Last Tuesday, US federal task force agents announced the arrest of 61 active darknet marketplace vendors. The arrests were the result of an internationally coordinated operation, named SaboTor, which is the second take down conducted by the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement, or (J-CODE).
In addition to the 61 arrests, US agents along with their international LEA partners managed to shut down 50 accounts on several darknet marketplaces. Moreover, they also managed to seize approximately 300 kilograms of illicit drugs, 51 weapons, and more than $7 million, which included $2.48 million in fiat cash, $4.5 million in cryptocurrencies, and $40,000 in physical gold.
Darknet marketplaces represent an essential source for mail ordered drugs in the US, which are routinely shipped from China via the US postal services. A significant proportion of the ordered drugs involve the lethal opioid fentanyl, rendering darknet marketplaces a dominant vector for deaths secondary to overdose by this deadly drug. This is the reason darknet marketplaces have been targeted by the Department of Justice under the presidency of Donald Trump. In July 2017, Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General at the time, announced the takedown of the then biggest darknet marketplace, Alpha Bay, according to investigations conducted by the Department of Justice.
Six months later, J-Code was created with the goal of facilitating the cooperation of US federal and international law enforcement agencies in taking down darknet marketplace vendors. Operation Disarray was J-Code’s first success, which resulted in eight arrests.
Operation SaboTor represented a joint effort between the FBI, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Postal Inspection Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, and international law enforcement agencies in Europe. The operation involved several separate, yet coordinated operations, which were all planned to target the most active darknet marketplace vendors and to interrupt the supply chains.
“Enforcing the law is most effective when we cooperate with our partners all over the world, and J-Code represents the international tip of the spear throughout the war against online trafficking of opioids,” reported Christopher Way, the FBI Director. “Criminals are always adopting advanced technologies and novel innovations in order to achieve their illegitimate goals, and our job is to continuously adapt and stay ahead of potential threats. Operation SaboTor represents not only the robustness of our partnerships across the United States federal government and abroad, but also our capability to leverage those partnerships to strangle criminal activities, even when they are hiding in the darknet.”
“DEA’s most powerful tool is our strong relationships with our local, state, federal, and international law enforcement partners who continuously work with us to combat this epidemic,” said Uttam Dhillon, DEA’s Acting Administrator. “Drug traffickers will eventually be held accountable for all the pain and mortalities they cause, whatever they technology they utilize in their illegal activities.”
Trump’s initiative to combat the opioid abuse crisis:
Operation SaboTor came as a part of Donald Trump’s initiative to combat opioid abuse in the US. In September 2018, Trump’s administration allocated $6 billion of funding over a period of two years to combat opioid abuse. The initiative planned to stop the abuse of opioids through:
– Reducing drug demand via education, raising awareness, and prevention efforts
– Cutting off the flow of drugs across the US borders and within the country
– Saving lives via highlighting opportunities of evidence based management of opioid addiction
On September 19th, 2018, Trump’s administration secured over $1 billion of funding to local entities to mitigate the opioid crisis. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Administrations awarded $930 million worth of grants to endorse prevention, management, and rehabilitation activities. Health Resources and Services Administration allocated over $396 million to more than 1,200 health centers, academic institutions, and rural community organizations. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control awarded tribes, territories, states, and partners over $194 million to support efforts of data collection and prevention of this crisis.
The initiative aimed at the reduction of demand and over-prescription, namely via enlightening Americans about the hazards of opioid abuse and reducing over-prescription. Trump’s administration partnered with the Truth Initiative, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and Ad Council in order to prevent opioid abuse among teenagers and adults.
The initiative is intensely cracking down on domestic and international supply chains of illicit drugs that are ruining the American communities. To achieve this, the administration is:
– Securing border, waterways, ports of entry against smuggling of illegal drugs
– Requiring more extensive data to flag suspicious international shipments
– Relying on more advanced canines for drug detection to inspect suspicious shipments
– Inspecting suspicious substances within international packages
– Collaborating with Mexico and China to cut down the supplies of illicit opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, and others.
The initiative has already produced some promising results. The Department of Justice (DOJ) managed to bust the country’s biggest darknet drug vendor late in 2018. Also, two Chinese nationals were indicted and accused of manufacturing and trafficking 250 illicit drugs including fentanyl to over 25 countries. Operation “Synthetic Opioid” was launched to target fentanyl and heroin dealers in US districts that witnessed the largest incidence of overdose related deaths.