The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has made an official announcement of what they termed as the first nationwide undercover action targeted on alleged darknet vendors selling illicit items.
In their statement, authorities said the operation was a joint effort involving at least five federal agencies as well as agents of Homeland Security disguised as money launderers.
It resulted in the subsequent arrest of over 35 individuals, who are now awaiting prosecution.
Huge Undercover Operation
This operation was collectively undertaken by the DOJ, USSS (U.S. Security Service), HSI (Homeland Security Investigations), USPIS (U.S. Postal Inspection Service), as well as the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration).
The effort was ongoing for a year and consisted of 90 active cases together with the collaboration of 40 U.S. Attorney’s Offices. Ultimately, they identified 65 targets and made arrests of over 35 alleged darknet sellers.
What’s more, the DOJ outlined that the operation culminated in the authorities seizing significant amounts of narcotics, weapons, physical currency, as well as cryptocurrency.
While talking about the operation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that contrary to common perception, the dark web is no longer a haven for criminals.
Moreover, he went on to state that they can expose the criminal networks and they are determined to ensure that they face the full force of the law.
The enforcement effort is set to significantly decrease the supply of illegal and lethal drugs such as fentanyl, which is consequently causing the death of thousands of Americans.
The Seized Goods
As aforementioned, the operation was quite long, and during the period, authorities undertook 100 law enforcement actions.
They also executed 70 search warrants and impounded multiple items including cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, among others.
The list of items confiscated includes more than 100 weapons, five cars used in transporting various products, U.S. currency and gold bars amounting to $3.6 million, liquid synthetic opioids in 33 bottles, 15 pill presses, Bitcoin and other digital currencies amounting to over $20 million, a narcotics laundry list, Bitcoin mining devices and a grenade launcher.
James Hunt, a special agent in the DEA, said that in this era where there are uncountable unprecedented deaths, all drug-related, darknet drug trafficking is now the most significant threat they are facing.
According to him, this is primarily since the dark web grants unlimited access to illegal trade.
However, Hunt was also quick to point out that the authorities are working earnestly to identify and arrest all individuals involved.
Dark Web vs. Authorities: Who Is Winning the War?
The dark web has gained a sinister reputation for its close association with criminal enterprises such as darknet markets and forums which offer virtually everything—ranging from guns to malware to illegal narcotics.
While presenting the report, Derek Benner, the acting associate director of HSI, observed that the dark web is continually evolving and getting more complex, which has subsequently rendered targeting and locating of the culprits transacting in the illegal trade quite challenging.
However, Benner also noted that these networks are only as secure as is their weakest links.
In fact, authorities have in the past few years caught up with darknet enterprises even going further to infiltrate and subsequently shut down multiple significant networks such as Silk Road, together with its upstart competing blocks Hansa and AlphaBay.
In dealing with illegal activities on the dark web, authorities have used various tactics to bust darknet crime, including undercover infiltrations, IP harvesting, intercepting shipments and monitoring cryptocurrency.
Undoubtedly, this is certainly one massive operation. Although some may be skeptical about the number of vendors arrested (over 35), it is worth noting that this crackdown is just the beginning of a long-term law enforcement effort.
Based on the results of this operation, it can be noted that federal agencies are collectively working through each activity to broaden their reach.