Three years after the demise of the original darknet market, we’re still caught up in the turmoil surrounding the eponymous online black market.
Roger Thomas Clark, allegedly one-time right-hand man to the owner of Silk Road, has been in prison in Thailand a long nine months. Considering the conditions in jails across numerous countries in South East Asia, this is no mean feat.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Silk Road 3.0 is BACK ONLINE and open for business. The team did a massive security overhaul on the site to try and make it more secure and anonymous.
But who is Roger Thomas Clark, and why is he seemingly rotting away in a Thai jail?
The answer lies in a convoluted mess of tiny bits of evidence – evidence obtained across the course of nailing the owner of Silk Road – one Ross Ulbricht aka “Dread Pirate Roberts.”
Ulbricht is currently serving life in prison after being convicted of charges including money laundering, conspiracy to traffic narcotics, and computer hacking.
Ulbricht was the brains behind the world’s first darknet market. Silk Road was launched in early 2011. Running over the Tor network, the online marketplace offered people a chance to buy and sell online in a completely anonymous fashion.
While built around the idea of a completely free market, in reality, the marketplace was a veritable haven for the trade of illegal goods and services including drugs.
With noble aspirations, Ulbricht descended into something far greater than himself and found himself ordering hits to protect his data assets and identity.
Ulbricht was caught mainly due to infiltration by an FBI agent, who was later found to have been dirty after siphoning hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin into his own accounts.
The plot really reads more like something out of a Hollywood movie.
Roger Thomas Clark is allegedly “Variety Jones,” a key individual involved in the day to day operations of the Silk Road marketplace.
Variety Jones originally joined Silk Road in 2011, as a marijuana seed vendor.
Communications between Dread Pirate Roberts and Variety Jones, obtained from logs on machines of Ulbricht himself reveal a clever, worldly confidant, advisor, and manager in Variety Jones.
Variety Jones was a skilled technologist, and over the course of time became heavily involved with running Silk Road and advising Dread Pirate Roberts on murky areas related to business.
This even involved suggesting to DPR taking out a hit on people who were a danger to the working of the business. Variety Jones was DPR’s right-hand man – the go-to sounding board when things became unclear in business.
The man himself
Roger Thomas Clark currently sits in a prison in the country’s capital, Bangkok, while the US makes attempts to extradite him. Roger, at 55, doesn’t appear to the naked eye to be a devious international criminal.
And in terms of evidence against him, it is unclear just how much the US authorities have. When Roger was arrested and his assets seized, unlike Ulbricht, all his files were encrypted.
While there’s a trail of evidence that seems to lead towards him, just what they’ve got remains a mystery for now. Clark remains committed to fighting extradition attempts. After the life sentencing of Ulbricht, it’s easy to see why.
Extradition remains almost certainly a life sentence for Clark. The charges the US government is accusing him of include narcotics conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, where the outcome if convicted is likely life in prison.
A recent interview
Recently, Ars Technica has been taking the time to interview Clark, both in the visitors’ section of the Bangkok Remand Prison, and listening in to the man while on his way to the courthouse in Bangkok to continue fighting extradition attempts.
And while Clark doesn’t seem to be proclaiming his innocence too much, he does raise another very valid point about the investigation.
“Guilt is a technical term,” he says, “They don’t have s*** on me.” This raises the point in the US that evidence needs to be shown that the accused is guilty without a reasonable doubt.
“Forensics could spend 30 years trying to decrypt those hard drives and still not get anywhere,” Clark says matter-of-factly.
Just what is on those hard drives will perhaps not be known for many, many years, which may indeed have put the US investigation into the matter on a bit of a deep freeze.
Clark alludes to friends in high places in South East Asian governments, deals with officials, and military information. It’s almost like a mystery novel.
The man is clever, for sure, and remains optimistic about his chances in Thailand.
The jail hasn’t beat Clark like it does for so many other foreigners who wind up in the prison system there.
Perhaps it’s because of the groundswell of support from those in the online community, or perhaps it’s because of his inherent nature.
Perhaps it’s just because of the genuine love of the country that Clark has acquired over his years of living in the country – it’s hard not to like, with its sun-drenched personality.
For the moment, Clark remains in a sort of international limbo. While conditions in Thai jail are surely not ideal, it beats the alternative for Clark.
We will have to see just what happens in this case and whether extradition attempts will be successful.
Whether the amount of evidence against Clark is enough to get him onto US shores, or whether the Thai government deems him too important to the country to free is yet to be seen.
All that is known is that Roger Thomas Clark fights on.