Alleged Silk Road proprietor Ross William Ulbricht granted Lauren Smiley of San Francisco magazine his first interview since his Oct. 2 arrest in that city. Smiley visited him at an Alameda County jail, where he’s currently awaiting extradition to New York to face federal charges and the possibility of life in prison.
Ulrbicht, who’s accused of being the Dread Pirate Roberts behind online black market, was reticent on the topic of his legal case, shooting down questions about his stated innocence and bail, his friends and visitors, his alleged drug empire, Bitcoin fortune, and online activities leading up to the FBI’s seizure of Silk Road. Instead, he opened up about his experience so far in captivity, where he’s not permitted to interact with other inmates, the food’s “not half bad,” and he gets an hour of phone time a day—but no Internet access.
“For a man who allegedly built the world’s most intricately connected online drug empire, Ulbricht now finds himself in the most unlikely of places: Totally out of the loop,” Smiley wrote. “I tell him about the reporter from Forbes who tracked down his former roommates on 15th Avenue, and he looks astonished. He repeats the statement back to me as a question, unbelieving. When I say his name on Google brings up an endless string of news stories about his takedown, he replies that it used to only bring up hits about his accomplishments in physics.”
Ulbricht reportedly said he’s “not excessively” worried about the future, which led Smiley to quote from Ulbricht’s 2010 Facebook manifesto:
“Is it possible for someone locked in a cage to be freer than someone who isn’t? What if they are free from limiting beliefs and can imagine experiences without limits, while the other limits themselves to a prison of dull routines?”
Ulrbicht spoke with Smiley, he said, against the advice of his government-appointed lawyer, apparently out of curiosity and even loneliness. Another motivation was to set a counter-narrative in motion: “He says that he had wanted to have people talk on his behalf to the press, but that everyone who knows him has now been advised to stay quiet.” Of course, there are all sorts of reasons one might choose to dummy up about a friend indicted in Maryland federal court for orchestrating an $80,000 murder-for-hire.
By the end of Smiley’s 15-minute interview, we have a sense of Ulbricht as possessed of the quiet confidence—or arrogance—that defined the Silk Road enterprise. But the time for most of his secrets, no matter how well guarded, to be revealed is swiftly approaching. If he’s surprised at the national media attention he’s getting right now, just wait until the whole story is told.