Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I'd never buy heroin from a website, but I see the Silk Road as cyber-civil-disobedience, and I hope the persona of DPR and the site itself are as unsinkable as they claim.

The drug war is a ghastly thing, and the number of people we lock up in the US is more shameful than our foreign policy. You can begrudge the first DPR his lame security, shady murder contracts, and ill-gotten fortune, but he's the product of our system, and his shame is our shame.




I don't see the Silk Roads of the world making much difference with regard to the drug war.

Right now Silk Road is the eBay of drugs, where convenience is it's competitive advantage. I can get some drug without visiting a shady person in some shady place, but the drugs (in general) are still coming to the US the bloody, violent way via paramilitaries, druglords, etc. A huge part of the US war on drugs takes place among and between those parties, with the US not always supporting the side you might expect.

I'd be more excited about an Etsy of drugs, where people could buy whatever they want straight from the source, bypassing the blood trail. Good luck getting packages delivered from Afghanistan or Colombia though.


But the competitive advantage of druglords is controlling the means of distribution, not the means of cultivation. So, SilkRoad could help bypass those monopolized distribution channels and undermine the druglord's competitive advantage.

For example, if a druglord is competing directly with a mom-and-pop drug cultivator on SilkRoad -- the drug lord has higher costs (bribery, paramilitary force, etc.) and only marginally lower COGS from scale. Because they are unable to intimidate or kill other cultivators, like they do in meat space, the druglord could be at a real disadvantage.


The druglord would wipe out the mom-and-pop cultivator and happily live ever after with their higher costs.


That seems like it wouldn't be cost effective for them if there is even a small amount of anonymity between the buyers and cultivators.

I mean, cartels have been pumped up to pretty ridiculous heights by the war on drugs but it's not at the point where it would be realistic to have them say "here is a list of a few hundred usernames from SilkRoad spread out all over North America. Find them and murder them all."

Even considering that their MO is more along the lines of picking out the ones they can find and making a gruesome spectacle to scare the rest it still seems unrealistic, although so do a lot of things happening with drugs cartels these days to be fair.


>> it's not at the point where it would be realistic to have them say "here is a list of a few hundred usernames from SilkRoad spread out all over North America. Find them and murder them all."

This is not exact, unfortunately, because it depends also on some other factors. If the drug lords decide that they want to impose the fact that they don't accept opposition, they are actually going to do exactly that. They've done it already for several bloggers, it would make little difference if they decided to do it for the little indipendent dealers.

Keep in mind that in order to take out a few hundred independent dealears, they only need to torture and kill a few, and have the word spread.


"They've done it already for several bloggers" as in people that blog about drugs? Could you elaborate?


Another example was when Anonymous decided to start outing Cartel members. They kidnapped one of the people involved and Anonymous declared a truce to get that person released.

source: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/member-anonymous-relea...


Here's one example. Googling for something like "cartel kills social media activist" will probably yield more.

http://techland.time.com/2011/11/10/fourth-blogger-reportedl...


But the Mom and Pop shop can now be anonymous and the evil druglord will have a hard time finding them since they can't go torture the street dealers that peddle Mom&Popshop & Co drugs.


There is no certainty of anonymity, especially in Mexico, for two reasons.

First, drug cartels have very easily control of the IT infrastructures, and second, they now employ hackers exactly to keep the internet information under control.

They've killed several bloggers already, and you can be sure they thought they were anonymous.


The cartels can employ all the hackers and torture all the bloggers they want but it will still be very hard to find sellers on SilkRoad. You will need to break Tor, trace BitCoins, trace deliveries, or trick sellers. This takes national or even international resources (NSA, FBI, Interpol, etc.). And they will have to do this in the US and Europe not Mexico.


>You will need to break Tor, trace BitCoins, trace deliveries, or trick sellers.

These aren't all of equivalent difficulty...


>it will still be very hard to find sellers on SilkRoad.

Apparently not hard enough. It is being done in Europe already.

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Six-More-Silk-Road-Drug-Deale...


They would be fighting a losing war (ironically, like the drug wars itself). Tracking down random silk road sellers is not really that easy.


