As a result of a six-month joint investigation between the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS), law enforcement agencies charged four Australians with attempts to purchase illegal firearms and arrested 17 Dark Web buyers and merchants across Europe and North America.
Following the arrests from the undercover operation, all firearms, ballistic armor, and illicit drugs were seized and around $80,000 USD worth of bitcoin was confiscated.
In September of 2014, the joint investigation between the law enforcement agencies in the United States and Australia focused on the illicit trade of firearms via the Dark Web which led to the identification of an online alias account for a 33-year-old man in Montana.
The operation officially began as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security received relevant information from the ACBPS. In the same month as the investigation, HIS initiated a secret operation with an online alias account. HIS was able to identify Australian suspects attempting to engage in illicit trading of firearms.
Two months after, AFP partnered with HIS to instigate another secret operation targeting the Australian suspects.
As a part of the operation, HIS and AFP manipulated the secret account to complete six deals over Dark Web markets, which allowed them to identify the addresses of the buyers.
After identifying the addresses, HIS and AFP received 15 search warrants in February and March of 2015, and seized most of the items in the addresses including four illegal firearms, ammunition, steroids, computer equipment and mobile telephones. Supported by the Queensland Police Service and Australian State and Territory Law Enforcements, the operation filed 34 charges against the individuals involved.
“Disrupting the supply of illegal firearms remains a priority for the AFP, and the success of this operation is another example of the results that can be achieved through cross-agency collaboration,” said Steve Lancaster, ACBPS national director of investigations and assistant commissioner. This secret operation was the most successful Dark Web investigation in the history of Australia, he added.
“People using these sites should not be fooled by claims of online anonymity,” he said. “Each transaction builds up a global web of intelligence which international partners are using to target you.”
Due to the success in the recent secret operation, Australian law enforcement will continue to target illicit online trades, especially firearms, with a strong support from national and international law enforcement partners.
Joseph is a web developer and designer, writer and a passionate musician who loves to travel. He has worked as a researcher for a number of venture capital firms and as a freelancer designer for resorts and corporations in Korea and the Philippines.