The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released the outcome results of its undercover intelligence capability which mainly involves attempts to purchase firearms and weapons on the famous darknet markets with an intention of understanding what particularly happens on the dark web.
The attempted purchases and trades were made using a wide range of scenarios designed to make the seller believe that the transaction would be illegal.
The dark web is not indexed by search engines, and its access is only made possible through software like the Tor browser, which allows users to browse the dark web without giving away their identity and the location from where the browsing has taken place. This service is in contrast to common standard browsers such as Firefox or Chrome. This makes darknet markets a safe place for anyone with criminal intention as Individual logins and transactions are masked.
The undercover agent involved in the test said that with the aid and anonymity of the dark web, Bitcoin is being used actively in the buying and selling of illegal goods and services, especially drugs and firearms.
A series of attempts to buy firearms on the dark web and the surface web were carried out by two undercover agents without disclosing whether they were banned from handling firearms or not.
Their operation was successful in two of eight attempts. In one of the successful attempts, the agents purchased an Uzi semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, which had been listed as fully automatic on the dark web marketplace. The purchased AR-15 rifle had an obliterated serial code along with an Uzi, which the seller referred to as an automatic modification.
Firearm Trade on Darknet Markets
According to the GAO’s report, the agents made a total of 78 purchase attempts in which 58 sellers refused to complete the purchase process. Interestingly, 31 of them categorically stated that they would not be willing to ship a firearm, while 29 sellers refused after the agents disclosed their identities as undercover government agents. In seven of the attempts, the agents’ accounts were blocked by the websites and henceforth prevented from accessing the marketplaces or attempting to make any purchase on dark web.
However, markets on the surface web gave excuses on their reason for not allowing the agents to access their commodities. In these cases, some of the sellers had even done a follow-up on the agents and realized that they had been banned from arms usage.
Furthermore, private seller websites that the GAO also used in their research turned out to be scam sites, which did not leave the purchase deals with the office halfway. Some of the websites contacted by GAO refused to answer questions posed by the agency, or simply gave an excuse that excluded them from selling the firearms to the agents without disclosing their identity. Some sites simply blocked the agency’s access to them. This made their efforts to follow up with the purchases futile.
In some cases, the sellers stopped replying to conversations; others later said the gun was not for sale any longer, and others refused to use legal accounts for the payment or had difficulties in payment. In the other 11 attempts, the agents were scammed or an attempt to scam them was in processes before they realized and stopped the transactions.
Having noted that the dark web is an unindexed, hidden part of the internet and that access to specific domains requires unique software to gain access, the agents sent their report to law enforcers for further investigation. Their report did not have any recommendation on what was found, as the legal framework controlling the trade of weapons and firearms does not cover transactions made on online platforms.
In 2016, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reported that the anonymity aspect of the dark web and Bitcoin transactions makes it extremely difficult to completely stop and control unlicensed firearms sales among other illegal trades on internet.
However, Massachusetts officials have warned and promised to come up with very strict laws and regulations regarding firearm possession in a bid to reduce gun-related violence. These laws are nevertheless jeopardized by more fair rules in neighboring states, since it is easy to cross inter-state borders to buy firearms.
This was confirmed by GAO, which stated their results indicated that firearms are easily transacted across state borders using Bitcoin—the AR-15 rifle being one of them.