In a sophisticated global effort, Dutch police, in collaboration with the FBI, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Europol have taken down Hansa one of the most notorious drug and firearm marketplaces on the dark web
The dismantling of the Hansa marketplace comes on the tail of Alphabay’s takedown just a month ago. According to Europol, authorities undertook a choreographed and methodic infiltration of these illegal drug and firearm market’s infrastructure. Furthermore, police dismantled a large underground criminal economy worth millions of dollars. Executive Director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, stated: “This is an outstanding success by authorities in Europe and the US.”
Recent times have shown the FBI’s, and other international law enforcement agencies clout with which they utilize to crackdown on criminals utilizing the anonymous TOR network to facilitate criminal transactions.
However, many question the techniques law enforcement groups are exercising
Only recently has the FBI dismantled the dark web’s notorious child porn site Playpen in Operation Pacifier. Controversially, the FBI kept the website functional for almost a fortnight, during which time the FBI themselves facilitated the distribution of child porn. Similarly, the Dutch police enabled the perpetuation of illegal transactions during for a month. The police justify these actions by claiming they needed that time to siphon off incriminating information.
Dutch Public Prosecutor Martijn Egberts believes police should have more legal loopholes. He feels that law enforcement needs greater access to people’s private computers. Egberts claims this would enable police to crack down on illegal activities. Similarly, the US is pushing for the reformation of Rule 41. Many fear this is the beginning of a global police state. Horrifyingly, such amendments to privacy laws could be exploited. Consequently, private citizens worry that the government will assume everyone is “guilty until proven innocent.”
Beginnings of a global police state?
The FBI and Dutch police have not given away details as to how exactly they infiltrated Hansa and similar dark web locations. According to Europol’s website: “Dutch police collected valuable information on high-value targets and delivery addresses for a large number of orders. Some 10,000 foreign addresses of Hansa market buyers were passed on to Europol.”
Police took covert control over Hansa, as well as Alphabay. Next, they ran the sites from a different location for around a month. Europol goes on further to claim that they have arrested “key figures involved in online criminal activity and yielded huge amounts of intelligence that will lead to further investigations.”
Many Tor users worry that the police infiltration of the anonymous dark web space means that TOR’s promised security guarantees are flimsy. However, according to a comprehensive analysis of throughout the past decade by Patrick Howell O’Neill of Kernel, the police are simply exploiting the weakest part of the chain link – human error.
“Don’t interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake” – Napoleon Bonaparte
The Tor network remains as a solid mask for anonymous internet activity. But only if it is used correctly. In order to intercept criminal activity, police merely lie in wait for the criminals to slip up. Once a crack is found, the police infiltrate and can spread malware that exposes illegal activities.
According to Kernel, the postal service is usually the weakest link for many illegal drug and firearms dealers. In many cases, specially trained postal workers and drug dogs are able to bust dealers during this section of the dark web transaction.
Furthermore, Joseph Cox of the Daily Beast investigated the likely process with which law enforcement undermined the illegal marketplaces. Once the police had usurped control over them, they sent booby-trapped files to the dealers. Hansa administrators regularly sent dealers files listing their recent transactions. Police took advantage of this and sent similar files, but adding code that covertly connected to the internet when opened. In this way, police would be able to obtain IP addresses normally obscured by TOR.
Nevertheless, the police takedown of these criminal websites arouses more questions than satisfying answers.
IP addresses only act as a ‘clue’ and do not indicate any probable cause. Additionally, the entire war on drugs is questionable at its core. While dangerous criminals require rounding up, this doesn’t necessarily happen during these website takedowns.
The US has spent $1 trillion on the “war on drugs,” and it has made no difference. All that appears to be taking place in this demonstration of global law enforcement machismo is fear that a police state may be soon upon us. For many decades now, criminalizing drugs as never solved the root of these problems. Frighteningly, the police are more than likely using these criminal activities as a ruse to gain more control over the public for the sake of the establishment.