Why would mom and pop want to base out of Mexico?


Here's what I'd consider the Etsy of drugs: http://www.rechemco.net/ -- they apparently synthesize the various active ingredients in their own lab, so you can get your 99% pure version of say, the various popular anti-narcoleptic drugs popular as concentration aids.


You can use digital black markets like the silk road as an analogue for legalization though. Forget how the vendors obtain the drugs for a second and just analyze the differences in distribution and consumption between offline and online drug trade.

Offline there is: - competition via violence - political narcoterrorism - profit maximization by product dilution - profit maximization by product deception (most street MDMA is amphetamine+nBOME mixture)

Online there is: - competition via quality, price (violence impossible in anonymous marketplace) - political separation via anonymity - drastically reduced product dilution (people do reviews with sources like ecstasydata.org) - drastically reduced product deception (see "The LSD Avengers" for example)

When you contrast these aspects you see that the online marketplaces do operate like a free market with the biggest difference being the incentives associated with deceptive vending. I think thats valuable just because it provides a real world simulation for what variables of legalization would look like without forcing any one country to take the initial plunge by themselves.


Violence amongst end user drug dealers is very rare and confined to specific, very poor, areas. Wholesale is the only place where you start to see significant amounts of cash, and hence most of the problems, and that has zero differences between offline and on. There is no 'political narcoterrorism' between the guys selling 8ths of coke in the neighborhood. You're also mischaracterizing the drug trade with regards to consumer habits. Drug users communicate about dealers and products the same way people communicate about every other local business. The internet has greatly expanded and enhanced this ability, but prior to the Internet, local businesses, just like local drug dealers, operated by word of mouth and competed in many facets of service. We know this as drug quality has gone up and up over the years.

Remember, the vast majority of offline drug deals do not consist of driving to the hood to pick up something from a gangster. I think this mis-perception clouds a lot of the analysis of operations like the Silk Road.


The majority of personal use sales are not conducted with a "gangster", true, but the small-time college ecstasy or coke dealer conducting those personal use sales IS making regular trips to the hood, purchasing from people who are hardened criminals. They expose themselves to a lot of risk in doing this.

You don't have to move far up the chain before you see some serious violence. Personal use weed dealer? Probably not going to get killed. But robbed? Yes, definitely, seen it happen many times. Personal use coke, ecstasy, heroin dealer? Much more likely to experience violence. The dealer one level above, supplying the personal use dealers? They get killed all the time, despite not being drug kingpins in any sense. It only costs 1000$-2000$ to have someone killed in many parts of the US, so that should say something about the chance of violence that small-time dealers face.

Silk Road was more than personal use sales, I'd bet the majority of its revenue came from pounds and half pounds of weed, sheets of LSD, and orders of 500+ ecstasy pills. Heroin and coke haven't caught on as much yet in the online scene, with prices still a little above what well-connected users can get on the streets, but give it time. Also keep in mind that the online drug scene is more than just SR/BMR/Sheep and that there are private forums that deal strictly in wholesale.


Additionally, although many street dealers operate in areas you'd probably associate with being high-crime, the drug gangs are pretty aware that customers need some sense of safety when buying product and don't have any more reason to see their customers robbed or assaulted than any legit shop owner.

If you're interested in an observed account of a drug gang, there is a book called "Gang Leader for a Day" where the author spent a lot of time in a housing project, with the guy who ran that faction of the gang. It has its flaws but it was an interesting read:

http://www.amazon.com/Gang-Leader-Day-Sudhir-Venkatesh-ebook...


It's also a mis-perception to assume the hood is where all the gangsters are, a block outside the poverty stricken areas here the gangsters are suburban kids from affluent neighborhoods who are just as violent when it comes to protection rackets, extortion and taxing minor dealers.

Anybody running a small delivery line is almost always carrying an illegal gun, and willing to shoot competitors over peddling 8ths of coke.


