It's been eight months since we exposed Silk Road, the underground online marketplace where you can anonymously buy any drug imaginable. After our article, a couple U.S. senators declared war on Silk Road. But it hasn't been shut down. It's bigger than ever, and now you can buy a Glock with your LSD.
So I fired up my TOR anonymizing network browser, which is the only way to visit Silk Road's unusual URL, to see what was new with the site. What was new was guns: Back when we broke the story in June, Silk Road's anonymous administrator said he wouldn't allow weapons to be sold on the site. But since then, an entire subcategory for firearms has sprung up.
Here are some of the 13 firearms for sale right now on Silk Road:
* IMI 9 mm uzi
* 44 magnum Desert Eagle
* 9 mm Beretta handgun
* 50 rounds of .22 ammunition
* 9 mm machine pistol with silencer
Plus, all the guns in the image below are from vendors on the site. (According to current exchange rates: 1 bitcoin = ~$5.60)
(click to enlarge)
One of the most well-regarded vendor of firearms is a user named Dbush, who sells guns from the U.S. and Mexico and has 100% feedback from over 100 transactions. (Those weren't all guns; he also sells meth, LSD and ecstasy.) Dbush's user profile on the site boasts he can procure "AK pistols, AR15 pistols, and many tactical style guns. Additionally regular style shotguns, rifles, and handguns are available."
Dbush told us in a message that most of his customers are Europeans trying to circumvent their countries' strict gun laws. "Every single citizen should have enough firepower that the government fears the citizens. The people should not fear the government," he said.
Dbush said he tries not to sell guns to people who want to kill civilians or commit crimes. But most importantly, he won't sell to people who are anti-American or anti-Israel. "I would try to keep their money if I found out this was the case. Maybe send it 2 the US Israeli lobby 2 help gain more support for Israel," he wrote.
The influx of weapons onto a site previously dedicated to getting people high has caused controversy among Silk Road's users, with multiple posts on Silk Road's message board debating the merits of selling guns on the site. When I posted a request to speak to anyone who'd purchased guns on Silk Road, it was almost immediately deleted. A message board moderator assured me: "It's a very small section of the users who buy firearms here."
Silk Road's anonymous administrator wouldn't comment for the article, asking if I could wait for four months until they were prepared for another influx of attention; he said he's currently "hardening" the site and adding more "exciting" features. "Last time you wrote an article about Silk Road, we got a lot of attention, new members, and even some heat from the feds," he wrote. "That was good for us, but we weren't completely ready for it."
But all the heat hasn't hindered Silk Road's growth. Along with the addition of weapons, Silk Road's main trade—illegal drugs—is booming. When we wrote about Silk Road in June where there were 343 items for sale under the drugs category; that's climbed to 1821. And the current site is more professional-looking and smoother-running. They're even hiring. Just visit the brand new "careers" section, where you can apply to be a Silk Road customer service rep (Question 3: "What is your drug of choice"?).
After we published our article in June, Chuck Schumer called on the feds to shut Silk Road down. "The DEA has confirmed they are aware of the site, and while they won't confirm or deny that an investigation is underway… I'd bet my bottom dollar in this instance there is one underway," he said back then. Make that the ATF, now, too.
Will we be seeing a dramatic Megaupload-style takedown of Silk Road soon? Or are the anonymizing technologies it uses, the TOR network, and the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, advanced enough to hide its users? Maybe we've reached a point where a brazenly open drug market will exist just below the surface of the internet forever. Personally, I doubt it.
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]