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FBI and Homeland Security shut down Silk Road 2, arrest alleged operator

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Silk Road 2, a replacement for the notorious online drug bazaar that went dark in October of 2013, has been seized in a joint action involving the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and European law enforcement. The hidden site and its forums now display only the splash page below, and an FBI spokesperson confirmed with The Verge that the domain had in fact been shut down. In a public statement, the FBI and Homeland Security said that they had also arrested suspected operator Blake Benthall ("Defcon") in California on Wednesday.

26-year-old Benthall had allegedly "controlled and overseen all aspects of Silk Road 2.0" since December 2013, one month after the site launched. From December to February, according to Business Insider, he also worked for private spaceflight company SpaceX. In its complaint, the FBI says that he was found in part because he had supplied his own email address ("blake@benthall.net") for a Silk Road 2.0 server, and had contacted the server's service provider or accessed invoices without anonymizing software. According to various records, he received a steady Bitcoin income as well, at one point putting down $70,000 in bitcoin as a down payment for a Tesla Model S. He will appear today in federal court, charged with one count of conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, one count of conspiring to commit computer hacking, one count of conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, and one count of money laundering conspiracy.

Silk Road 2.0 Seized

According to the FBI, Silk Road 2 had roughly 150,000 active users and had sales of $8 million per month as of September 2014; officials once claimed that nearly a million were registered on the old Silk Road. It was brought down after being infiltrated by an undercover Homeland Security agent, who gained access to administrative functions and regularly interacted with Benthall. If convicted, Benthall faces up to life in prison. He's the second alleged Silk Road operator to be taken down in a drug bust; Ross Ulbricht, who the FBI claims ran the first site under the alias "Dread Pirate Roberts," was arrested and indicted in 2013. More charges have been added since then, and currently, his trial is set to begin in January of 2015.

Authorities have been aware of Silk Road 2 since the beginning, and its shutdown occurred precisely one year after it began; on Reddit, some users briefly speculated that the seizure was simply site maintenance or a denial of service attack. The service had apparently been hacked in February, losing $2.7 million in bitcoin. While the Silk Road name was once synonymous with online drug markets, the first site's shutdown launched a plethora of imitators, making Silk Road 2 merely one of many options. According to the FBI, the site had 13,000 drug listings as of late October.

Update November 6th, 3:20pm ET: Updated with details from Benthall complaint.