Law enforcement in the U.S. and abroad netted the arrests of 179 people and the seizure of more than $6.5 million in funds during a global operation targeting opioid sales on the darknet, Justice Department officials said Tuesday.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the crackdown is the country’s largest anti-dark web trafficking operation to date. He called the initiative a “significant milestone.”
“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,” Mr. Rosen told reporters.
All told, law enforcement officials seized $6.5 million in cash and virtual currency, 500 kilograms of drugs worldwide and 63 firearms. About 275 kilograms of drugs, including fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and other opioids, were seized in the U.S.
The arrests include 121 in the United States, 42 in Germany, eight in the Netherlands, four in the United Kingdom, three in Australia and one in Sweden.
Mr. Rosen said the Justice Department is working to identify others operating darknet opioid marketplaces.
The darknet, a subset of the internet hidden from standard web browsers, is reached using free software such as Tor, which stands for “the onion routing project.” Tor uses “relays” across the internet to create complex trails of access that make it impossible for law enforcement to track a user’s online movements.
That makes the darknet home to all kinds of illegal activities, including the sale of stolen credit card data, firearms, child pornography and opioids.
The nine-month initiative announced Tuesday was dubbed Operation DisrupTor and largely occurred in the U.S. and Europe. It comes more than a year after authorities dismantled the “Wall Street Market” which was said to be one of the largest illegal darknet marketplaces.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said the operation was critical to countering the spike in opioid-related deaths occurring during the coronavirus crisis. Although national figures are not yet available, individual states have released numbers showing opioid overdoses have risen over the past few months.