Over 35 dark web drugs and arms dealers have been arrested in a nation-wide bust by a joint operation between the US Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Secret Service (USSS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). This bust was the first nation-wide undercover operation to sweep dark web drug dealers.
Law enforcement agents disguised themselves as money launderers on various dark web marketplaces, including Hansa, Dream, Silk Road 2, AlphaBay and many more during the year-long operation offering to give out cryptocurrencies in exchange for U.S. currency. The agents then uncovered their mailing addresses and also information on the owners of the cryptocurrency. This resulted in 90 live cases across the country.
Derek Benner, HIS’s acting executive associate, speaking after the bust stated that the dark web complicates the process of identifying and targeting vendors selling illegal items.
“But in this case, HSI special agents were able to walk amongst those in the cyber underworld to find those vendors who sell highly addictive drugs for a profit,” he added.
According to him, the shield behind which these criminals hide is now broken and the HIS has now infiltrated the dark web. With their many law enforcement partners, no criminal is safe on the dark web.
Agents in addition to the arrest, also seized firearms, huge quantities of drugs, such as 100,000 pills of tramadol, 100 grams of fentanyl and over 24g of Xanax. Also a grenade launcher, bitcoin mining devices, vacuum sealers, 15 pill presses, computers, gold bars, $20 million worth of cryptocurrencies including bitcoin and $3.6 million in paper currency, were all taken by authorities.
Over 70 search warrants were issued for the arrests of the people behind the huge quantities of drugs and other illegal goods. Most of the suspects were either in their 20s or 30s. They were arrested in many states across the country including California, Maryland, New York, Vermont, and Ohio. They reportedly were selling cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and opioids on the street.
The undercover investigation coincided with Congress’s attempt to patrol illegal online doings and the use of cryptocurrencies. The results were released just a day after the House of Representatives approved the Fight Illicit Networks and Detect (FIND) Trafficking Act of 2018 (H.R. 6069). This is a bipartisan bill which aims to study how cryptocurrencies are used on the dark web for drugs and arms trafficking and how to put an end to it. Rep. Juan Vargas, the bill’s leader, stated that the approval of the House is a vital first step which will help them get full knowledge on how these things work to result in many criminal activities. The bill now moves to the US Senate.
DEA special agent James Hunt commended all the agencies who made this groundbreaking bust possible. He stressed that one of the greatest threats the country faces is cyber drug trafficking. Because the dark web has brought about criminals who have invaded their streets, communities, and homes, law enforcement will also fight to keep such people behind bars, where they belong.
Undercover operations have proven to be effective in bringing down dark web criminals. Last year, an undercover operation by the Australian police in Brisbane uncovered and shut down one of the largest child abuse sites on the dark web. They posed as founders of the website and secretly ran it for over 11 months which led to numerous arrests all over the world. It also led to speculation if this was the right approach, that is, taking over a site and keeping it going for multiple months. To prevent their cover being blown, the undercover agents kept uploading and sharing child abuse images and videos on “Childs Play”. Pedophiles on the site had no idea the police controlled the site. When it was finally shut down, over 1,000,000 users were noted as being registered.