> violence impossible in anonymous marketplace

if you read the report about the 1st silk road, you'll see that's not true


Alright. Let's assume the massive difference in quantity of violence is substantial. We're talking 10s of thousands dead via cartel trade vs. 2 alleged attempted hits on the silk road. Even then that was the operator of the marketplace defending users, it wasn't a vendor killing another vendor to gain a competitive advantage.


But your analysis specifically excluded the source of all of this violence, the wholesale procurement of the drugs by the end user dealers. None of that is different with the Silk Road.


That's the locus of the violence. The source of the violence (and of most of the other harms) is the prohibition.

Alcohol and tobbacco dealers aren't involved in shootings in the streets - instead we find them in their shops, carefully following laws and doing business peacefully. Nor are their customers suffering from adulterated goods, or committing robberies to afford black-market prices.


Yep, exactly. The Zetas cartel for example, do not necessarily import & export themselves. They are simply a gang of thugs who move into an area already teeming with drug smugglers/dealers, and extort them for taxes. Since these drug dealers can't go to the police for protection since they are doing something illegal they either pay up or the streets turn into a bloodbath. If you notice the Zetas are mainly concentrated in Northern Mexico where the major smuggling routes into the US are. By controlling those they can siphon off 20-30% of all drug shipments from every other cartel into the US and never have to touch drugs themselves, so are unlikely to be caught. They are just parasites off other people's hard work of manufacturing, smuggling and building sales networks. This business model will only work under prohibition.

Zetas do not hold up trucks full of tequilla and beer going into the US for extortion because they would be arrested. When your business is legal the solution for dealing with thugs is simple: call the cops or sue them. When you are gray area/illegal your only negotiation is to pay them or pick up a gun creating an all out war.


During the prohibition this was a bit different.


It depends on the drugs. There are a lot of cases of producers selling on these market places. Look at a lot of the marijuana vendors, the vetted LSD vendors, the mushroom vendors, etc. Beyond that, there is violence involved in later steps of the drug trade: smuggling, gang turf wars.


{I am strongly in favour of legalising all drugs}

There are problems with some of the manufacture of cannabis. Criminal gangs use trafficked workers, forcing them to work in cannabis farms.

If I was a criminal gang using slaves to grow cannabis I think I'd market it as some home grown organic low yield crop with images of open fields and nice trees.

Just like eggs from caged hens don't show battery farms, but happy chickens walking in green fields. http://www.ecolovers.co.uk/wordpress/labelling-matters-the-r... etc.


Maybe in Mexico they do this. Here there are investors who buy up a dozen houses through shell corps and hire one grower who sets everything up, and is paid a lot of money. The grower then hires people to maintain and protect the grow usually for pretty good money as well. http://www.cannabisculture.com/articles/3268.html


> Maybe in Mexico they do this.

It happens in England.


Silk Road was not an anonymous marketplace. Buyers had to provide some identity and address to sellers in order to receive shipment. There are obvious geographic limitations with how anonymous a person could be while still receiving the goods they want.


> I'd be more excited about an Etsy of drugs

I think you mean more of an Amazon Marketplace of drugs.

> the drugs (in general) are still coming to the US the bloody, violent way via paramilitaries, druglords, etc.

If the information and payment infrastructure is good enough, it should make producers and shippers invisible to other producers and shippers, including the paramilitaries and drug-lords.


I'm looking for an Etsy for drugs. I want my synthetic opiates cradled in a lace & cordoroy kerchief that states "rustic charm".


Vintage blotters?


It's called Alibaba. I haven't checked in about a year but I recall finding MDMA precursors, Meth precursors and bulk Opium for sale on it.


mmmmm bulk opium


For what it's worth, you can currently buy drugs on both Amazon marketplace and Etsy. It's not even a hypothetical.


In this context, we really mean illegal drugs. You obviously know this and are just being annoyingly pedantic.


There are plenty of gray area substances, e.g. precursors to schedule 1 drugs.


| but the drugs (in general) are still coming to the US th bloody, violent way via paramilitaries, druglords, etc.

Not necessarily. A lot of them appear to be shipped in via post from outside the US direct to the buyer.


I was trying to point out that the drug war doesn't begin or end at the border.


