The tragic Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub has re-ignited debates across the United States about gun control policy. Democrats staged a sit-in on the House chamber floor over gun legislation. Bills have been submitted, but bipartisan support is evasive. No matter what happens on Capitol Hill, there’s a place policy can’t reach — the darknet.
Even one year after Ross Ulbricht—the founder of the Silk Road darknet marketplace—was sentenced to life in prison, darknet marketplaces still exist.
For instance, the Central Criminal Inspection (ZKI), Göttingen prosecutors and the Dutch police, arrested four alleged individuals on June 6 who comprised the darknet vendor group, "fredthebaker”.
Tor is a browser similar to Google Chrome or Firefox, except it’s anonymous if used properly. A January study by King’s College London determined 57% of darknet websites facilitate criminal activity. The study found 5,205 live websites. Tor is also used for search engines, news sites, end-to-end encryption, discussion forums, and so on.
Researchers have contradictory conclusions about the proliferation of weapons on the darknet. Nicolas Christin, Assistant Research Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), engaged in an analysis of sales on 35 marketplaces from 2013 to early 2015.
“[This happens] to a much more limited extent than people have been clamoring,” Christin told MERRY JANE. “First, at least in the U.S., there is a very limited darknet gun demand, since it is easy to procure firearms legally. Second, it is considerably harder to ship weapons by the post than it is to ship drugs. Weapons have to be disassembled, concealed, and sometimes split into multiple parcels.”
MDMA, marijuana, and other drugs are the darknet’s biggest sellers. While MDMA and marijuana comprise 25% of sales analyzed in Christin’s study, guns were in the “miscellaneous” category, which comprised 3% of sales, along with drug paraphernalia, electronics, tobacco, viagra, and steroids.
Buying guns on the darknet goes back to 2011 — the early days of the Silk Road, which once offered weapons before Dread Pirate Roberts, Ulbricht’s admin pseudonym, ceased selling weapons and attempted a weapons only website, Armory. There is suspicion today that many of the darknet marketplaces are law enforcement honeypots used to accumulate evidence against criminals.
An admin of DeepDotWeb, a darknet news portal with its own .onion URL, told MERRY JANE: “The state of the weapons market on the darknet is very simple — there is nearly none of it. Most markets won’t allow it.”
One Swiss-based darknet marketplace sold drugs, weapons, and other illicit goods but never delivered. The operator was ultimately arrested at the request of the FBI.
“Weapon vendors on the large darknet markets are either scammers or in many cases law enforcement,” the DeepDotWeb representative, who goes by DeepDot, stated. “Over the past three years, I have heard of one successful weapon purchase, and the reason I’ve heard about it is because the guy got arrested upon delivery.”
Successful weapons purchases on the darknet are to be the domain of the earliest darknet marketplaces, Silk Road and Black Market Reloaded; the latter went offline in November 2013.
Alpha Bay allows the sale of weapons, drugs, stolen credit card numbers, and other illegal items. It offers a wide array of weapons for sale. MERRY JANE found this Adams Arms 11.4” Tactical Rifle — dubbed “Black Rain” — for sale this week. According to the listing, one had been purchased on May 20. It’s cost? $900.
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Authorities claim weapons purchased on darknet marketplaces have played a role in recent terrorist attacks, such as the November 13 Paris attacks. Christin believes this is unsubstantiated.
“So far,” he told MERRY JANE, “what we have seen in those terrorism cases is that these cells have emerged from traditional criminal networks. Why go to the Internet to deal with an unknown seller when a guy you went to jail with knows a guy who can help you?”
In May 2015, a six-month joint investigation by law enforcement in Australia and the United States resulted in 17 arrests across the globe. Agents went undercover as weapons dealers to suss out suspects. The operation also led to seizures of firearms, ballistic armor, illicit drugs, and $80,000 in bitcoins.
DeepDot warned: “For the people who are active on darknet marketplaces, it is a well known rule to stay away from weapons and poisons. They attract way more heat than the drugs.”