November 1–8, 2001
Master of Bins’ Domain
Christopher Curry knows a good bargain when he sees one. Curry, 30, is a web designer from Los Angeles who has recently gotten into the business of domain speculating.
Curry, like his fellow domain masters, tries to find words, or combinations of words, that might be worth something to someone someday, or he waits for an already registered domain name to expire.
The biggest payday for a domain speculator, says Curry, was the 7 million semolians shelled out for business.com.
As long as speculators don’t violate trademark rights, "these things can go from $1,000 to $200,000 or $300,000," says Curry, who has yet to hit that kind of mother lode. "This is a new sidetrack for me."
Curry’s new sidetrack has taken him to a most interesting purchase.
Its worth is questionable.
But its interest value is phenomenal.
Last week, Curry bought saudi-binladin-group.com, the domain registered on Sept. 11, 2000, with a preset expiration date of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I was tracking the Internet to get some information about the Binladin firm when I realized the names were about to expire," Curry says via an early morning phone call from his home in Los Angeles.
At first, Curry says he didn’t really think much about the domain name and its expiration date.
"I didn’t put the dots together until about a week later," says Curry, adding that, after reading my previous columns speculating on whether the website was a tipoff for the Sept. 11 attacks, he too began wondering.
"It is a pretty strange coincidence, yes," he says.
Strange or otherwise, Curry says saudi-binladin-group.com has been a frequently visited site since he took over.
"It’s already getting 15,000 unique visitors a day," says Curry, adding that he is "getting hate mail from the loopty-loo types. People are wondering what’s going on. People have asked, How can you do this?’ or You’re a murderer,’ or, How can you capitalize on this?’ I put a disclaimer on, saying I am not affiliated with the organization."
Despite the angry e-mails and any potential past connection between saudi-binladin-group.com and Osama, Curry says he is not worried about being the domain’s new owner.
"I am not afraid of anything," he says. "Saudi Binladin Group and the terrorists are two different groups."
Curry says he hasn’t heard from any law enforcement agencies, but he has been receiving many inquiries from the media.
"I’ve heard from Bloomberg, USA Today," he says. "I am not sure how to handle this. I was not anticipating this much interest from the media. I don’t know if talking to the press is a good idea."
As for the domain name’s value, Curry says he is clueless. And so far, out of all those hits, nobody has yet expressed any interesting taking it off his hands.
But, if and when someone does, Curry says it will all be for a good cause.
"I am going to donate the money to the American Red Cross," he says.
Dr. Neil Livingstone, CEO of Global Options, a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism and investigations company, has looked into a number of potentially attack-related domain names registered well before Sept. 11, 2001.
He’d not heard of the domain name Curry now owns and, initially, was intrigued.
"It could have been a signal," he says in a Tuesday morning phone interview. "We do not know how many times [the hijackers] had to stand down. Maybe everything worked flawlessly."
But upon closer examination, Livingstone says that perhaps saudi-binladin-group.com and its Sept. 11, 2001 expiration date was "an odd coincidence."
"Normally, I don’t believe in coincidences," he says from an Acela heading northbound to New York. "But this does not appear to have a connection to al-Qaeda."
That does not rule out a connection.
The key, he says, is to find Philip Lumsden, who registered the domain name for Arq Limited, a now-defunct British web design firm that created the Binladin site.
As long as I have him on the line, I have to ask Livingstone, whose company counts as advisers such super-spooks as Adm. William Crowe, former head of the joint chiefs of staff, and Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA, whether he knew the details behind Attorney General John Ashcroft’s recent terror warning.
"I know the details, but I cannot discuss them," he says.
Is Philly — particularly now that it is hosting the Corporate Council on Africa’s international business summit — at any greater risk?
"Bin Laden has already targeted Africa," says Livingstone, noting that most of the victims of the two embassy bombings were African. "I do not necessarily think that he is out to alienate other parts of the world right now."
There are other reasons to attack Philadelphia, Livingstone says.
"Philadelphia is not as alert or as well secured as New York or Washington. It is a major East Coast city with a port facility. There are a variety of options for mayhem."
That said, Livingstone adds that from Osama bin Laden’s point of view, it makes more sense to attack the U.S. heartland.
"They would be better advised, from their point of view, to attack the Mall of America [in Minnesota] and carry the war to the heartland. If they hit out there, they will spread the panic."