Yes, but that is where most of the enforcement is and therefore most of the violence.


Wow, this is incredibly uninformed.

For one thing, no one's bothering to attack the US border, whereas in Brazil the government is fighting numerous active paramilitary groups which are basically all just fighting each other for control of the drug trade.


Yeah didn't really think that through before writing, majority is the wrong word. I didn't mean attacking the border, I just meant that a lot of the violence occurs near the border as most cartels set up shop in locations most appropriate for later distribution into the U.S.


The previous silk road claimed to have many listings where the chemists themselves produced and shipped from Europe


IIRC, the biggest drug on the Silk Road was marijuana, which was probably not cartel grown. There are plenty of places in the US where it's effectively legal to grow marijuana, and the growers who have a legal enterprise almost certainly produce plenty on the side for the black market.

Cocaine and heroin are different stories, but are probably the exception compared to marijuana, various drugs that need to be lab-synthesized, and prescription pills being resold.


>I don't see the Silk Roads of the world making much difference with regard to the drug war.

It has symbolic value I think. While I don't feel particularly anarchistic, I think a solid dose of a rebellious streak in society is good. Just to keep the government on its toes. A counterforce to governments tendency to do NSA scandal type stuff if you will.


When you suggested etsy of drugs, my first thought was custom made to order small batches of drugs. Not farmer to addict direct sales.


> You can begrudge the first DPR his lame security, shady murder contracts, and ill-gotten fortune, but he's the product of our system, and his shame is our shame.

That is probably the dumbest thing I've read in months.


I agree that andrewljohnson's statement is debatable but I think it's also defensible. I'm envious of the quality of your reading material if you haven't read anything dumber in months.


How about you back that up with something...

It's actually quite spot on. The only reason the Silk Road is used is because there's a need for it. A need that's created by our current litigious and unproductive drug laws.


I presume that you are not actually looking for my reading list for the past month, but rather an explanation of why what you think is 'spot on' strikes me as 'dumb'.

Let's parse it:

> You can begrudge the first DPR his lame security, shady murder contracts, and ill-gotten fortune,

I spent a decent amount of time trying to figure out what that meant until finally it occurred to me that the OP simply does not seem to know what the word begrudge means. He saw a similar construction used in a well written piece and copied it.

> but he's the product of our system,

Utter abnegation of personal responsibility. What about the rest of us who don't try to have people killed? Are we not also products of the system?

> and his shame is our shame.

Most assuredly not. I have on occasion behaved shamefully. I have not tried to have people killed. I have not facilitated what I consider dangerous and debilitating behavior. His shame is not my shame, nor is mine his. Society is not to blame.

You say "The only reason the Silk Road is used is because there's a need for it." Nothing could be further from the truth. The only reason the Silk Road exists is because there is a desire for it. In the language of the moral theorists, not all desires are ordered desires. It's a tough pill for the libertarians to swallow, but disordered behavior does not warrant the same privilege as well-ordered behavior.


The current DPR is allegedly the third one, and the one in jail is the second, as he said in an interview with Forbes.


Are there holes in the timeline that connected Ulbricht to Silk Road? Because that timeline didn't really leave any time for there to have been a first DPR.


Reports indicate that the original DPR retired to Patagonia 15 years ago, and has been living like a king ever since.


How does work? Wikipedia says that the silk road started in February of 2011. And if that was months, it would still only give him around a year and a half on the site.


Princess Bride joke.


This one's the Fed Pirate Roberts :p

The way this site launched so soon after the original was shut down--with the same name, same styling, even the same "Dread Pirate Roberts" moniker--makes me very suspicious.


Meh, nothing more than a recursive wget will do that.


I am beginning to see the significance of the name "Dread Pirate Roberts".

In The Princess Bride, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093779/ it was actually a title that was handed down, and the current Dread Pirate Roberts is the third one.

The Princess Bride has wonderfully quotable dialogue, e.g. "Have you ever considered piracy? You'd make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts."


[deleted]


Forbes interviewed DPR (Ulbricht or not) in August.

