Journalist Investigates The Idealistic Motives Behind Valhalla Market
This article was originally published by the acclaimed journalist Pekka Vahvanen for Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper of Scandinavia. The article was translated to English exclusively for Deepdotweb – A previous interview we have published with Silkkitie / Valhalla admin, can be found here.
While sitting in a café Ville goes through the drug supply of Tor network. On Valhalla darknet market, formerly known as Silkkitie, there is for example amphetamine, LSD, ecstasy, and marijuana available. Ville is a 25 years old grad student of natural sciences. For three years now he has ordered his drugs from the Internet.
Ville takes out a small notebook in which he has listed in chronological order all the substances he has tried. First one is alcohol during elementary school. Then became cannabis in high school. Next in the university were mushrooms, 4-AcO-DMT, 2C-D, MXE, DXM, LSD, amphetamine, cocaine… There are 34 different psychoactive substances in his notebook. Most of them he has ordered through the Tor network.
“Only a few people have the kind of contacts that all these could be found without the Internet.”
Almost in every drug market on the Tor network there is peer assessment. Buyers review vendors and vendors give feedback to buyers. Good reputation is vital for the business. Ville goes through the reviews for Valhalla’s vendors.
“This vendor has 54 sales from which eleven are negatively reviewed. I wouldn’t dare to buy from him, even though the compound for sale interests me.”
According to Global Drug Survey, people ordering drugs from the Internet experience less violence than people who get their substances from the street. On the other hand those ordering online more often lose their money without getting their products. People buying online also try easier new substances – just like Ville.
The estimates of the Internet drug markets’ portion in the whole international drug trade vary. According to Global Drug Survey, 25 percent of the Finnish drug users have ordered substances from darknet during the past year. The survey was participated by 118 Finnish drug users. Ville clicks open another listing on Valhalla.
“From this vendor I wouldn’t buy because the drugs would most likely to be sent from abroad”, says Ville. There has been a flood of international vendors to Valhalla after many other markets going defunct one after another.
Airmail is practically always x-rayed in Finland. Therefore products ordered from abroad are more easily being caught by authorities. According to the Finnish Customs, darknet drug shipments from abroad have increased by dozens of percents a year, over a few years period. That’s why the surveillance has been increased. There have been results, too. In October Customs told that it had caught a Finnish reseller ordering from darknet. A young mann living in Helsinki metropolitan area got caught after purchasing 900 LSD blotters from the UK that were meant for resale. During the last summer the man had already sold on Valhalla, back then Silkkitie, in small batches about 1700 LSD blotters and 600 ecstasy pills. Customs have also managed to uncover drug dealers in few other networks. A week ago Helsinki police department announced catching another darknet drug vendor, who the police is currently suspecting from a felony drug crime.
Mostly Customs get their hands on different kinds of designer drugs. Pharmaceutical and doping substances are being seized a lot more than before. Ville orders his drugs regularly to his home address and doesn’t believe he will be caught.
“It doesn’t make me nervous. If you are a decent guy and don’t make trouble, it doesn’t seem likely that you would ever get caught.”
Vendor named Douppikauppa is the biggest darknet drug vendor in Finland. I send a message to the their customer service where my inquiry for an interview is agreed with pleasure. The person who is introducing himself as founder and leader of Douppikauppa tells in his message that he has an university degree. Besides drug dealing he says he is working in a well-paid job.
“Legal daytime jobs for our employees are a necessity because the drug money couldn’t be used otherwise without raising attention.”
Originally all the profits were put in to the operational growth, he tells. Big purchases opened the gates to the bigger merchants and producers and the prices went down a little.
“Fast growth of Internet sales surprised us and we had to recruit more people, to actually keep ourselves shipping the merchandise same pace as orders came in”, he writes.
According to the founder there are about ten people involved in his operation at the moment. The group has also other online shops for various substances on Valhalla: Hamppukauppa, Ekstaasikauppa, Stimukauppa and Trippikauppa. He says that in drug dealing, that just like in other business, the Internet sales are undermining the older organizations, like outlaw motorcycle clubs.
“Biker gangs don’t appreciate bringing down the amphetamine prices. From our customers you can hear stories about dealers smearing us and our products.”
Douppikauppa’s customers are largely private individuals but include “numerous retailers all over Finland”.
According to Douppikauppa’s leader, because of strict control of Finnish Customs, the drugs are more expensive here than abroad. That’s why there are excellent margins in drug dealing, he boosts. Douppikauppa has also tried luring new users as clients: this and last year they distributed in total over two thousand LSD blotters for free.
Internet drug sales are not a new thing. Already in the year 1972 students of the top US universities, MIT on the East Coast and Stanford on the West Coast, did first ever online drug deal through the Arpanet network back then.
Only in the 2010s the online sales of drugs have started to grow significantly. The most well known darknet market was Silk Road which was founded in the Tor network by the American coder Ross Ulbricht in February 2011. According to the estimates, the total worth of trade made on the site was over 1.2 billion dollars – before Ulbricht was arrested and Silk Road closed in October 2013.
