Bitcoin in the Headlines: Silk Road Strikes Comedic Gold

CoinDesk has looked at the bitcoin related headlines from across the world.

Apr 3, 2015 at 10:32 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 11:37 a.m. UTC
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Bitcoin in the Headlines is a weekly look at global bitcoin news, analysing media and its impact.

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You'd be forgiven for mistaking the news of corrupt special agents for a high-budget Hollywood Blockbuster – the plot itself is box office gold.

News coverage on bitcoin exploded this week as mainstream outlets from all over the globe picked up on new allegations that were filed in the ongoing saga of online black market Silk Road.

This time, however, Ross Ulbricht wasn't the center of attention. Rather, former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Carl Mark Force IV and his colleague on the Baltimore-based Silk Road investigation, US Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges, took center stage for alleged corruption, extortion and a litany of apparent abuses of power.

Overall, the tale cast this week's news in a humorous light, though not every media outlet was "in" on the jokes. As illustrated by the reporting on next year's St Petersburg Bowl, bitcoin is still a subject best left to the pros.

Corruption in the ranks

It's safe to say that at long last, the Silk Road drama couldn't possibly get more interesting.

It certainly has the necessary twists and turns to attract an audience – the latest affidavit itself reads like a sophisticated cybercrime novel – and it was perhaps this element of entertainment that attracted the attention of journalists worldwide.

At the time of press, a quick Google news search with the terms  "DEA agent" and "bitcoin" brought up more than 500 articles. As proof of its reach, everyone from The Huffington Post through to Arya News – a Persian news outlet  – covered the story.

Of particular focus was the brazenness of the actions of the accessed.

Writing for Bloomberg View, Matt Levine, described the agents' naivety, saying:

"There is no playbook for blackmailing a secretive criminal mastermind using unencrypted online messages in which you pretend to be a French maid. No one, not even Carl Mark Force IV, does that every day. So it's understandable that he might have forgotten to sign his message with a fake name that was (1) gender-appropriate and (2) not his actual real first name."

Force is thought to have used the pseudonym 'French Maid' during part of his communication with Dread Pirate Roberts. Levine's sarcasm is understandable, given that we are talking about two supposedly competent agents, who would presumeably know how to cover their tracks.

Interestingly, Wired's Andy Greenberg , provided a more serious exposé, explaining that the suspicion of inside corruption existed at the time of Ulbricht's trial, as Joshua Dratel, his lawyer had repeatedly spoken about a DEA informant.

Greenberg also examined the wider ramifications of the discovery, placing significant emphasis on how they may affect Ulbricht's legal case. He said:

"Ulbricht still faces murder-for-hire charges in Maryland as a result of that [Baltimore Silk Road] investigation, a case that could be tainted by the alleged, epic misconduct of these two investigators."

Here, Greenberg is alluding to the allegations that Ulbricht asked Force, when he was operating under the 'Number 13' pseudonym to kill someone on his behalf.

Flagrant fouls

Elsewhere, media outlets were poking fun at the Bitcoin St Petersburg Bowl, which we learned will not take place with its 'bitcoin' branding in 2015 and 2016.

The event, sponsored by BitPay, was one of the more public facing for the bitcoin community, but despite the audience the event attracted, it doesn't seem to have conveyed that bitcoin is, in fact, not a company.

In a piece for Yahoo Sports, Nick Bromberg makes a somewhat questionable attempt at defining the digital currency. Bitcoin, he says, is "a peer-to-peer online currency system without a central authority. Because of it's structure, it's come under scrutiny, especially for its security".

Massive generalizations aside, it is possible to overlook Bromberg's mistake, at least in context of other more flagrant fouls.

Tom Fornelli, a college football writer, had his say in CBSSports, noting:

"ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy reported on Wednesday night that Bitcoin was dropping out of its sponsorship deal with the bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida after only one year."

Here, Fornelli made a journalistic faux pas, misreporting that it was 'bitcoin' that had dropped out of the sponsorship deal, not BitPay.

However, he concluded on a nostalgic note we might be able to all agree on, writing:

"You were gone too soon, Bitcoin Bowl, but you shall never be forgotten."

Pete Rizzo contributed reporting.

Disclaimer: CoinDesk founder Shakil Khan is an investor in BitPay.

Image via Shutterstock.

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