from the questions,-questions dept
On Monday, Andy Greenberg over at Wired published a story about how a Homeland Security ICE agent, based in Baltimore, had sent a subpoena to Reddit, demanding info on five users who had been posting to the subreddit r/darkmarkets, which (you guessed it!) is where lots of people discuss dark markets like Silk Road and the recently shut down (and all money taken) Evolution. It appears that the subpoenas were trying to track down more information about who was behind Evolution:
Earlier this month, a Baltimore Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent sent a subpoena to Reddit demanding that the site turn over a collection of personal data about five users of the r/darknetmarkets forum. The subpoena appears to be the first hint of a federal investigation of the recently defunct massive online market known as Evolution, which sold drugs, weapons, and stolen financial details. All five targets of the subpoena were involved, to varying degrees, in the Reddit discussion of that black market?s abrupt disappearance two weeks ago, in which two top administrators apparently absconded with millions of dollars worth of bitcoin belonging to Evolution?s buyers and sellers.
According to a copy of the subpoena shared with WIRED by one of the forum?s moderators who was named in the document, the DHS seeks information that includes the names, IP addresses, dates and times of site visits as well as other data that Reddit likely doesn?t possess, including the users? phone numbers and financial data. (Reddit doesn?t even require an email address to sign up.)
That said, what struck me most was the fact that this request came from Baltimore. Because right about the same time that Greenberg’s story came out, the Justice Department was revealing its criminal complaint against two of the key federal agents involved in the investigation of Silk Road, who (according to the complaint) stole a bunch of money from Silk Road, extorted Silk Road’s administrator and also engaged in a bunch of other nefarious actions, including issuing a fake subpoena to Venmo, engaging in civil asset forfeiture against Mt. Gox accounts and discussing other similar activities.
And both of those guys were… based in Baltimore. It’s not entirely clear if the two allegedly corrupt federal agents — Carl Force of the DEA and Shaun Bridges of the Secret Service — were part of this same Homeland Security investigations team, but it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to find out that it was the same team. One hopes that whoever is involved in that investigations team now, isn’t doing similar corrupt activities as mentioned in the criminal complaint against Force and Bridges. However, given how those two appeared to abuse their position, and given that there’s a high likelihood of the subpoena coming from the same team, it certainly raises some additional questions. And that’s not even mentioning the concerns about other corrupt individuals in these investigations, including a Homeland Security agent who went by the name “mr. wonderful.”
That’s not to say that the subpoena to Reddit is problematic. It may be perfectly legit (though it does appear that at least one of the people that the subpoena was digging into is just Gwern Branwen, a well-known security researcher who insists he has never sold any illegal products on dark market sites). Still, the criminal complaint from earlier this week certainly raises serious questions about any of these fishing expeditions, especially by a team coming out of Baltimore.