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Which Pirate is that?

Last week, Silk Road spokesman Dread Pirate Roberts broke a longstanding silence, granting an interview to Andy Greenberg of Forbes magazine.  In it, he finally admitted Silk Road’s worst-kept secret – the person posting as Dread Pirate Roberts and steering the ship was not the same person who founded Silk Road.

Who's holding the keys to Silk Road now?

Who’s holding the keys to Silk Road now?

This came as no surprise whatsoever to regulars on the Silk Road forums. The bigger questions are: which number is this particular DPR?  How many people now post from the DPR forum account? And are they merely PR people rather than the owner of the site?

In short, I believe this is incarnation No.3 or possibly No.4.  There is no doubt there’s more than one person using the DPR forum account and it is unlikely any of them are the owner(s) of the Silk Road site.

The first change came almost immediately after the Gawker article, before the moniker ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ had even been bestowed.  That was when the longest outage in Silk Road history occurred, followed by a massive overhaul of registrations, vendor accounts and the site in general. The person who took over, incarnation 2, was the DPR of legend; the one who wrote passionate missives about his philosophies and the Silk Road community, who convinced his customers they were part of a revolution and developed a cult-like following.

This DPR either gave ‘no comment’ responses to media or provided one or two line answers to specific questions. He was always polite, always responded to PMs, but was also careful not to give too much away.  He preferred to speak directly to his audience in his own words, on his own forum.

It changed hands again around October last year, soon followed by lengthy unexplained downtime of the site and the sudden demotion of longstanding moderators, without explanation to either them or the community. DPR posted that he would be changing his writing style to fool the authorities. His posts became infrequent and very brief. Regulars lamented his lack of presence on the forum.

There were a couple of posts made under the DPR handle that were reminiscent of the old pirate.  Was part of the handover an agreement by the outgoing DPR to write up a few missives for misdirection purposes? That would certainly make sense and would be part of a well thought out plan to obfuscate the change.

But suddenly in the past month, there is a new, highly engaged Dread Pirate Roberts who posts frequently, gives interviews to media and interacts in the forums like an excited member.  He has a Twitter account (really).  This new DPR even quotes posts by other members in his sig (albeit a most worthy member, the formidable DoctorX).  Although friendly and helpful, the posts he, she or they make are not remotely similar to the DPR of old and emotion and irritability often creep in, something that rarely happened in the past, where posts seemed highly measured.

I asked the question and here’s the response I got:

Geez DPR... Don't you know when you give responses like this, journos start speculating?
Geez DPR… Don’t you know when you give responses like this, journos start speculating?

There is no doubt that whoever was posting as DPR on August 23 2013 was not the same person as the one who was posting as DPR even as recently as July 2013:

This month DPR cf. last month DPR
This month DPR cf. last month DPR

It clearly wasn’t a typo and he had never made this error before – last month he had no problem with the spelling. Of course, this could be an example of the change of writing style, but I seriously doubt it.

The change in style has gone hand in hand with a bunch of changes and improvements to Silk Road (more since that post).  So has ownership changed hands again, or has Silk Road simply appointed a publicity officer, outsourcing the ‘public face’ of the site as Atlantis has done?  (Soon after their interview with me and the subsequent advertising blitz, Atlantis started insisting that any media go through their publicity officer, Heisenberg2.0. And Heisenberg, don’t think I haven’t noticed you ‘borrowing’ quotes from my site and tweets in your own posts and responses to questions, btw).

Whatever the explanation, it certainly heralds a new era for Silk Road, and whether it is a good one remains to be seen. Some members see it as the beginning of the end.  Many of the changes to the site have met with resistance from vendors and customers alike.  Security-conscious members are quick to point out flaws in updates as they are rolled out and many are irritated that these measures hadn’t been considered pre-change.  And a lot of members don’t like the idea of the DPR who once shared himself only with his membership courting the press and tweeting.

There is a well-known truism of family dynasties that the once one generation makes the fortune, the next generation grows the fortune and the one after that loses the fortune.  Is that what we are seeing with Silk Road?  And most importantly, can this new Dread Pirate Roberts engender the same fierce loyalty and devotion among the community as the DPR of old did?

9 Responses

  1. I think there’s only ever been two DPRs myself. My personal theory is that several different people have access to the DPR account in the forums – namely, Inigo, Libertas and the actual DPR plus a few others we don’t even know publicly. Sometimes “he” answers irritably like Libertas, others he says things like: ‘Keep Cruizin’ like Inigo. Basically, they know LE are crawling all over the forums so may as well make it not one person but several posting under one name to cloud the issue. I think they’re allowed to when it’s related to tech issues. Then for going on about politics etc that’s the real DPR who writes. There’s one person who’s been posting under that account since 2011 imo. On the main SR account, only DPR runs that account, but he forwards customer service stuff to Libertas. Fun fact: Libertas is a chick. (Going on the way she acts anyway).

