What’s in a name?

Written by Dave Robson on Wednesday January 23, 2013

The Christmas period was pretty standard in my house. Visiting family, family visiting us, an excess of cheese and biscuits, and a variety of PS3 games/TV movies.

One of the films the kids and I watched was the Princess Bride. Not the most recent film by any stretch of the imagination, but one I had always meant to get round to watching (as whenever it’s mentioned, it’s always said how good the film is – something borne out by reviews and its Rotten Tomatoes rating).

The plot

In the Princess Bride, the ‘Farmboy’ hero (called Westley), leaves his true love (Buttercup) at the start of the film so he can make his fortune (as he concludes they can’t get married whilst he’s skint).

We then discover that the ship he was sailing on was attacked by the notorious ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’. And unfortunately, as everybody knows, he leaves no survivors. Cue sobbing from Buttercup.

Anyway – skipping forward a few plot twists – Buttercup is captured/rescued by Dread Pirate Roberts, much to her displeasure, given what had happened to Westley. Of course, the eagle eyed viewer has discerned that Dread Pirate Roberts is in fact Westley – something he reveals to Buttercup shortly afterwards. He then has to explain himself…

This is how it goes. Dread Pirate Roberts has been around for decades. Everyone knows and fears him. Westley was captured, but was spared and became the assistant of the Captain. After a while they became friends, and Westley was let in on the secret. There never really is a single Dread Pirate Roberts.

Well, there was one originally – but he quickly realised it was better to make your money then retire. But to keep it going, he secretly passed on the title, crew and outfit to another man. Then this happened again. And again. It transpires that Westley is the fourth or fifth Dread Pirate Roberts.

The point

That’s great Dave. Thanks for the film recommendation and summary of your Christmas – but what’s the point?

Bear with me. I wrote this blog after reading a coincidental news story yesterday. As you might know, at ICA we have been working with New Payment Products & Services (NPPS) a lot recently. There’s a new Specialist Certificate in ML Risk in NPPS launching imminently.

The BBC reported yesterday that Silk Road had forfeit Bitcoins to the value of $28m. This was because they were considered to be the proceeds of crime.

The US authorities have alleged that Silk Road had been designed to "enable its users to buy and sell illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services anonymously".

Charges have also been filed against Ross William Ulbricht, the alleged owner of the Silk Road site. Mr Ulbricht is apparently also known as ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’.

I thought this was pretty interesting, in a ‘what does it mean/pop trivia’ kind of way.

The power of a name

Is there only ever one Dread Pirate Roberts? I don’t know. But it made me think about how influences in some of the criminal areas we work with are drawn from popular culture. And they seem particularly relevant in the work of NPPS, e-crime and money laundering, where reputation, notoriety and a lack of transparency are powerful tools.

I could think of a couple more too.

  • V for Vendetta and its use of the Guy Fawkes mask; also adopted by Hacktivist collection Anonymous. 
  • Maybe not quite in the same vein, but anyone remember Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects? Soze is a crime lord whose ruthlessness and influence acquired a legendary, status among police and criminals alike, yet even his own henchmen often don't know for whom they really work.

These parallels seem to fit quite well to the emerging risk areas I’ve described above. So if anyone can think of any others/sees Keyser Soze used as a pseudonym, let me know please?

Or maybe I’ll just watch The Usual Suspects next Christmas and see if lightning strikes twice.


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