“Operation Dark HunTor was launched with one clear goal: to hunt down the vendors, buyers, and suppliers who had been hiding on that site and make sure they did not find a new platform,” deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco said at a press conference Tuesday.
Not all of the arrests appear to trace directly or exclusively back to the DarkMarket takedown; court documents show that in many cases, suspicious packages provided an initial tipoff. And previous seizures like those of Hansa and Wall Street Market are likely still paying dividends for investigators. That also means that Operation Dark HunTor likely isn’t the final word on dark web arrests and illicit marketplace vendors may have to proceed with a little more caution.
“Today I think some of them, maybe they are a little bit worried about who is going to be on the list, the next ones,” Europol deputy executive director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Some investigations are still ongoing in some of the countries that you see here because some people have been identified, and the work will be following. Each time we arrest people, each time we search a house, we find new leads for new investigations.”
While marketplaces pop up like weeds—the notorious AlphaBay was recently resurrected by DeSnake, one of its original administrators—skittish or incarcerated vendors may be harder to come by.
“Markets are easily replaceable because all it takes is a different website to move to,” says Christin. “On the other hand, large vendors ship physical products and need to have access to supply upstream, so it will take a bit longer for them to be replaced … A vendor can’t just start selling thousands of ecstasy pills overnight but can move from one market to the other in minutes.”
Still, it’s unclear whether even 150 arrests will be enough to slow things down. As Monaco noted Tuesday, the dark web drug racket was already a billion-dollar industry before the pandemic drove it to new heights. The demand hasn’t gone away, and suppliers will certainly try, at least, to meet it.
“If they did arrest some of the most prominent vendors, there may be a bit of impact,” says Christin. “In the long term, I am much more skeptical. Time and again, the ecosystem as a whole has shown to be resilient to police intervention.”
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