    1. Fun fact: you do realise *I’M* a chick right? How is it, exactly, that we all act? 😉

      I agree with you though, that several people have access to the DPR forum account now. I think that will detract heavily from the sense of community and revolution that the DPR of old made possible. But it may be such a strongly viable commercial entity now that those things no longer matter. We shall see.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. Sr is on its way to being a full blown commercial venture and I think the original founder/founders are long gone. All the original vendors that came on board with the values the dpr put about are also going in droves as well. Most changes in the road are now about facilitating a better customer realtionship between buyer and vendor to get larger turnover and stronger trust relationships working.

  3. What do you think now, Eiley? Knowing what we know now about the postings Ulbricht made on clearnet in 2011 do the feds have one of the DPRs (who perhaps was staff and part of the start up but went on to become DPR) or do they have the ONLY ever and original DPR?

    I can’t believe, just can’t believe that this person is the person who started the site. Yes, I know he used a line of code with ‘frosty’ or something in it and all the other stuff linking to him being “Altoid” etc but I think he wasn’t the brains behind SR he was a part of the team that started it – like a developer or something.

    One thing that is strange. Rumor has it that whoever was the current DPR on the actual site this summer started to allow FE scams to run for ages purposely to make maximum SR fees yet was harsh with vendors who’d made small mistakes so they’d have to start over and pay the SR vendor bond and the admins were forced to comply but didn’t necessarily agree with this. That doesn’t sound like the DPR of legend (DPRs 1 and 2 – going on what you say above). That sounds like a new site owner getting greedy and trying to get as much money as they can.

    Also, did you see that bookclub fiasco when DPR posted a link to watch A Scanner Darkly and security expert “Pine” said it was a HUGE security risk and could out peoples identities? DPR ignored Pine who was horified and said the real DPR would never do something that foolishly lax. I think s/he may have left SRF after that. Also “Astor” and co. had to continually point out this year that “DPR” was posting certain links that could de-anonimise people (was it a .to link he posted or something?) / that making a twitter was stupid and so on. That sounds like a guy who’d administer SR over clearnet at an internet café order fake IDS with his own photo on and log on via a wifi network 5 seconds from his home.

    I don’t know why but my feeling is that the un-security savvy/ slack Ulbricht is in fact Inigo and he took over as DPR late last year maybe and the real original DPR is but a puff of smoke now.

    I don’t think the original DPR would have done Forbes interview. That sounds CRAZY.

    Please can you post on all this when you’ve gathered your thoughts? I want to know what you think……

    This whole saga is better than any fiction, I can never believe it when brainiac kids don’t put their efforts into making legal millions and risk life, LIFE in prison. It’s so tragic yet fascinating.

    I really look forward to your book.

    1. I’ve been mulling over it a bit and I’m still unsure. 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.

      I am 100% sure that there was more than one person posting in the forums as DPR. The most recent, chatty, incarnation was nothing like the former DPR, and the “change my style to fool everybody” explanation doesn’t cut it. He didn’t just change his style, he changed his IQ level and entire personality. I’m also pretty sure the DPR I exchanged PMs with over the years changed at least once.

      However, this doesn’t necessarily mean there was a change of owner – DPR could have done an Atlantis and hired a mouthpiece who was essentially just a PR person and had no connection with the actual business.

      I also found the altoid connection on Shroomery and Bitcointalk when I was researching the chapter on Silk Road’s inception and also concluded it was the owner spruiking his site. But I never spotted the gmail address, which surprises me. Naturally I can’t check now because Bitcointalk is down. But what I wrote at the time was: “The user ‘altoid’ on Bitcointalk apparently deleted those early posts (or the site did), which can now only be found quoted in later members’ responses . However, altoid remained active on the Bitcointalk forums until August 2012.”

      I could, of course, have overlooked the gmail address, but given the time I put into researching those early days I would be surprised. It makes me wonder if the FBI was able to retrieve deleted posts by subpoenaing Bitcointalk.

      As for the interview, it surprised me too. DPR *always* gave me a quote for any article I was writing, but it was always of the soundbite variety – a couple of lines. Then in August he granted me a long interview on a specific topic (which I haven’t written up yet) on the proviso it was embargoed until September. I later realised that was because he must have already done, or been part way through, Forbes and promised Greenburg the exclusive.

      I have a feeling we are in for a few more surprises yet. The book is kind of writing itself right now 🙂

      Thanks for the comment.
      x Eiley

  4. You have to consider that perhaps the FBI had control over DPR’s account at some point and were using it to catch out the unwary.

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