Day 6 of Ulricht Silk Road Trial: From Inside the Courtroom

The prosecution concluded their cross examination of FBI agent Thomas Kiernan, the agent who extracted evidence from Ulbricht’s computer.  Kiernan explains how he found a database containing deposits, vendor details, and expenses.  from there the defense starts their cross examination.

After a day of the prosecution presenting one incriminating chat log after the other, the journal entries, spreadsheets, payroll list, etc, defense attorney Dratel decides to start off with a line of questioning that implied DPR would not have faced a window allowing law enforcement to see what he was doing on his computer, as Kiernan testified to.  His reasoning was that he mentioned in a chat log to be careful not to allow anyone to see them working on anything to do with the site when in a public place.  The jury did not seem to buy that.

From there Dratel brought up that the program bit torrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing program, was on Ulbricht’s computer and that the program opens a port to your computer and is known to lead to malware being downloaded.  Dratel tried to suggest the “very possible” scenario that through bit torrent, Ulbricht downloaded malware that allowed a third party to take over his laptop and put all of those thousands of pages of chat logs, the journals, etc onto his computer, since they are such small files that could quickly be downloaded without him noticing.  The jury did not seem to buy that one.

Dratel goes on to ask Kiernan technical questions about Linux and servers when the judge ruled that he cannot ask him any technical questions.  She explained that his testimony is based around his extraction of the evidence and what he found; he is not an expert witness.  The judge explained, in front of the jury, that if he wanted to ask those questions he would need to call in his own expert witness.  After the jury left for break, Dratel became a little dramatic and stated that the judges ruling that he needed to call an expert witness implied to the jury that the burden of proof falls on the defense not the prosecution.  This led to him making a motion for mistrial.  The judge denied it.

Dratel then refers to a journal entry (that he just insinuated was downloaded by a hacker through malware downloaded from bit torrent) from 2010 where Ulricht writes that he is going to become a day trader.  This seems to be part of their strategy, to suggest that Ulbricht had so many bitcoins because he was self employed as a day trader.  I m not sure how well that came across to the jury, since he was not able to explain that to the jury through a question.

The prosecution began their redirect of Kiernan.  Kiernan stated that he checked Ulbricht’s computer for malware but found none.  He then went on to say that all files from bit torrent, unless moved to another folder, are saved in the downloads folder and that none of the evidence mentioned came from the download folder.  Essentially killing the “third party malware” theory.

Prosecution then calls their next witness special agent from the F.B.I. Gregory Fein and thank God they decided to spend your tax dollars to fly him in from San Francisco and put him up in a hotel for two nights because he gave a riveting TWO minute testimony on how he found two flash drives in Ulbricht’s house and walked out.  He was not even worth a single question from the defense.

The next witness was a college friend of Ulbricht computer specialist who ironically currently works for eBay.  Bates helped Ulbricht early on with questions he had about php, servers, general programming questions and web design.  At first he did not know what Ulricht was doing but later became one of two people he told about starting/running Silk Road.  He helped Ulbricht unwittingly for several months and then for several more months after learning about the secret project Ulbricht was involved in.  He bought drugs on the site and later got involved with Ulbricht in starting a bitcoin exchange that never came to fruition.  Shortly after Ulbricht was arrested, Bates was interviewed by authorities and later charged with buying drugs, giving technical assistance to Silk Road, and presumably conspiracy to commit money laundering via the bitcoin exchange that never came to fruition.  Bates was offered a deal where he would not be prosecuted if he cooperated with the government and testified against Ulbricht.

Bates states that he told Ulbricht in November of 2011 that he should shut down the site and that Ulbricht told him that he could not because he sold it.  Bates never confirmed whether or not it was true but later in 2013 on a google chat log, Ulbricht tells him that he no longer ran the site.  It was not clear but Bates seemed to imply that he thinks Ulbricht was lying to him but that was not in his testimony.

Dratel brings up that Bates’ government deal provides all of his assistance to the prosecution’s case is controlled by the US attorney office and that government determines whether or not he gives false testimony or violates the agreement.  Essentially Dratel is insinuating that Bates is being coerced into testifying against Ulbricht by the government because it is the government that decides whether or not he gives false testimony and it is in his best interest to say what the government wants him to say to avoid being prosecuted.  It was not clear whether or not the jury bought that or not.

Dratel then asked him about his investments in bitcoin and silver.  Bates states that he and Ulbricht spoke frequently about bitcoin and Dratel showed google chat logs to support that.  This was to further paint the picture that Ulbricht was merely highly interested in bitcoin from an investment standpoint and was planning on creating a bitcoin exchange with Bates based on that mutual interest.  That argument was well presented by Dratel.

He did not ask Bates about Ulbricht stating that he sold Silk Road.  It seems like a good strategy considering Bates seemed to believe it was a lie and because now Dratel can use that testimony in the context of “the only witness who knew about Ulbricht’s involvement in Silk Road testified that Ulbricht told him he sold the site..” in his closing argument.

The next witness was special agent Chris Beeson from the F.B.I. who works as a computer examiner who imaged the data from Ulbricht’s computer and the two thumb drives that Agent Fein had to fly in from San Francisco to tell us he found. He recorded the hash values on all three before and after he sent them to the NY office to be analyzed by Agent Kiernan, which showed that the files were unchanged.

Dratel asked him about the error message that came up while he was imaging the computer. Beeson stated that there was an error message and that it was most likely due to data being changed while imagining the computer.  Dratel is making an argument for the possibility that the data/files were in fact changed in some way during the investigation of Ulbricht’s laptop.

Court adjourned for the day and will resume next monday starting with the rest of Beeson’s testimony, which Dratel said has about 10 minutes left to go.  Mr. Beeson walked out with a smile from ear to ear because he has an unexpected extra four nights of vacation in New York City paid for by the tax payer that he himself is getting paid to take.

It was hard for the defense to have had a worse day then they had yesterday.  That being said it was not a bad day for them but neither was it a good day.  The prosecution has an extremely strong case against Ulbricht with a ridiculous amount evidence against him.  The only way it looks like for Ulbricht to win this is for someone to show the jury how much of their tax dollars were wasted on this investigation and prosecution of a guy who ran a website that did not contribute to any theft of property or otherwise harm a single person.  Maybe then they will decide that they do not want to fund anymore organized crucifixions of citizens and decide in Ulbricht’s favor.

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