A coordinated 10-month effort on three continents has taken down a major drug and firearm ring operating on the Darknet, the murkiest area of cyberspace.
Operation Dark HunTor resulted in the arrest of 150 individuals—including 65 in the U.S.—and the seizure of over $31.6 million in both cash and virtual currencies, lethal drugs, and firearms, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday.
Working with Europol, DOJ’s Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team seized four million lethal fentanyl doses worldwide.
Operation Dark HunTor involved coordinated global enforcement actions in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The operation sent “one clear message to those hiding on the Darknet peddling illegal drugs,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
“There is no dark internet. We can and we will shine a light.”
Monaco said the operation “ prevented countless lives from being lost to this dangerous trade in illicit and counterfeit drugs, because one pill can kill.”
Looking at the Numbers
The sheer amount of contraband, money, and illegal substances that investigators were able to uncover was stunning.
In terms of illegal commerce, American investigators were able to seize approximately $1 million in drug proceeds, including $700,000 in cryptocurrency.
Investigators found approximately 234 kilograms (kg) of drugs worldwide including 152.1 kg of amphetamine, 21.6 kg of cocaine, 26.9 kg of opioids, 32.5 kg of MDMA, in addition to more than 200,000 ecstasy, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methamphetamine pills, and counterfeit medicines.
Moreover, investigators were able to take 45 firearms off of the street.
The so-called “Dark Web” has provided a cover to countless criminal operations from drug smuggling to human trafficking. Whether the latest operation results in anything more than a temporary setback in transnational cybercrime remains to be seen.
“The dark web has become an underground facilitator of illegal commerce,” acknowledged Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
“Criminals use the dark web to sell and ship narcotics and other dangerous goods around the world, often relying on the postal system and private carriers to deliver these illegal products.
Ten Months in the Shadows
Operation Dark HunTor builds on the success of a similar effort last year called Operation DisrupTor, and the coordinated law enforcement takedown earlier this year of DarkMarket, the then the world’s largest illegal marketplace on the Darknet, according to the DOJ.
Operation Dark HunTor led to 65 arrests in the U.S., one in Bulgaria, three in France, 47 in Germany, four in the Netherlands, 24 in the United Kingdom, four in Italy, and two in Switzerland.
In America, most notably, investigators were able to apprehend vendors based in Miami and Providence, R.I., where suspects allegedly “advertised and sold pressed fentanyl pills” throughout the country, USA Today reports.
These drug makers were using at-home methods to specially press powdered fentanyl to produce solid pills stylized to resemble actual pharmaceuticals.
A number of investigations are still ongoing, said the DOJ.
“The men and women of the department’s Criminal Division, in close collaboration with our team of interagency and international partners, stand ready to leverage all our resources to protect our communities through the pursuit of those who profit from addiction, under the false belief that they are anonymous on the Darknet,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“Only through a whole of government and, in this case, global approach to tackling cyber-enabled drug trafficking can we hope to achieve the significant results illustrated in Operation Dark HunTor,” Polite added.
This sentiment is shared by international leaders and investigators.
“The point of operations such as the one today is to put criminals operating on the dark web on notice: the law enforcement community has the means and global partnerships to unmask them and hold them accountable for their illegal activities, even in areas of the dark web,” said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy executive director of operations for Europol.
Lecouffe also said many of the people detained around the world were long sought after “high-value targets” — and the international investigation is still ongoing, and could likely result in additional arrests.
“Each time we arrest people, each time we search a house we find new leads,” he concluded. “No one is beyond the reach of the law.”
The full DOJ press release can be accessed here.
This summary was prepared by TCR staff writers Andrea Cipriano and Isidoro Rodriguez.