"Roberts isn’t actually the site’s founder, he revealed in our interview. He credits Silk Road’s creation to another, even more secretive entrepreneur whom he declined to tell me anything about and who may have used the “Dread Pirate Roberts” nom de guerre before it was assumed by the person I interviewed."

http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/08/14/meet-th...


Yeah, he was just saying that to throw people off his trail.


NOTE: I live in Austin and am acquaintances with a few people who knew him a bit while he was here.

From what I understand, at the time of Silk Road's creation, he was not nearly technically capable of creating a site like it. He seems to have learned enough to administer and update the site, but the initial construction was done by another.


SR was just a glorified rails app, and my understanding was that it was initially pretty buggy. It's within reason that someone could pick up the knowledge they need within a few months to build such a thing, at least enough to get it rolling.


I thought it used PHP? At least the question on StackOverflow that allegedly led to his demise asked about PHP issues.


I don't actually know - what I mean is, it's a basic CRUD app without much special sauce.


It used CodeIgniter (PHP).


I completely agree with this. Looking at it from a civil disobedience standpoint really exemplifies what we need to do to protect our freedom on the web in the coming future. With the onslaught of information with PRISM, spying, etc. the general public becoming aware of these sort of "rogue web pirates" is quite important to raising awareness even if it is only due to shock value that the general media is reporting it.


> I'd never buy heroin from a website

I'd rather buy heroin from Silk Road (where it's peer-reviewed and often tested by third-parties) than on the street.

Buying online is just overall less risky.


Used to be less risky now they slam you with interstate trafficking charges which can climb to 10+yrs whereas getting jacked on the street and losing $50 doesn't sound too bad in comparison.


Maybe if you are a USA resident.


Depends how well you know your dealer.


Are you saying heroin specifically because you do buy it but not from websites, or because some drugs you'd trust to a website (regardless of whether you personally buy them or not) but heroin not, or were you just naming a random drug?


I chose heroin specifically because that's the drug I associate most with the Silk Road, probably because of this story: http://krebsonsecurity.com/2013/07/mail-from-the-velvet-cybe...

And I thought it was a memorable way to phrase it... I've never seen heroin, except on The Wire.


I will never understand why Silk Road is easier than just hitting up your dealer


I've never used SR (or similar site), but there's plenty of drugs which I couldn't get locally if I wanted them - I'm sure they are sold near me, but I wouldn't know how to find them. Heroin, LSD... etc. Hitting up a dealer is only easy if you know how to find a dealer. (Personally I've looked for mushrooms in the past with absolutely no joy. So I've never done mushrooms.)

For all drugs, it's quite possible that online offers better quality. I've known cocaine users whose local dealers only sold shitty quality, afaik I don't know anyone who has bought online but it might make sense for them in that case. And drugs like weed, might well be that you want a choice of strains whereas most dealers just have whatever they managed to buy, not a supermarket range of choices.


Unrelated, but have you ever tried mescaline via san pedro? One of the good legal psychedelics if you're thinking about shrooms.


I've never used any psychedelic, legal or not - a quick Google makes mescaline via cactus sound fairly complicated..


Half-day trip on san pedro in college... good times


try camping in Joshua Tree with a ziplock of peyote buttons and a gallon bottle of cactus juice. I lost my fucking mind there in the desert sand, and then found it two days later, in better condition than when I left it.


haha I can appreciate that


Finding psychedelics in the Midwest is impossible. I can swing a dead cat and find all the heroin you could ever want though. Supply and demand doesn't work so well on the black market. Which makes an online brokerage pretty enticing.


Your situation may be different, but I personally would not even know where to start looking for a local dealer. Being a sheltered upper middle class youth has its disadvantages :)


The one glaring problem with anonymous purchasing of items is assassinations / hits that people seem to be hired for through it. There are other bad things too. Society could become a very fucked up place - even more so than now as people gain trust for that system.


I didn't produce him, or it. Thus I feel no shame.


But you pay taxes that finance the government stupidity and violence.


It's not like he has a choice.


There is choices, it is not easy to do, but there are ways. Because everyone gives up that government do shit.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: