At the start of the month, a report was issued by Mathew C. Allen, the Assistant Director of Domestic Operations, Homeland Security Investigations. The report was given before the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. The main agenda was to inform the officials on the measures that were being taken to combat the smuggling of illegal Fentanyl from China. In his address, he gave a comprehensive detailing of the various organizations involved in this mission, the measures taken and the progress thus far.
The emergence of Fentanyl has put the authorities on their toes, as more of this illegal drugs are being smuggled from China. After a series of lengthy investigations, the US law enforcement has discovered this synthetic drug has made its way directly into the USA via mail carriers from China.
Over the years, the abuse of drugs in the US has been a growing menace to the entire American population; Fentanyl has posted a higher threat given its robust nature. It is estimated to be over 70 times stronger than morphine, one of the strongest anesthetics known to man.
As a result, the need to curb this epidemic comprehensively, using both strategic and aggressive approaches is a major priority for US law enforcement. Many entities cutting across various levels of the government within the US have integrated to fight against the continually growing epidemic. These attempts to combat this epidemic have been seen to bear fruits as resulting from the increased number of arrests and disruption of the illegal activities surrounding the transaction with Fentanyl across various US nations.
This goal to obliterate the threat of Fentanyl has seen not only the coming together and growth of domestic partnerships but also the collaboration with international forces as well. A successful highlight of such cooperation was between the US and China in the year 2017, where the smuggling of Fentanyl into the US was put under scrutiny, that resulted to a prompt by the Chinese local authorities to undertake investigations throughout provinces within China.
The Smuggling Process
According to the US Intelligence report, China is the main source of illegal Fentanyl that enters the US through mail carriers. Also, there are other routes applied by these smugglers to introduce this substance into the country. There are notorious criminal organizations that employ these different routes and are known as Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs).
These organizations are in countries such as Canada and Mexico. Within these countries, Fentanyl is prepared and mixed with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. It is also made into pills that are then slipped into the US in these forms.
Consequently, the Fentanyl seized from the International Mail Facilities has been established to be much more potent than that smuggled on land. This is even though the mail-smuggled Fentanyl is significantly lower in volume. To be more specific, the illicit Fentanyl shipped through the mailing services are found to be approximately 90 percent pure. Those that are smuggled through TCOs have purity levels below 15 percent.
It’s important to note that the growth of e-commerce has encouraged criminal transactions of these illicit drugs by the TCOs since potential buyers can open source such commodities. The darknet markets have provided a haven for illegal online purchase Fentanyl.
Law Enforcement Actions
With the growing need to abolish this epidemic, the various states within the US have joined forces to eliminate this disturbing practice. For instance, they set up International Mail Facilities and Carriers, whose main aim is to monitor chains of supply to curb the shipment of illegal commodities such as these illicit drugs.
The personnel at these service outlets are being trained to provide the best officer services at these smuggling points that have been pinpointed as weak links for trafficking drugs. Also, the various entities within the government have come together and are being engaged in identifying the routes through which drugs are being smuggled. Parcels have been red flagged as a way in which the smugglers may opt to transfer these drugs.
BEST is the chief law enforcement strategy for undertaking investigations dealing with smuggling of the synthetic opioid such as Fentanyl. There are over 60 BESTs that are already operational across the US and which incorporate a total of approximately 1,000 personnel. This personnel comprises of officials who are at different levels of the law enforcement departments.
The action taken on drug trafficking in the US has proven successful, over the period in which the process has been in operation. A good example is the BEST in Memphis that has reported the apprehension of over 40 drug trafficking criminals, 24 indictments, 10 smuggling convictions and 140 people seized in relation to trafficking of drugs. Additionally, over 240 parcels have been seized weighing at least 80 lbs that are said to have been smuggled through e-commerce platforms.
BEST expands operations with the aim of continuing the mission of halting the trafficking of drugs. Although it is an almost impossible task to eradicate this smuggling practice, the arrests made so far act as hope in minimizing the practice.