After big efforts the FBI managed to locate the Silk Road servers to Iceland. Finally they had also gotten track of Ulbricht. When the original Silk Road went down a new darknet market Silkkitie, later rebranded as Valhalla, started operating in Finland. The site is being maintained by a pseudonym Kapteeni. He tells in a message sent through his market that the original Silk Road inspired him in getting the project started. Kapteeni claims that the financial aspect for himself is small. Primarily it is about ideological project.
“I want to give people the freedom to decide for their own bodies and their own spare time without harming anybody else.”
According to Kapteeni there was also a personal motive for founding Silkkitie. Kapteeni’s close relative committed suicide long time ago, since he had developed too much dept to street dealers and was afraid of violence.
“Internet drug markets can erase the violence from drug dealing”, Kapteeni writes. Because everything is paid in advance with cryptocurrencies, the buyers cannot develop dept to the vendors, thus the dept won’t be collected with violence. On the other hand the vendors can’t fight for territory since they do not know who the other vendors are.
The sociologist Jussi Perälä has researched Finnish online sales in his dissertation. He does not believe that main portion of dealing would move online. He underlines that some sort of communality belongs to drug culture. Drugs are used in certain situations, certain places and with certain groups of people.
Tor network specialist Niemi worked for the US Army research organization DARPA in Silicon Valley. Nurmi researched the criminal activities happening on the Tor network.
“DARPA is interested in developing a search engine which could be used to better track the criminal activities of darknet.”
Nurmi highlights that the increase in darknet criminality does not necessarily result in the increase of criminal activities in general. Already existing criminality is moving to the Internet, just like many other aspects of society. According to the police there are no signs that drug market in general would have grown, even though the drug sales on the Internet are increasing.
In the morning of 11th of November in 2011 four policemen stood in front of Sebastian Mäki’s home door. The men were from National Bureau of Investigation of Finland. Mäki was in wonder. The police seized all the computers from his apartment and Mäki was taken to the police station. There he found out that he was suspected of leaking personal information of 16,000 Finnish people to Ylilauta, an anonymous forum similar to 4chan. The police had technical reason to suspect Mäki: the leak of personal information had happened from the IP address of his computer.
But Mäki was no behind the leak. His IP address was shown to the police because he administrated a so called exit node for Tor network. It means that Mäki’s computer became a connection point between the Tor network and other Internet. Without these connection points Tor network wouldn’t work. According to the police there are about 50 exit node admins in Finland who might get in police interrogations when bigger illegalities are happening through their exit nodes.
Mäki was found not guilty and his computers were returned to him after five days. For Mäki and many other exit node admins Tor is not criminal network but more of a promoter of individual freedoms and human rights.
“The need for encrypted messaging has grown because private information is being gathered by criminals, intelligence agencies, advertisers and even illegally by the police”, Mäki says in his two room apartment in Ilpoinen suburb of Turku, Finland.
The fact that 33 years old Mäki is a programmer can easily be noticed. The desks of apartment are filled with computers and monitors. In used Pringles packs are microcircuits packed in plastic tubes. The trash bin under the table is full of empty cigarette packs.
Mäki has been interested in the society and philosophy since he was small. He works in the Finnish company Bittiraha which offers a Bitcoin exchange and other related services. He belongs to the Pirate Party of Finland.
For Mäki the Tor network is a political question and it’s not only about valuing the privacy. Many Internet liberals believe that the Tor network and Bitcoin cryptocurrency will change the society radically: they will increase the latitude of freedom and decrease the role of government. If people are trading online anonymously, the government’s ability to tax and regulate the society will decrease.
Mäki believes that the role of government might eventually be replaced by digital communities without leaders. They would be organized by computer algorithms. According to Mäki the problem in governments is that they are based on a geological area. People become unequal because of their habitation. When electronic communities are available for all, everyone has the same rights.
“We have to keep in mind that this kind of organisation can also fail. We must not be too gullible.”
When American Ross Ulbricht founded the original Silk Road, he wanted to build a libertarian ideal community where people are free from restrictions of the government. His online community was supposed to be ruled by fairness between people.
“Our basic rules include: treat others like you would want yourself to be treated. And do not harm or scam others”, he wrote on the forum of Silk Road.
His anti-government experiment still discovered many of the same problems as the traditional government. The market was undermined by hackers, threat makers, rivals and scammers. Ulbricht found out that in the kingdom of freedom you also need order. He allegedly paid hundreds of thousands for hitmen, though it is assumed that the hitmen didn’t eventually carry out their jobs. Ulbricht was sentenced for life in the end of May for money laundering, hacking, drug dealing and conspiracy.
Juha Nurmi reminds that the positive sides of Tor network do still win over the negative sides. Many dissidents have survived alive because the use of Tor Browser has covered them from getting caught. In the Internet-censoring countries like China Tor Browser can give you possibility to read for example Wikipedia. In Western countries the media uses Tor network when being in contact with whistleblowers.
“Some say that the privacy on the Internet is not important, because they’ve got nothing to hide”, says Nurmi.
“It is a bit like saying that I don’t need the freedom of speech, because I got nothing to say. You can’t think of human rights from the perspective that they are not needed, because I personally don’t use them right now.”