A recent cybersecurity conference held at Fordham University in New York City featured speeches by a variety of speakers from law enforcement including agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). During the conference FBI Director Christopher Wray called encryption “a major public safety issue.” Former Director of the CIA John Brennan also spoke at the conference, as well as a computer forensics expert from the FBI’s local office, and the New York City District Attorney. But one of the most interesting talks given at the International Conference on Cyber Security 2018 was a talk given by FBI Special Agent Nicholas G. Phirippidis. Special Agent Phirippidis’ talk was titled “Operation Bayonet: The International Effort to Dismantle AlphaBay.” Unfortunately, it appears that this speech was not as well attended and publicized as the other talks given at the cybersecurity conference.
AlphaBay was one of the biggest darknet markets to follow in the footsteps of the original Silk Road. Like Silk Road, AlphaBay was brought down by an operation of international law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies. The original Silk Road darknet market was launched in February of 2011 and was shut down with the arrest of the site’s creator and administrator Ross Ulbricht, who went by the name Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR). The name of the international law enforcement investigation into the Silk Road darknet market was known as Operation Onymous. AlphaBay was launched in September of 2014 and its creator and administrator was Alexandre Cazes, known by the name alpha02. The name of the international law enforcement investigation into the AlphaBay and HANSA Market darknet markets was known as Operation Bayonet.
Cazes, who was a Canadian citizen, was arrested at his home in Bangkok, Thailand. Approximately one week after he had been taken into custody, Cazes was found hanging by the neck dead in his jail cell, having been found by Thai prison guards. Alexandre Cazes was only 26 years of age when he was found dead. Cazes never received a trial, and technically no government has proven that Cazes was guilty of committing any crimes. Special Agent Nicholas G. Phirippidis was one of the key FBI agents involved in investigating AlphaBay. Phirippidis is an agent from the FBI’s Sacramento, California Division. According to Phirippidis, three days before Cazes was arrested, federal agents saw Cazes pull up in his Porsche to the Bangkok hotel they were staying. Cazes was apparently at the hotel for some kind of business meeting. Phirippidis even walked passed Cazes in the hotel.
During Special Agent Phirippidis’ speech he showed the audience a short clip of footage filmed during the raid on Alexandre Cazes home in Bangkok. “See if you can spot the moment when he realizes he’s about to be arrested,” Special Agent Phirippidis joked with the audience as he showed them a clip from an unreleased video of the arrest of Alexandre Cazes. Many in the crowd laughed, which was an audience that mainly consisted of people involved in law enforcement and in the cybersecurity industry. A member of the media who was in the audience realized that Special Agent Phirippidis was showing unreleased footage from the investigation and pulled a smartphone out and was able to capture about eleven seconds worth of the footage being projected onto a screen.
Special Agent Phirippidis told the audience that the FBI was able to corner and arrest Alexandre Cazes with his unencrypted laptop still logged into his AlphaBay administrator account. Phirippidis explained that the FBI had “rammed a car through the front gate” of Cazes luxurious Bangkok residence. The video that Special Agent Phirippidis showed to the audience during his speech has never been released to the public. The FBI declined to provide a copy of the video to journalists at Motherboard and also refused to provide any of the other materials used during Special Agent Phirippidis’ speech at the cybersecurity conference.
A Freedom of Information Act request will be made to try and obtain the footage of Alexandre Cazes arrest.