On March 26, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released the results of a joint investigation involving more than half a dozen US agencies that targeted opioid dealers selling drugs via the Darkweb.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70,237 people died in the US from drug overdoses in 2017. And 47,600 of those deaths involved some type of opioid. The highest number of deaths caused by these kinds of overdoses occur in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and Kentucky.
Anne Schuchat, M.D, principal deputy director at the CDC, talked about the overreaching effect of the opioid epidemic in the US and what is being done to stop it:
"No area of the United States is exempt from this epidemic … All branches of the federal government are working together to reduce the availability of illicit drugs, prevent deaths from overdoses, treat people with substance-use disorders, and prevent people from starting using drugs in the first place."
Operation SaboTor was spearheaded by the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) team, an inter-agency group that coordinates the efforts of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Defense (DOD). The effort also includes partnerships with foreign entities, such as Europol. The operation lasted from January 11 to March 12 of this year and was intended to target high-volume opioid dealers on the Darknet and make a "global impact" on the opioid crisis.
Thanks to this collaboration, agents of Operation SaboTor seized $4.5 million in cryptocurrency, $2.48 million in fiat, and $40,000 in gold. In addition to seized funds, agents issued 65 search warrants, arrested 61 individuals, and confiscated 299.5 kilograms of various drugs, and 51 firearms.
Just as it is difficult, but possible, to track transactions done in crypto back to an individual, it is also possible for law enforcement agencies to track down drug dealers and users that take advantage of the Darknet for criminal purposes. To this point, Europol executive director Catherine De Bolle said, "The Darkweb is not as dark as you think. When you buy or sell illegal goods online, you are not hidden from law enforcement and you are putting yourself in danger."
Although the agencies involved in Operation SaboTor have a policy of arresting and prosecuting drug dealers, these agents try to educate those caught purchasing opioids through the Darkweb. Instead of arresting them, law enforcement agents will go to the person's place of residence with information about the dangers of opioid addiction. The aim is not only to provide information, but to let people know their purchases over the Darknet are not anonymous.
FBI Special Agent Nathan Cocklin drove this point home, saying, "We are able to identify people. It takes work, but the FBI, USPIS, DEA, and others are laser-focused on tackling the opioid epidemic on the web."
Law enforcement is very active in motoring illicit activity on the Darkweb. Perhaps the most famous case involving the Darkweb, drugs, and crypto is of Ross Ulbricht, who was indicted in 2015 after selling drugs over the Darkweb in return for bitcoin.