone other than DPR 1 knew about the existence of the informant.
A Silk Road 2 staffer also said that Oracle provided information on the full involvement of Curtis Green, a former Silk Road staff member who was pulled into a fabricated murder for hire plot. That plot was allegedly orchestrated by Force.
However, Oracle never produced anything earth-shattering, the two staffers told Motherboard. "We have gotten a few things from our informant, but nothing of large concern," DoctorClu said.
The relationship between Oracle and Silk Road 2 didn't last long, according to one of the site's staff members. When Oracle's information thinned out, Silk Road 2 stopped paying her.
Although both Silk Road 2 staff members believe Oracle was the same informant who leaked information to the first Silk Road, it is difficult to prove that it was Force, the DEA agent charged with providing information to the original Silk Road. However, there are some similarities that are worth pointing out.
Force allegedly made the mistake of once signing a message to DPR 1 with his real first name, according to the complaint. Afterwards, he quickly claimed that he was instead a woman called "Carla Sophia." Force, using his official undercover identity on Silk Road 1, "Nob," would sometimes greet DPR 1 in Spanish: "good evening Cabeza [Spanish for 'head']," "esta bien," and "amigo," according to chat logs obtained from Ulbricht's laptop.
Force resigned from the DEA in May 2014 once an investigation into his activities began, according to the New York Times. This means that he still would have been employed as an agent during the time Oracle provided information to Silk Road 2.
The DEA did not immediately provide a comment.
Even years after it was closed down, the story of Silk Road continues to amaze, confuse and astound. As investigators dig deeper into the supposed links between law enforcement agents and the marketplace, it is sure to only get weirder.