In addition to the BEST, there is another avenue that enables the sharing of intelligence to track these trafficking organizations. This is NTC-I. It leverages this information acquired and critically analyzed the materials seized during investigations. Finally, it pinpoints links through which illegal drug substances are moved in and across the US.
The US law enforcement has a specialized division which rightly supports multidimensional operations through working with the various government organizations. Special Operations Division (SOD) working jointly with other government agencies are actively using electronic systems to establish and destroy all networks facilitating the trafficking of illicit Fentanyl.
Additionally, the Heroin and Fentanyl Task Force, a subdivision of the SOD, works to connect street-based drug deals to their international supplier. The Homeland Security Investigations department which operates under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE-HSI) facilitates investigations within the field and engages in working together with other organizations such as the office of the national drug control policy of the White House.
These investigations aim to obtain information from social platforms linked to emerging reports of drug abuse cases resulting in death. To further their operations, the SOD has started an operation that is strategically aimed at curbing illegal activities conducted by the TCOs. The US SOD representatives have also offered to work jointly with the Narcotics Control Bureau of the Chinese to track traffickers dealing in Fentanyl within their country.
Cyber Crime Division
The US law enforcement authorities, that is, the Homeland Security Investigations department which works under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE-HSI) includes an online crime division referred to as the Cyber Crime Division. This department provides assistance when dealing with investigations relating to the marketplaces within the darknet, where transactions of illicit commodities take place.
Buyers have discovered the use of online markets especially those within the darknet which has gradually seen the vast growth of online business activities, mainly because of its anonymity feature that ensures the privacy of people undertaking such endeavors. This has brought the need for cybersecurity techniques to be incorporated for advanced assistance with these illegal trafficking activities. There are currently over 500 cases of cybercrime under investigation by the ICE-HSI. Out of these enormous number, 100 have been reported to encompass illicit smuggling of drugs within the darknet.
This division has been working tirelessly through secret operations to disrupt these smuggling activities while at the same time putting incredible effort to combat these online sources of drugs. The International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2) is the primary body in-charge of Cybersecurity that the ICE-HSI is under and is responsible for coordinating and deconfliction of investigations dealing with non-drug related issues. It works towards reducing the risk of vendors dealing in illicit drug substances such as Fentanyl operating within these online marketplaces.
Smuggling drugs depends primarily on the financial systems that have been put in place; therefore they must be dismantled. Cryptocurrencies and Money Service Businesses are the two major systems used for the purchase of opioids such as Fentanyl. The former is used in purchasing illicit drugs that have been indexed online whereas Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoins are used to buy commodities in unindexed websites, for instance, darknet markets. The most significant advantage of using Cryptocurrencies is the anonymity and making these transactions is easier. However, anyone making purchases in the darkweb still has to change their money, which is cash into the required bitcoin or any other virtual form of money.
The ICE-HSI makes optimal use of various investigation techniques such as secret investigative processes and surveillance to disrupt such TCOs dealing in these types of online purchases. They target these TCOs during the monetary exchange where drug traffickers are most susceptible. As opposed to legitimate users who follow protocol, those who deal within the darknet and other such unindexed websites usually try to evade registered transactions with the aim of remaining anonymous.
These unregistered exchanges usually take the P2P form of exchanger which works by posting adverts on websites listing their terms of exchange, that is, the value of cryptocurrency which either the buyer or seller is willing to exchange it. The P2P exchanger takes two forms, the first being one that earns revenue through charging fees for maintaining the user’s confidentiality by hiding their identities. The other type of P2P exchanger works in such a way that it can convert virtual currency into monetary cash. The ICE-HSI utilizes forensic services, as well as, advanced blockchain tools used for tracking to trace back the identities of the drug traffickers using these virtual currencies.
The United States authorities work together with individuals training by sharpening their investigative skills on virtual currencies with the aim of abolishing money laundering schemes via online platforms. This indirectly leads to reduced purchase illegal drugs such as Fentanyl.