The Corruption

In 2015, approximately two months after Ross’ trial and the filing of his post trial motions, it was revealed that two federal agents at the core of the Silk Road investigation in Baltimore — DEA agent Carl Mark Force and Secret Service Special Agent Shaun Bridges — were charged for corruption and offenses directly relating to their investigation of the Silk Road website. It was later disclosed that Bridges was also working for the NSA at the time he was investigating the site. They gained high-level access to administrative functions of the Silk Road from the informant Curtis Green, known as Flush.
Carl Mark Force, DEA agent (left)
Shaun Bridges, NSA/Secret Service Agent (right)

The agents had been under investigation for at least nine months for stealing and extorting funds totaling over a million dollars, among other crimes. Although Force’s existence was made known to the defense pre-trial, the fact of Bridges’s existence was not revealed until after trial. Neither they nor their activities were made known to the jury.

The agents

Force was the lead undercover agent on the case for DHS Baltimore, for two years. He played the single biggest role in the most damning accusations leveled against Ross: allegedly organizing a murder which never occurred. The government did not charge Ross with this at trial, but it remains in an indictment in Maryland based on Force’s evidence (despite the right to a speedy trial) where the corrupt agents were operating. It was also discussed in the New York trial and at sentencing, despite being uncharged and unproven.

Bridges is an ex-Secret Service agent and NSA employee, and a computer forensic and dark net expert. Several other cases he investigated have been thrown out based on his corrupt activities. He has a record of framing people.

Unfettered access

Force, and especially Bridges, are computer forensics experts, dark net experts and had unrestrained, high-level access to administrative functions of Silk Road, basically the keys to the kingdom. They used this access and their advanced technical skills to steal over a million dollars. It is feasible that, given their technical sophistication and level of access, they also exploited vulnerabilities in the site to gain access to other administrative accounts, including that of Dread Pirate Roberts account. The full story is still unknown.

We do know that the agents had the power to change aspects of the site; gain access to administrator platforms and passwords; to change PIN numbers and commandeer accounts, including that of DPR, so they could act as DPR and also under other aliases. They also had the means to manipulate logs, chats, private messages, keys, posts and account information. The codebase for the Silk Road site, PHP myadmin, provided in discovery, reveals that an administrator with this level of access could reset the PIN on DPR’s account and gain control of it. With PHP myadmin access, either agent could re-set passwords and change anything in the Silk Road database, including messages and texts in the Forum or Market. There were multiple PHP myadmin accounts, so they could have had access to DPR’s account without DPR losing access.

These agents also had the motive to alter data in order cover their actions and direct attention elsewhere.

Follow the money

Since his initial arrest Shaun Bridges was apprehended trying to flee in 2015. This raises more questions, as Joshua Dratel, Defense attorney, explains:

Shaun Bridges was captured by CCTV security cameras

“Since people almost never flee without some access to money overseas, Bridges’ plans, and the foreign corporations, begs the question whether we know the full range of his and Force’s illegal activity in connection with the Silk Road site.  The government has clearly been more interested in suppressing such disclosure than getting to the bottom of it.”  

There are millions of dollars in bitcoin from Silk Road still unaccounted for by the government. More details here.

Tip of the iceberg?

To this day it is unknown to what extent Force and Bridges compromised the Silk Road website.

The government has not produced or confirmed the full range of communications and/or relationship between Force and Bridges with DPR or anyone else involved in the Silk Road site (via Silk Road Forum, private messaging, Tor chat, Pidgin chat or any system). In addition, a large number of the agents’ emails remain encrypted, as the government did not make it a stipulation of their plea offer that the agents turn over the key to decrypt the emails.

Is this the tip of the iceberg? Still unknown, in addition to the numerous encrypted emails, are the contents of the still-sealed paragraph in the Force Complaint. The Complaint notes that it “does not include certain additional facts.”

According to the defense:

“The complete scope of what former SA’s Force and Bridges were able to accomplish with the illicit access they gained to the Silk Road website, and its impact on this case, has yet to be determined.”