The site had become a one-stop shop for drugs and other contraband, with thousands of users. It was by far one of the biggest markets for bitcoins with likely millions in annual revenue. At one point it is even alleged that Ulbricht even tried to hire a hitman to kill an individual threatening to expose him.
The FBI claims they were able to catch Ulbricht because he made simple mistakes. From Forbes:
The FBI hasn’t yet revealed how it managed to track down Ulbricht in spite of his seemingly careful use of encryption and anonymity tools to protect his identity and those of his customers and vendors who visited Silk Road as often as 60,000 times per day. The FBI spokesperson declined to offer details about the investigation, but told me that “basically he made a simple mistake and we were able to identify him.”
One clue mentioned in the criminal complaint against Ulbricht was a package seized from the mail by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol as it crossed the Canadian border, containing nine seemingly counterfeit identification documents, each of which used a different name but featured Ulbricht’s photograph. The address on the package was on 15th street in San Francisco, where police found Ulbricht and matched his face to the one on the fake IDs.
While is very possible this could be true, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were NSA involvement.
Just last month we learned that the NSA has been feeding information to the DEA. The DEA would then use this information to find someone but the DEA would coverup the NSA’s involvement by “recreating” the investigation afterwards using sources they theoretically could have found without the NSA’s help.
If ever there was a drug case that the NSA would be involved in, it would be this one. An international marketplace used by criminals all over the world to move finances untraced. This is exactly the type of thing the NSA believes fits under its incredibly broad mission.
Photo released by the FBI