DOJ Announces Largest Dark Web Takedown in History

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

The Department of Justice announced on July 20 that it was recently able to take down dark website AlphaBay and its administrator. The action was in conjunction with Europol as well as law enforcement authorities in Thailand, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France.

“Today the department of Justice announced the takedown of the Dark Web market AlphaBay. This is the largest dark market webplace takedown in world history,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “An AlphaBay staff member claimed that this group services more than 30 thousand illegal vendors, people who sell illegal products for more than 200,000 customers. By far most of this activity was in illegal drugs, pouring fuel on the fire of the national drug epidemic.”

Thai authorities arrested AlphaBay Admin Alexandre Cazes (aka Alpha02) on July 5, the DOJ press release said. Cazes was a Canadian citizen who was living in Thailand.

“This ranks as one of the most successful coordinated takedowns against cyber crime in recent years,” said Executive Director Rob Wainwright of European law enforcement agency Europol. “Concerted action by law enforcement authorities in the United States and Europe, with the support of Europol, has delivered a massive blow to the underground criminal economy and sends a clear message that the dark web is not a safe area for criminals. I pay tribute to the excellent work of the United States and European authorities for the imaginative and resourceful way they combined their efforts in this case.”

Though Cazes apparently took his own life on July 12 while in Thai custody, the U.S. and its international partners were able to freeze and preserve millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrencies as well as high-value assets owned by Cazes and his wife.

“AlphaBay was the world’s largest underground marketplace of the dark net, providing an avenue for criminals to conduct business anonymously and without repercussions,” said Chief Don Fort of IRS-Criminal Investigation. “Working with our law enforcement partners–both domestically and abroad–IRS-CI used its unique financial and cyber expertise to help shine a bright light on the accounts and customers of this shadowy black marketplace, and we intend to continue pursuing these kinds of criminals no matter where they hide.”

According to the press release, AlphaBay was responsible for the sale of “illegal drugs, stolen and fraudulent identification documents and access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms, and toxic chemicals throughout the world,” and that many overdose deaths across the country have been attributed to vendors on the site.

“Today some of the most prolific drug suppliers use what’s called the Dark Web, which is a collection of hidden websites that you can only access if you mask your identity and your location,” said Sessions. “And it’s called dark not just because these sites are intentionally hidden, it’s also dark because of what’s sold on many of them: illegal weapons, stolen identities, child pornography, and large amounts of narcotics.”

“Transnational organized crime poses a serious threat to our national and economic security,” said FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe. “Whether they operate in broad daylight or on the dark net, we will never stop working to find and stop these criminal syndicates.”

Recent