US Marshals Accidentally Revealed Who's After the Silk Road Bitcoins

Those who emailed about the Bitcoin auction have had their identity revealed by the US Marshals' email blunder.

Jun 19 2014, 11:50am
Image: Lightboxx/Shutterstock

Last week, the US Marshals announced they were planning to auction off a load of Bitcoin seized during the FBI's investigation into Silk Road. Nearly 30,000 BTC—or  around $17.7 million dollars at the time of print—is going under the hammer. The coin will be sold off in nine 3,000 BTC chunks, with a final chunk of 2,657. That's a colossal amount of cryptocurrency, and a tempting buy for anyone wanting to short-cut their way to the top of the Bitcoin business. 

Now, a list of people who have shown interest in the auction has leaked. Not by a disgruntled Silk Road member, or a hacker looking for a payday, but because someone at the US Marshals forgot to blind copy all of the recipients in an email, according to Bitcoin news website CoinDesk.

The point of the email was simply to let people know about an FAQ that the Marshals had put together. Instead, a list of individuals and businesses who have expressed interest in Silk Road's Bitcoin—presumably including some of those interested in bidding on it—was let out into the wild.

Two of the people on the email, in what might become an awkward meeting at the water-cooler, are both from financial administration company SecondMarket. Bitcoin-focused businesses such as Coinbase, Bitcoins Reserve, Bitcoin Shop and DigitalBTC have a presence. A few individuals have submitted queries too, from investment professionals to musicians.

It might be a good idea for those people to brush up on their internet and computer security. The world of Bitcoin is inhabited not just by venture capitalists, but by hackers who will gladly target people in the hope of prying the coin from their hands.

I reached out to some of those on the list for comment. The only person that got back to me was Luther Lowe, who is director of public policy for Yelp. In an email he told me, “No Yelp involvement. I had a question about the auction.”

Again, it is unclear whether all or any of these have submitted the $200,000 deposit necessary to participate in the auction, or whether they are going buy any of the Bitcoin. The email list only demonstrates that they contacted the US Marshals concerning the sale.

In a statement to CoinDesk, a US Marshals spokesperson said, “The message was not intended for any particular group of people, but for anyone who had emailed a question to the general mailbox to ask about the auction. Only recipient email addresses were disclosed.”

Those interested in buying the mountains of digital currency have to outline any relationship they may have with Ross Ulbricht, the alleged owner of the Silk Road site that was shut down in October 2013. “Please describe any contact, communication or other relationships between the Bidder and/or any Control Person with Ross William Ulbricht or the Silk Road, or anyone whom you know to be acting on behalf of Ross William Ulbricht or the Silk Road," reads the application form.

However, these 30,000BTC are only the tip of the seized Silk Road money pile. Another Bitcoin wallet seized by the US Marshals from Ulbricht is holding approximately 144,342BTC—around $87 million. It is unclear what will happen to this stockpile.

Meanwhile on the forums of Silk Road 2—a website that quickly sprang up after the original site was shut down—the auction has opened up old wounds. Those who lost their assets in the 2013 seizure, both vendors and buyers, are venting their outrage. “I will take my $2,000 back please, Mr. Government,” writes user TPH1. “Thieving bastards,” says anontoker.

 A forum user called Denotsko, however, observed that the auction could actually work in Bitcoin's favour in one way. “I'd like to thank the FBI for helping make BTC a legitimate holder of value. Until now no GOV has publicly profited from BTC. This auction will be a huge victory for Bitcoin. Recognition by the US government is a giant step,” they wrote.

The auction is taking place on June 27, and the winners will be notified on June 30.