After AlphaBay: Mitigating harm, holding tight to the big picture

After AlphaBay: Mitigating harm, holding tight to the big picture


Federal attacks on the crypto-heavy darknet is often referred to as a war on drugs. In practice it’s a war on their populations, but there’s probably some benefit in playing along with the martial terminology. Let’s apply a little history – both the bang-bang kind and the crypto kind – to this Dutch/Fed/also-ran takedown of Hansa and AlphaBay (see here if you want to read about the BTC-e takedown).

During WWII, it was around mid-1942 when astute Japanese soldiers began to notice that the official reports of glorious victories were coming from locations closer and closer to Tokyo. Federal forces fighting against Vietnamese really did win countless small victories, but strangely each “win” seemed to be followed by a new battle against a larger or better enemy force. Strategically speaking, the astute Feds occupying part of Indochina knew that type of winning is called “losing.”

“This ranks as one of the most successful coordinated takedowns against cybercrime in recent years,” says a Europol official in a Fed press release.

Tactically speaking this may be true, but (since we’re talking about Holland anyway) it’s more reminiscent of the German successes around Arnhem in 1944. Back in those days, a different minority of Dutch collaborators assisted the Nazis in slowing the allied advance toward Germany, toward a liberated Western Europe. Today, the forces of relative freedom are again advancing in many ways… and they’re “losing” battles closer and closer to the hearts of empires. As the Allies and Free French once liberated France from traitors and Hitlerites, so too the ever expanding alliance of electronic tinkerers and codesmiths already liberated much “intellectual property” and some currency traffic.

“When was the last time you had trouble downloading a free song?” crowed one activist on talk radio. There was a moment when Imperial prosecutors were presumably breaking their arms patting themselves on the back… Glorying in their destruction of Napster. Like AlphaBay, it was a brilliant platform. Its loss, like the Allied frustrations in Holland, was a blow. But now it seems no one can stop the flood of music and video; all seem to take their fill at the almost free and equal trough; few interfere.

As Japan once achieved glorious “victories” closer and closer to Tokyo, so modern empires are “defeating” the darknet.

Historical recurrence

The numbers in the Feds’ own propaganda read like the coordinates in Tokyo’s Pacific war reports. They tell the larger, probably positive, tale:

“… one AlphaBay staff member claimed that it serviced over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors,” reads a Department of Justice statement. “Around the time of takedown, there were over 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals on AlphaBay… over 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents alongside access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms and fraudulent services. Comparatively, the Silk Road dark web marketplace, which was seized by law enforcement in November 2013, had reportedly approximately 14,000 listings for illicit goods and services at the time of seizure and was the largest dark web marketplace at the time.”

Imperial spokesmen are telling you that less than four years after the Silk Road’s destruction, a new menace had emerged to Fed control which had 250,000 listings instead of 14,000. Reminiscent of the expanded Vietnamese resistance they faced in 1968, Washington’s gulagists tactically defeated that enemy, but this time it was 18 times larger than the last one. This is like amputating larger and larger tumors from your body, eventually one will be too big to remove and it will have billions of users… the whole civilized world against them.

Sounds even more like 1945 when you put it that way, but maybe the next number we should process is “2005.” That’s the year YouTube came along and became a place where anyone could – and did – upload any piece of music they wanted. No one dared take this Goliath down, and a bit like the victorious Western powers after 1945, the vanquished discovered their conquerors weren’t all that cruel to them once they’d completed the victory.

In their time, alternate American currency producers like NORFED and E-gold suffered and died at the hands of Washington… Presumably Satoshi himself was watching, learning, decentralizing his plans. He gave us a currency which, like YouTube, they apparently can’t reliably take away. So it may well be with drugs and things that are supposedly but rarely dangerous in reputation-based web markets. With strong enough decentralized platforms and delivery mechanisms, one day we may all be able to have the freedom of choice without fear.

As in bang-bang war, the casualties are heartbreaking. This latest attack on AlphaBay even has a literal body count if you factor the alleged suicide of its suspected founder, Alexandre Cazes. How deep we’ve sunk since the Napster days of “…courteous, grave, exactly-measured phrases in large peaceful rooms” as said by Winston Churchill.

If it’s a war on drugs, then we the people are suffering the brunt of the casualties instead of the meth crystals. We could use a medic or two on the battlefield. Here is the most efficient thing I can think of which you can do by yourself if you want to:

Establish a crypto-community-oriented service similar to the free staters’ now-defunct

Mail-to-Jail was a site which listed all the New Hampshire liberty activists who were detained at any moment. You could send an e-mail to the site which included a letter for the detainee; Mail-to-Jail would print the letter, then send it to them in lockup. I received about 30 letters during the six days I served for trying to film in a courthouse. This resulted in respectful treatment from the guards, but more importantly the letters were just fun to read. This service went away eventually as NH authorities reduced their persecution of freedom activists here. But the world at large is still in “ridicule-fight” phase as it grapples with people who try to provide others with  economic and social liberty.

Imagine a Mail-to-Jail type service run on donations or for profit… on a national or global scale. Aimed at funneling mail to crypto-prisoners, it could at least entertain and turn each of them into respected figures within their gulags. That’s a modest but concrete improvement over what many of them probably are now. Often viewed as common drug dealers or cyber-criminals, why not turn them into something greater in the minds of their captors? Why not do something that will transform the darknet community into more of a civic and moral force as opposed to a primarily economic one? Amnesty International does this sort of thing for “their” political prisoners. There’s no reason we can’t do it for ours… though it probably wouldn’t hurt if darknet platforms do all they can to prevent real acts of aggression via their services.

Sometimes the wish is father to the thought, and it is comfortable – thus dangerous – for us to think that the world’s empires are losing the war against their populations, the one which they couch as a war on drugs. But the history of Imperial victories is one of tactical success eventually followed by strategic withdrawal. Until the day the tormentors of the world realize they are surrounded by opponents and bypassers… the day they pull a George Wallace and admit they were wrong or start pretending they agreed with us all along, it is my job and yours to mitigate their human destruction wherever practical.

Featured image sourced from Wikimedia commons

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