International Task Force Concludes “Dark Web” Operation, 179 Arrests and 500 Kilograms of Drugs Seized

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The Department of Justice Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team (J‑CODE) and Europol on Tuesday announced the con­clu­sion of Operation DisrupTor, which result­ed in 179 arrests through­out the world and the seizure of $6.5 mil­lion in cash and vir­tu­al cur­ren­cy, 500 kilo­grams of drugs, and 63 firearms. According to a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) press release, the oper­a­tion was “a coor­di­nat­ed inter­na­tion­al effort to dis­rupt opioid traf­fick­ing on the Darknet.”

The joint inter­na­tion­al task force devel­oped follow-on intel­li­gence after com­plet­ing Operation SaboTor on March 12, 2019, where they infil­trat­ed and shut down the noto­ri­ous dark web e‑commerce site, the Wall Street Market (WSM). According to a DOJ press release, the WSM was “a sophis­ti­cat­ed online mar­ket­place avail­able in six lan­guages that allowed approx­i­mate­ly 5,400 ven­dors to sell ille­gal goods to about 1.15 mil­lion cus­tomers around the world. […] WSM func­tioned like a con­ven­tion­al e‑commerce web­site, but it was a hidden ser­vice locat­ed beyond the reach of tra­di­tion­al inter­net browsers on the Tor net­work, a ser­vice designed to con­ceal user iden­ti­ties.”

“Criminals sell­ing fen­tanyl on the Darknet should pay atten­tion to Operation DisrupTor,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in the press release. “The arrest of 179 of them in seven coun­tries — with the seizure of their drug sup­plies and their money as well — shows that there will be no safe haven for drug deal­ing in cyber­space.”

Operation DisrupTor was con­duct­ed through­out the world with arrests exe­cut­ed in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, Austria, and Germany. Out of the approx­i­mate­ly 500 kilo­grams of drugs con­fis­cat­ed, 274 kilo­grams were seized in the US includ­ing opioid pre­scrip­tions such as fen­tanyl, oxy­codone, hydrocodone, and its street ver­sion, heroin. Methamphetamine, cocaine, ecsta­sy, MDMA, and “med­i­cine con­tain­ing addic­tive sub­stances in the United States” were also among the drugs seized.

One of the raids con­duct­ed through the joint efforts of the FBI, United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in sup­port of Operation DisrupTor took place in Southern California. The Los Angeles J‑CODE team suc­cess­ful­ly appre­hend­ed mem­bers of the drug traf­fick­ing orga­ni­za­tion that oper­at­ed under the code name “Stealthgod” on the dark web. This group is sus­pect­ed to be one of the largest metham­phet­a­mine dis­trib­u­tors that J‑CODE has appre­hend­ed so far. According to the DEA press release, the group con­duct­ed “more than 18,000 illic­it drug sales to cus­tomers in at least 35 states and numer­ous coun­tries around the world.”

Former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the estab­lish­ment of the FBI-led J‑CODE on Jan. 29, 2018, in a press release. Since then, J‑CODE has taken down sev­er­al dark web sites in an effort to combat the opioid pan­dem­ic and the people respon­si­ble for it. J‑CODE has expand­ed its part­ner­ships to both domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al allies for oper­a­tions like DisrupTor and SaboTor.

Law enforce­ment on scene in Southern California after one of the raids on the “Stealthgod” drug traf­fick­ing net­work. Photo cour­tesy of the FBI/Flickr.

E‑commerce sites like the WSM are hosted on the dark­net, also known as the dark web, which func­tions like the reg­u­lar World Wide Web but with encryp­tions to dis­guise the users on it. The dark­net was pre­vi­ous­ly a strong­hold for both crim­i­nals and noncriminals. Besides crim­i­nals using it to pre­vent law enforce­ment and/or the main­stream media from iden­ti­fy­ing ille­gal trans­ac­tions rang­ing from sex traf­fick­ing to illic­it drug sales, polit­i­cal dis­si­dents have used the dark­net to keep their iden­ti­ties secret.

Sessions had a stark warn­ing for crim­i­nals on the dark web after announc­ing J‑CODE. “Criminals think that they are safe on the dark­net, but they are in for a rude awak­en­ing,” he said in the press release. “We have already infil­trat­ed their net­works, and we are deter­mined to bring them to jus­tice. […] The J‑CODE team will help us con­tin­ue to shut down the online mar­ket­places that drug traf­fick­ers use and ulti­mate­ly that will help us reduce addic­tion and over­dos­es across the nation.”

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