The case traces its origins from the Silk Road website on the dark web that was shut down by the FBI in 2013. This closure can be attributed to the audacity or humanly mistake of its creator, Ross Ulbricht aka Dread Pirate Roberts, of posting his personal email address in a forum.
The alleged operator of the next version Silk Road 2.0, Blake Benthall aka Defcon, then followed the sloppiness of its original administrator by registering a server under his own name.
This was when US authorities accessed the comprehensive list of clients and sellers’ names, including a number of Norwegian operators who traded on the anonymous darknet marketplace utilized for drug trafficking.
Operators have used aliases on various other dark web online marketplaces, with pseudonyms like “Alfa&Omega,” “Kvalitetsbevisst,” and “Deeeplove” which were linked back to Silk Road usernames.
Operation Marco Polo
The Norwegian Police Service special agency, commonly known as Kripos, launched its first and largest operation against organized crime involving drugs deep in the dark web.
The nation’s National Criminal Investigation Service dubbed it Operation Marco Polo.
Norway’s VG reported that the sting resulted in the arrest of 15 people, which included 5 men who are suspected to be some of the biggest Norwegian online drug kingpins.
Through the Marco Polo operation, the police have apprehended and indicted 13 men and 2 women since 2014.
These people have traded a sizeable amount of drugs on the dark web over the internet, and have been suspected to buy drugs with the intention of dealing them to their local community.
As part of drug crime investigations, the Norwegian police have managed to uncover a marijuana plantation after some lengthy dark web monitoring.
The 150 cannabis plants in different growing stages were sitting right in the basement of a house located in the city of Skien.
Kripos has also confiscated more than 80 communications devices and amassed computers, memory sticks, and hard drives.
However, they have been of little use in police investigations with information that remains inaccessible.
The Biggest Operation’s Biggest Problem
Richard Beck Pedersen, police attorney and one of Operation Marco Polo’s leaders, told VG that the men were not distinguished beforehand by the police.
He stated how the alleged drug lords have been making use of comprehensive technological camouflage to hide them selves since 2013.
He adds how it’s the biggest problem the investigation has been constantly faced with.
Another big challenge for Kripos is following the money trail, since most transactions are conducted using bitcoins.
Similar to Silk Road which ran on the Tor network to effectively hide the site’s location and mask user identities, deals are mostly done in bitcoin on dark web marketplaces.
This digital currency and payment system is not backed by any bank or government, whereby users can transact directly and makes it difficult for law enforcement to trace.
Chief Investigator Olav Roisli told VG that it’s a challenge to overcome due to fact that the encrypted currency undergoes several stream stages that were set in place to prevent tracking the money.
It was primarily designed to not be found. He said that the dark web marketplace allows sellers to acquire a tremendous group of clients throughout Norway who do not have to come flocking to Oslo just to buy drugs, which poses proliferation of danger.
It appears the police haven’t chosen yet to focus their investigation on buyers, but sure enough, they have limited access and are prohibited from entering a physical drug marketplace.
If not for dark web shops, then the youth wouldn’t have a way to get a hold of the illicit drugs.
Now, these individuals and anyone else can conveniently sit at home have the dope delivered directly to their doorstep.
Operation Marco Polo investigations conducted by the NCIS are ongoing and expected to end by summer.