U.S. federal law enforcement agents working from a variety of departments including the Department of Justice, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the US Secret Service, the Postal Inspection Service, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) worked in tandem to take down 35 dark web dealers across the country. It was the largest operation targeting the dark web since the Silk Road was shut down in 2013. The arrests follow an investigation that spanned a year and targeted more than 65 people involved in over 90 active cases and seized over $23.6 million in goods including narcotics, gold, cash, cryptocurrency, computers, and over a 100 weapons including a grenade launcher.
Thanks to federal agents who posed as vendors themselves, dozens of illegal weapons were seized and the avenues to obtain them were shut down. The targeting of the black markets of the internet that can be accessed via the dark web is part of the war against the raging opioid crisis which Trump's administration has taken a strong stance against. The DEA has said it is concerned with the role that the traders on the dark web are playing in the nationwide drug addiction epidemic and the dark web presents a perfect medium for dealing in anonymity.
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One recent example of the dark web's role in distributing narcotics took place in November last year when 19-year-old Trevor Harden was arrested for purchasing 20,000 Fentanyl pills off the dark web. The highly lethal pills were shipped to Chamberlain, South Dakota but were intercepted by postal inspectors who then reported it to the DEA. Harden was arrested for shipping the 20,000 Fentanyl pills to himself and pleaded guilty to attempting to possess and intending to distribute the lethal pills. Fentanyl is one of the deadliest of the opioids in existence and is around 100 times more potent than morphine or heroin.
The $23.6 million in seized goods was the result of the execution of 70 search warrants across the country. Among the seized contraband was over 300 bottles of liquid synthetic opioids, over 100,000 Tramadol pills, 100 grams of Fentanyl, Oxycodone, MDMA, cocaine, LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, marijuana, and over 50 pounds of the highly addictive anxiety medication Xanax. DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt said, "At this crucial time of unprecedented drug-related deaths, one of the greatest threats we face is cyber drug trafficking."
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Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein also explicitly stated the government's intent to crack down on the dark web. "Criminals who think that they are safe on the Darknet are wrong," Rosenstein said. "We can expose their networks, and we are determined to bring them to justice. Today, we arrested more than 35 alleged Darknet vendors. We seized their weapons, their drugs, and $23.6 million of their ill-gotten gains. This nationwide enforcement effort will reduce the supply of deadly drugs like fentanyl that are killing an unprecedented number of Americans. I want to thank our federal prosecutors, and the dedicated federal agents with DEA, Homeland Security Investigations, the Postal Inspection Service, and the Secret Service for their outstanding work."
It seems that even after a century of the war on drugs, which started with the drug prohibition policies of 1914, the government is still stuck on the same policy that has gotten us to where we are now; and that is the policy of making drugs illegal. The stigmatization associated with drug use because they are illegal has no doubt contributed to the overdose deaths and ruined lives in the sense that it has made it difficult for people struggling with addiction or who are teetering on the path of addiction are too afraid to speak up and seek help for fear of being fired or ostracized.
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I think the only way to get rid of the illegal sales on the dark web is to decriminalize the illegal contraband. When lawmakers first began considering the legalization of marijuana, they faced resistance and mockery for even considering legalization. Yet, 30 of the 50 United States have legalized marijuana and all have seen improvements ranging from lower crime rates to more tax money that goes back into communities.
If the drugs were not illegal, there would be no need for the illicit and dangerous deals on the dark web and the drugs can be taxed and used in designated areas much like people can go to bars to enjoy alcohol. Until drugs are decriminalized, there will always be this game of cat and mouse between the government and the dealers with the users being caught in the crossfire. We have tried the route of criminalizing drugs for a century and the situation is only getting worse. It couldn't hurt to give the other side of the coin a try so that we can weigh the costs and benefits of each. I don't know if the current administration will make a dent in the opioid crisis, but if any administration has a chance of success by taking a novel approach to a decades-old problem it is the Trump administration.
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