The inexorable rise of Bitcoin has created a new class of villain: the Deep Web Crime Lord.
The Deep Web Crime Lord is a fresh phenomenon. To be sure, criminality is nothing new; heroes and villains are as old as humanity itself. But for most of human history, criminals were easily identifiable; politicians, warlords, gun-toting thugs, cartel bosses, mafia dons, and the like. But with the emergence of TOR and the deep web, crime has gone geek.
How dangerous is the Deep Web Crime Lord? That depends entirely on the price of Bitcoin. Ross Ulbricht was the original Deep Web Crime Lord – the quintessential nerd with a virtual gun. In real life, he would run from a bar fight, but when he logged onto TOR he became a superhero-cold-blooded-killer, dishing out darknet justice and commanding the assassinations of rivals and snitches. On the deep web, hiring a hitman is as easy as ordering a hamburger.
Ulbricht owned around fifty thousand Bitcoins at the time of his arrest, a street value of fifty million dollars today. Fifty million clams is a lot of dough, even by crime lord standards. Mafia dons don’t accumulate that much bling before they get shot or shipped upstate. Street gang leaders can only blink in awe – even the head of the Hells Angels or Crips would spread his legs for a guy like that. Only the cartel bosses do better, but the feds have neutered most of them. El Chapo might be one of the richest villains in the world, but he is also the most hunted.
Ulbricht, had he not been caught, would have been far more dangerous than Mr. Shorty. Completely anonymous and hunkered down behind TOR, with his finger on the trigger of fifty million dollars in untraceable currency, he would have been any cop’s worst nightmare. Ross might be bending over for Bubba right now, but new – even more sinister – villains have popped up to take his place.
Unlike traditional villainy, where an aspiring crime boss has to put some stink on his johnson to rise through the ranks, anyone can become a Deep Web Crime Lord. You don’t need balls like Tony Montana; you just need to learn some PHP.
TOR is a veritable Pan’s Labyrinth of crime, but Alphabay stands out as the creme-de-la-creme of deep web bad boys.
The Alphabay admin is stinking rich, sitting on more than fifty thousand Bitcoins. Alphabay is the most popular deep web market, serving up excellent drugs for years (so I’m told!), with volume far exceeding the original Silk Road. The owner of Alphabay is worth $100,000,000 or more – and nobody has any idea who he is. He might be the script kiddie next door. He might be the nerd you picked on in school, and now he’s got a Besa Mafia contract killer on your ass. He might be a badass Russian with an itchy trigger finger. He might be a Harlem gangsta with attitude. He might be a SpaceX geek sporting Google Glass, like the dweeb who founded Silk Road 2. ‘He’ might be a sixty-year-old grandma breaking bad. He might be, well, anyone. Anyone at all.
And that’s the terrifying prospect for law enforcement. There is no way to point the satellites at this guy, no way to guess his next move, no way to bug his cellphone, no way to put the bracelets on his friends and make them talk, no way to waterboard his accomplices, no way at all to catch him.
The feds aren’t used to this kind of powerlessness, and it must gnaw at their cop souls.
At the moment, police have bigger fish to fry; terrorists, Chinese hackers, and Edward Snowden. The Deep Web Crime Lord is still a lamb poking a stick at a lion, but what happens when Bitcoin hits $10,000? The Deep Web Crime Lord grows up; a billionaire is born. At $100,000? He’s a ten billion dollar question mark. At $1,000,000? We got a hundred-billion dollar Dr. Evil on our hands.
All of the other Deep Web Crime Lords become bosses too; even run-of-the-mill darknet drug dealers morph into millionaires, even billionaires.
As Bitcoin rises, the Deep Web Crime Lords emerge like popcorn in a pan.
This is a never-before-seen phenomenon in the history of crime. A legion of Deep Web Crime Lords with treasure troves of untraceable currency, presumably no morals, beholden to no one, utterly anonymous, nurturing unfathomable intentions.
Unlike traditional gangsters, the Deep Web Crime Lord cannot slip his Bitcoins into the banks, so he cannot be co-opted by the system, tamed, and merged into the establishment (like Bill Clinton). They will always be outsiders; lawless, unpredictable, menacing.
The Deep Web Crime Lord has arrived. He is a new kind of villain playing a new kind of game on a new kind of playing field. As Bitcoin inexorably rises over the next few years, law enforcement will be doing the splits over an ever-widening abyss.
The Deep Web Crime Lord may alter the balance of power not only in crime, but also in the socio-political-economic power structure throughout the world. Because that too is basically just crime.