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Shortly earlier than AlphaBay took excessive spot on the darkish net, Alpha02 had modified his username on the location to easily “admin” and introduced that he would not settle for any non-public messages despatched to him by anybody apart from Alpha workers. AlphaBay. As a substitute, he left a lot of the location’s communications work to his second-in-command and head of safety, a determine who glided by the identify of DeSnake.

The Alpha02 moniker had served its objective, giving the location its preliminary credibility. Now the individual behind it was attempting, like discreet crime bosses the world over, to sneak into the shadows, amassing his fortune as quietly and anonymously as attainable.

That fortune, on the time of Alpha02’s identify change, was rising at an unprecedented fee: As of October 2015, AlphaBay had greater than 200,000 customers and greater than 21,000 drug product listings, in comparison with simply 12,000. listings on Silk Highway at their peak. Someday in mid-2016, AlphaBay surpassed Agora’s most gross sales fee of $350,000 per day, in accordance with Carnegie Mellon researchers. It had turn out to be not solely the most important black market on the darkish net, but in addition the most important cryptocurrency black market of all time. And it was nonetheless rising wildly.

It was clear to Grant Rabenn, the Fresno prosecutor, that Alpha02 was now probably the most wished man on the darkish net; Rabenn in contrast his notoriety amongst digital crime investigators to that of Osama bin Laden. AlphaBay and Alpha02 had been invoked at each cybercrime regulation enforcement convention, at each interagency assembly, at each coaching occasion, says Rabenn. And because the goal on Alpha02’s again grew bigger, so did the unstated concern that this mastermind might be one step forward of them indefinitely.

“Is that this individual only a pure genius who found all of the attainable errors?” Rabenn remembers asking himself. “Has this man discovered the right nation with the suitable IT infrastructure to run a market and he can bribe officers there so we by no means contact him?

“As the times glided by, there was, an increasing number of, the sensation that this might be the particular one,” says Rabenn. “You begin to surprise: Is that this the Michael Jordan of the darkish net?”

However Rabenn adopted these Alpha02 discussions from a distance. The concept his Fresno crew would possibly tackle the Michael Jordan of the darkish net had by no means occurred to him. “You do not anticipate individuals like us,” he says merely, “to hang-out a web site like that.”



Earlier than Grant Raben grew to become a federal prosecutor, his second job out of regulation college was at a boutique agency in Washington, DC, devoted to defending white-collar criminals. The younger lawyer with olive pores and skin, darkish hair and a Hollywood smile ended up representing Russian oligarchs and company executives accused of bribing international governments. “Very fascinating, rich individuals attempting to cover their belongings and keep away from scrutiny,” as he described them, or alternatively, “James Bond characters jet-setting all over the world with suitcases full of money.”

Rabenn was captivated by these glimpses of a world of billions of {dollars} shifting in invisible transactions. However he additionally found that he each admired and envied the prosecutors on the opposite facet of the desk: the way in which they labored within the public curiosity and had a sure autonomy, selecting which instances they pursued. So he began making use of for jobs on the Justice Division and at last discovered one in Fresno.

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The Hunt for the Dark Web’s Biggest Kingpin, Part 1: The Shadow

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