287: Chris Tarbell – Silk Road, Dark Web Marketplace

In this episode, former agent Chris Tarbell reviews his investigation and the takedown of the billion-dollar, cryptocurrency-based drug underground marketplace “Silk Road” and the arrest of its founder. The investigation, code-named Operation Onion Peeler, resulted in the largest seizure of bitcoins to date.

Chris Tarbell served in the FBI for nearly 10 years, specializing in cyber investigations and incident response. Initially, he was hired as a CART Forensic Examiner stationed at Quantico, engaging in rapid-response investigations all over the world supporting matters related to terrorism, botnets, and other cybercrimes. Later, the FBI appointed him as a special agent and assigned him to FBI’s preeminent cybercrime squad in New York.

During his career, besides the takedown of Silk Road, Chris was also the lead investigator on several of the Bureau’s most complex and cutting-edge cybercrime cases, including the investigation and arrest of the leadership of Anonymous and the LulzSec hacking crews.

Chris is certified as a subject-matter expert on cellphones and other mobile computing devices, and the Windows and Unix/Linux operating systems and has been qualified in federal court as an expert witness in computer forensics, providing expert testimony in multiple federal criminal trials.

Currently, Chris is the co-founder of NAXO is a cybersecurity and investigations firm focused on cryptocurrency, digital forensics, and cyber defense.

Composed of former FBI special agents, computer scientists, and forensic experts, the company provides proactive and reactive services to law enforcement, legal teams, and growing companies.

Listen to Hacker And The Fed, the podcast, Chris co-hosts with his former subject, Hector Monsegur, now a top network penetration tester and security engineer. They discuss cybersecurity news on the weekly show.

Special Agent and Forensic Examiner (Former)

Chris Tarbell

May 2005 – March 2014







“And if it wasn’t for sale on Silk Road, you could ask for it and sellers would say, ‘I can get my hands on that. This is what I want for it.’ It was literally a bazaar for drug sales.”— Former Agent Chris Tarbell

The following are links to articles about the Silk Road investigation code-named Operation Onion Peeler:

CNET – 10/2/2013: FBI seizes online drug marketplace Silk Road, outs owner in indictment

International Business Times – 10/3/2013: FBI’s Christopher Tarbell – The Elliot Ness of Cyberspace who Busted Silk Road

Irish Times – 10/3/2013: Online drug marketplace Silk Road shut down by FBI 

New York USAO Press Release – 5/5/2015: Ross Ulbricht, the Creator and Owner of the Silk Road Website, Found Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court on All Counts

Wired Magazine – 4/2015: The Rise and Fall of Silk Road Part I

Wired Magazine – 4/2015: The Rise and Fall of Silk Road Part II

Listen to more FBI Retired Case File Review episodes featuring cybercrime here.

Silk Road Logo
Ross Ulbricht launched the dark wesite in 2011.
After its seizure, American users logging onto the site saw this notice.
After its seizure, international users logging onto the site saw this notice.
podcast logo
Chris Tarbell’s podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.






























Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.


  1. Judith ErwinJune 7, 2023

    Outstanding podcast. Chris Tarbell gave a fantastic account of the Silk Road case and provided a clear understanding of the Dark Web for the lay person. Jerri’s questions were spot on in drawing out even more content from his presentation.

    1. Jerri WilliamsJune 10, 2023

      Thank you. I learned a lot too.


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