WASHINGTON, D.C. — Law enforcement officials on Tuesday announced the staggering outcome of a campaign targeting darknet drug dealers worldwide, with well over a hundred arrests made in the United States alone.
Dubbed Operation DisrupTor, international agencies targeted illegal online marketplaces that exist on the dark web, a part of the internet hosted within an encrypted network and accessible only through specialized anonymity-providing tools—most notably, the Tor Browser. The operation, which mainly occurred in the U.S. and in Europe, occurred over nine months as part of “complementary, but separate” efforts between both federal and foreign government agencies, according to the DOJ.
The arrests include 121 made in the U.S., two in Canada, 42 in Germany, eight in the Netherlands, four in the United Kingdom, three in Australia and one in Sweden. Officials seized over $6.5 million in both cash and virtual currency, in addition to 500 kilograms of drugs worldwide. About 275 kilograms of drugs, including fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and MDMA, were seized in the United States, according to the Department of Justice.
“Today’s announcement is very much a success story in international law enforcement cooperation, as crime on the Darknet is truly a global problem that requires global partnership,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen wrote in a prepared statement. “However, the global nature of the threat also means that foreign countries who fail to act can easily become safe harbors for criminals who seek to pump lethal, addictive drugs into the United States from abroad. The Department cannot and will not allow criminals to operate with impunity.”
Documents related to Tuesday’s announcement highlight the scope of the investigation, and in turn the expansive reach of the arknet.
In California, law enforcement dismantled an online operation that used monikers such as “StealthGod” to sell MDMA and methamphetamine across multiple dark web sites. Investigators have since linked members of the group to “18,000 illicit sales to customers in at least 35 states and in numerous countries around the world,” according to the DOJ.
In Virginia, officials arrested William Anderson Burgamy, 33, who illegally sold prescription drugs under the name “NeverPressedRX” on the darknet since at least 2019. Burgamy was “so intent on securing his online criminal enterprise that he conspired to use explosives to firebomb and destroy a competitor pharmacy,” officials said.
Burgamy and another man have since pleaded guilty to charges related to a conspiracy to use explosives to firebomb and destroy a competitor pharmacy in Nebraska.
And in Georgia, an investigation into an elderly couple who was brutally murdered in their home led officials to an unnamed man who “used the Darknet to purchase sensitive information stolen from numerous elderly victims, including the murdered couple,” according to the DOJ.
Officials said multiple investigations are ongoing and investigators are still working to identify other individuals behind darknet accounts.
Both Rosen and FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged the country’s opioid epidemic in their remarks during a press conference on Tuesday. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 67,000 died of a drug overdose in the United States in 2018 alone. Nearly 70 percent of these deaths involved an opioid.
“With the spike in opioid-related overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that today’s announcement is important and timely,” Wray said during the press conference. “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 will continue to use all investigative techniques and tools to identify and prosecute Darknet opioid dealers, wherever they may be located.”
The results of Operation DisrupTor come more than a year after officials took down the “Wall Street Market,” which was believed to be one of the largest illegal online marketplaces on the darknet. In May 2019, three German nationals were charged for allegedly operating the illicit site.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.