OP-ED: Agora, Where’s My BTC (and your consistency), Bitch?

6 minute read

Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD

August 31, 2015

Note: This article is represents the author’s personal experience and concerns only, we KNOW and confirmed that many other people did get all their money just fine and acknowledge the fact that we have no way to know whats going on behind the scenes that is the cause for all of this.

First up, let me say this – shock of shocks, horror of horrors, a guy who has been known to write about dark net markets might actually be known to hold some BTC in them in buyer account from time to time. Let me qualify that, though – for starters, not everything one might procure on a DNM is illegal (there are some useful guides, for example, which cover all manner of topics), and furthermore, just how do you think I get paid by some people for some things? Do you really think that some guy in a cheap suit who makes Saul Goodman look like the epitome of class, who leads something of a double life by writing about the dark web when he’s not billing legal clients for time, gets his personal financial matters handled by having other parties who owe him money cut a check to my firm every time I lift my pen, or send a wire to my account in the Caymans or Switzerland, or that we arrange to meet up in a dark alley in Williamsburg where I go through an elaborate handshake sequence with a guy wearing a carnation in his lapel before a third party in a long coat and a fedora conducts a brush pass to me, delivering a thick manila envelope?

I really hope to god nobody answered yes to any of the above… the reality is that I, too, make substantial use BTC, and not only that, as I openly state above, I have been known to hold funds in DNM accounts – I’ve been doing so since the days of SR1. I mean, come one, I write articles about the Deep Web – this shouldn’t really be a surprise. If my straight up, business hours day job would pay me in BTC, I’d accept it. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be the first lawyer to openly accept bitcoin. But back on topic… yours truly, Allen Hoffmann, JD, is not just writing about Agora’s borderline strange behavior at the moment as an objective observer. Rather, I am directly impacted by it.

I happened to have some BTC sitting in an account at Agora when I logged in quite recently to discover the ‘we’re closing for a while, pull your coins and finish your business’ message which is now well and truly known to all. So I did as I was told – I transferred out my BTC to another wallet. The transfer was confirmed by Agora. But do you know what has showed up in that BTC address at this moment in time, a couple of days later? Nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch. This is odd, considering I am reliably informed by various parties that they have received their withdrawals without incident, and yet others, including myself, have yet to see a Satoshi. And now, whilst often available, the site comes up and goes down like a seesaw.

Much is, has and always was, made of just how security conscious the team at Agora claimed to be – a group so concerned with OPSEC that running the business absolutely safely was always the primary concern, after, presumably, profit margins.

Down time to prevent penetration and fix some vapor-like vulnerabilities were the rule, rather than the exception, for a period in the past. It pissed off buyers. It pissed of sellers. In actual fact, it pissed off all parties involved with the possible exception of the management team at Agora, who either spent the down time fixing problems, real or otherwise, or perhaps cracking whippits and laughing at their user base for being so retarded as to buy what they were saying.

Many a fan of Agora, when it was spending more time down than up, migrated elsewhere. Some returned, some decided to stay away, and Agora, despite being the dominant brand for a lengthy period, is now set to lose even more ground, with their claims that OPSEC cannot be assured owing to recent research revelations which espouse new attack methodologies via which interested parties, including LE, may compromise the anonymity of TOR sites.

What we see from Agora’s management team is a supposed dedication to operational security which is beginning to skirt the wrong side of paranoia. To call the Agora admin team anything other than paranoid is laughable, but there’s method to what some may perceive as madness. Don’t get me wrong on the issue of paranoia – I know more than one person who found the saying “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out to get you” to be a very practical mantra by which to live, and being overly cautious in one’s questionable dealings has kept more than one person out of the line of inquiries in an investigation, or for that matter, out of cuffs.

In one instance, the specifics of which I must obviously omit, one parties’ paranoia and actions flowing from his preferred course of action in removing a particular item, from a particular house, on a particular night, owing to something very specific spooking said party, taking precedence over another’s very straight up, almost hostile ‘you’re being paranoid, maaaaaaaaan, STFU’ approach, turned out to be the deciding difference between how the warrant which was served by a large contingent from both state and federal agencies early the next morning went down. Paranoia is not, necessarily, a bad thing.

But back to the present matter – Are the Agora management team’s concerns leading up to now, generally speaking, well-founded, or something akin to digital mysticism? Are these downtimes we are now so very used to actually necessary? Or are the holes and vulnerabilities, real or suspected, which are being patched up, being whispered in the ears of the Agora admin team after asking some kind of deep web shaman, perhaps the some pixels which they regard as representing the spirit of the Blockchain, after the burning of some incense (or some, what I believe the kids these days refer to as, ‘dank nugs’) and some kind of incantations being uttered to a CPU on some kind of pedestal, when they should pull their site apart or mess with their membership’s abilities to access funds?

Neither I, nor most other commentators, are calling this an exit scam as yet, but the lack of consistency in handling withdrawals which is very much apparent at this point, is a deep and abiding concern when measures as drastic as a temporary suspension of operations is going into effect – I can understand Agora sitting on accounts where the BTC is in escrow, or the account holder didn’t log in and request a withdrawal. But I, dear readers, did log in, requested a withdrawal, saw it confirmed, and still, quite a number of days on, my BTC has not so much as begun its journey through the block chain, much less arrived in my nominated wallet.

This is a direct message to Agora management – don’t take it personally, but seriously, regardless of your explanations, I would pimp slap the living shit out of you (JD or not, my pimp hand is strong), and demand to know “Where’s my money, bitch?” if I could right now. Your reasons for pulling the site into hiatus may be well founded, or they may be based on nebulous intelligence or outright spurious conjecture, but that brings me back to the original question which came after the first pimp slapping… Where’s my money, bitch?

Updated: 2015-08-31