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International Law Enforcement Operation Targeting Opioid Traffickers on the Darknet Results in over 170 Arrests Worldwide and the Seizure of Weapons, Drugs and over $6.5 Million

Gerald Scroop

September 22, 2020

Today, the Department of Justice, through the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team joined Europol to announce the results of Operation DisrupTor, a coordinated international effort to disrupt opioid trafficking on the Darknet. The operation, which was conducted across the United States and Europe, demonstrates the continued partnership between JCODE and Europol against the illegal sale of drugs and other illicit goods and services.  Operation DisrupTor builds on the success of last year’s Operation SaboTor and the coordinated law enforcement takedown of the Wall Street Market, one of the largest illegal online markets on the dark web. 

Following the Wall Street Market takedown in May 2019, U.S. and international law enforcement agencies obtained intelligence to identify Darknet drug traffickers, resulting in a series of complementary, but separate, law enforcement investigations. Operation DisrupTor actions have resulted in the arrest of 179 Darknet drug traffickers and fraudulent criminals who engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods and services across the United States and Europe.

This operation resulted in the seizure of over $6.5 million in both cash and virtual currencies; approximately 500 kilograms of drugs worldwide; 274 kilograms of drugs, including fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, and medicine containing addictive substances in the United States; and 63 firearms. Darknet vendor accounts were identified and attributed to real individuals selling illicit goods on Darknet market sites such as AlphaBay, Dream, WallStreet, Nightmare, Empire, White House, DeepSea, Dark Market and others. By leveraging complementary partnerships and surging resources across the U.S. government and Europol, Operation DisrupTor was used to significantly disrupt the online opioid trade and send a strong message that criminals operating on the Darknet are not beyond the reach of law enforcement. 

Operation DisrupTor led to 121 arrests in the United States including two in Canada at the request of the United States, 42 in Germany, eight in the Netherlands, four in the United Kingdom, three in Austria, and one in Sweden. A number of investigations are still ongoing to identify the individuals behind dark web accounts.

“Criminals selling fentanyl on the Darknet should pay attention to Operation DisrupTor,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.  “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.”

“With the spike in opioid-related overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that today’s announcement is important and timely,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.  “The FBI wants to assure the American public, and the world, that we are committed to identifying Darknet drug dealers and bringing them to justice.  But our work does not end with today’s announcement. The FBI, through JCODE and our partnership with Europol, continues to be actively engaged in a combined effort to disrupt the borderless, worldwide trade of illicit drugs. The FBI will continue to use all investigative techniques and tools to identify and prosecute Darknet opioid dealers, wherever they may be located.”

“The 21st century has ushered in a tidal wave of technological advances that have changed the way we live,” said DEA Acting Administrator Timothy J. Shea.  “But as technology has evolved, so too have the tactics of drug traffickers.  Riding the wave of technological advances, criminals attempt to further hide their activities within the dark web through virtual private networks and tails, presenting new challenges to law enforcement in the enduring battle against illegal drugs.  Operation DisrupTor demonstrates the ability of DEA and our partners to outpace these digital criminals in this ever-changing domain, by implementing innovative ways to identify traffickers attempting to operate anonymously and disrupt these criminal enterprises.”

“U.S. Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has played an integral role in Operation DisrupTor which has effectively removed opioids from our communities,” said ICE Acting Deputy Director Derek Benner.  “It has been an honor to work alongside our domestic and international law enforcement partners and pursue bad actors hiding on the Darknet.  Our trained cyber analysts and investigators have conducted undercover efforts that target dark website operators, vendors and prolific buyers of these dangerous drugs. HSI special agents employ unique investigative capabilities to trace and identify the proceeds stemming from the distribution and online sales of fentanyl and other illicit opioids. These efforts will continue to thwart a significant amount of criminal drug sale activity and deter criminals believing they can operate with anonymity on the Darknet.”

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has worked diligently for years to rid the mail of illicit drug trafficking and preserve the integrity of the mail,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale.  “Most importantly, these efforts provide a safe environment for postal employees and the American public.  Today’s announcement serves as an outstanding example of the worldwide impact Postal Inspectors can make through our ever-growing partnerships with federal and international law enforcement agencies.  On behalf of the U.S. Postal Service, we offer our sincere appreciation to all of our partners in this operation who helped protect the nation’s mail, and we pledge to never relent in our pursuit of criminals seeking to exploit the U.S. mail.”

“Law enforcement is most effective when working together, and today’s announcement sends a strong message to criminals selling or buying illicit goods on the dark web: the hidden internet is no longer hidden, and your anonymous activity is not anonymous,” said Edvardas Šileris, the Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3). “Law enforcement is committed to tracking down criminals, no matter where they operate – be it on the streets or behind a computer screen.”

The extensive operation, which lasted nine months, resulted in over dozens of federal prosecutions including:

An indictment and criminal complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Operation DisrupTor was a collaborative initiative across JCODE members, including the Department of Justice; Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF); Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and Department of Defense (DOD). Local, state and other federal agencies also contributed to Operation DisrupTor investigations.  The investigations leading to Operation DisrupTor were significantly aided by essential support and coordination by the Department of Justice’s multi-agency Special Operations Division, the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, and Organized Crime and Gang Section, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the National Cyber Joint Investigative Task Force (NCJITF), Europol and its Dark Web team and international partners Eurojust, Austrian Federal Investigation Bureau (Bundeskriminalamt), Cyprus Police (Αστυνομία Κύπρου), German Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt), Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária), Dutch Police (Politie), Swedish Police (Polisen), the British National Crime Agency, Australia’s Western Australia Police Force and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

Federal prosecutions are being conducted in more than 20 Federal districts, including: the Central District of California, the Eastern District of California, the Northern District of California, the Southern District of California, the District of Colorado, the District of Columbia, the District of Connecticut, the Middle District of Florida, the Southern District of Florida, the Northern District of Georgia, the District of Hawaii, the Western District of Missouri, the District of New Jersey, the Western District of North Carolina, the Northern District of Ohio, the Southern District of Ohio, District of Oregon, the Western District of Pennsylvania, the Northern District of Texas, the Eastern District of Virginia, the District of the Virgin Islands and the Western District of Washington.

JCODE is an FBI-led Department of Justice initiative, which works closely with the DEA-led, multi-agency, Special Operations Division to support, coordinate and de-conflict investigations targeting for disruption and dismantlement of the online sale of illegal drugs, especially fentanyl and other opioids. Additionally, JCODE targets the trafficking of weapons and other illicit goods and services on the internet. Operation DisrupTor illustrates the investigative power of federal and international partnerships to combat the borderless nature of online criminal activity.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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