TheVerge.com is a trendy website with a tech news approach akin to the Facebook Group I FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE’s approach to science. At publishing time, their website’s front page is reminiscent of an aneurysm, the top story’s headline reading: EMOJI ARE SHOWING UP IN COURT CASES EXPONENTIALLY, AND COURTS AREN’T PREPARED
Need I say more?
It should come as no surpise then that just a couple days ago, The Verge published an article by “journalist” Russel Brandom making one of the most outrageously misinformed assertions I’ve seen in a while: “The golden age of dark web drug markets is over”
Brandom’s justification for this claim? Federal agents are still making arrests of Alphabay vendors over a year and a half since it was shut down. And other vendors are getting arrested too.
No, seriously. That’s it.
A money laundering sting busted here, a handful of cocaine vendors there, “the vendor arrests have gone on and on and on,” Brandom says, dramatically linking each instance of the word “on” to a different Department of Justice Press Release detailing a DNM vendor bust.
Needless to say, there are still thousands of vendors operating domestically on various markets in the US alone. Brandom could link 100 instances of the word “on” to a different DOJ Press Release and it would still mean nothing. Drug dealers and vendors alike get arrested every day, and there’s always two more waiting to take their place.
Such is the case with Dark Net Marketplaces themselves, once Alpha and Hansa went down, Dream, Wall Street, Tochka, and countless others swooped in to pick up the pieces The case isn’t unique either. Indeed, it’s happened again and again and again.
Yet, “[b]y now,” Brandom opines, “the playbook for taking down dark web drug dealers is pretty well established.”
Wrong again. A quick perusal of court docs connected to any number of those press releases Brandom linked to would reveal that vendors are caught in a variety of different ways and in most cases, law enforcement’s ability to reveal the true identity of a vendor is completely dependent on that vendor slipping or becoming lazy with OPSEC, or just never practicing sufficient OPSEC to begin with, in which case they typically don’t last very long.
It might be hard for Brandom to imagine, but things don’t cease to exist merely because their subreddits get banned. Alas, even /r/DarkNetMarkets was replaced in the form of HugBunter’s onion forum, Dread.
Brandom’s complete inability to apply logic notwithstanding, this “golden-age” he speaks of never existed, or if it did, we are still very much in it.
You don’t need to take my word for it.
An independent, London based organization called Global Drug Survey (GDS) “runs the world’s biggest drug survey” each year. The survey is given in more than 10 languages, reaching respondents in over 20 countries from Europe, Latin America, North America, Russia, the Balkans, Israel and South Africa. They’ve even been featured in articles on DeepDot.
Their 2018 survey saw continued growth in the number of people ordering drugs from the dark web. Of the 40% of respondents who admitted to using illegal drugs in the last month, 10% said they had purchased drugs using the dark net market’s.
From country to country the numbers are even more staggering, with 24%, 18%, and 17% of drug users saying they had purchased drugs using the dark web in England, USA, and Australia, respectively. Finland clocked in the highest at a whopping 45% of drug users saying the had used the dark net markets to buy drugs.
Not only has DNM adoption grown exponentially each year in the apparent death throes of it’s so-called “golden-age,” the spectrum of services offered has also broadened. 30% of cocaine users surveyed said they could log on to the dark web and have cocaine delivered to their doorstep in less than 30 minutes! Indeed, when the survey asked respondents to compare DNM drug delivery services to another product, the most frequent response was pizza!
Of course, that’s nothing compared to Brandom’s fabled “golden-age,” when they could just fax the coke to you.
The United State’s Postal Inspection Service’s (USPIS) 2018 Annual Report draws similar conclusions. In short, seizures were higher last year than any year prior, due in part to a much larger influx of packages coming from overseas.
The report denotes investigations conducted on over 100 different Dark Net Market places in 2018 alone, indicating no loss of momentum in illicit DNM substances delivered through the mail whatsoever.
Deepdot also reported increased demand for dark net services in June 2018, citing a study published in the BMJ Medical Journal.
Australia has seen a huge surge in methamphetamine use recently thanks to the Dark Web, Germany similarly has seen a surge in opioid use for the same reason. Dark net markets are creeping towards the forefront of the drug trade in many places.
And this all goes without even mentioning the bevy of other illicit goods available on these marketplaces. DNM’s have become the first stop for anyone looking to sell stolen or hacked data, or wanting to buy a lifetime porn membership for $5.
Brandom obviously did zero research to check the veracity of his claim. His utter lack of familiarity with DNMs in general makes his decision to write such an authoritatively worded piece on the subject all the more audacious.
Yet still, “[w]hen the Silk Road first came onto the scene,” Brandom begins, obliviously, “it seemed like law enforcement had been outsmarted. The combination of Tor and Bitcoin seemed like a safe, untraceable way to buy illegal goods.”
This could not be further from the truth, OPSEC was the main priority of every DNM discussion, even in the beginning. Bitcoin’s inadequacies for true anonymity were quickly recognized and the development of Tumblers followed soon in response. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time until law enforcement caught on. No one thought Silk Road would precede an effective end to the War on Drugs. It was always just the next frontier in a perpetual game of cat & mouse.
“Even when feds took one site down, more would spring up in its place.” Which is exactly what happened when Alpha and Hansa went down, so what’s your point?
“Looking at all the illicit commerce being done each day, the markets seemed unstoppable.” Oh, so you can count the commerce now, Brandom? Like he knows how many transactions Dream made today compared to the same date 3 years ago. Just making it up as he goes along.
“Instead of a new paradigm, dark web marketplaces now look more like a brief window where marketplace technology outpaced law enforcement’s ability to track it.”
How about a new paradigm where blockheads like Brandom don’t get paid to write articles on topics they know nothing about?