Feds in the U.S. Have Formed a Mini-FBI for Dark Web Crypto Crime

Feds in the U.S. Have Formed a Mini-FBI for Dark Web Crypto Crime

Federal investigators from five different agencies have formed a new task force to try and catch criminals using cryptocurrencies and the Dark Web to carry out illegal activity. The new Avengers-style crossover team includes agents from the Department of Homeland Security, federal prosecutors, the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Unit, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. They’re calling themselves the “Darknet Marketplace and Digital Currency Crimes Task Force.” They’re restricting their activities to Arizona for now.

The task force’s primary mission is to “disrupt and dismantle criminal organisations that exploit the appearance of anonymity on the darknet or use digital currency to facilitate criminal activities.” Investigators from the new task force say they’ve been crossing paths since 2017 but decided to formally come together now due in part to an increase in the use of the internet to facilitate the illegal sale of drugs, firearms, and technology in recent years.

“Ever-evolving technology has allowed drug traffickers and other criminal actors to expand into the digital world and use the darknet to engage in their illegal activity,” the task force wrote in a blog post. Law enforcement officials involved in the Digital Currency Crimes group, like DEA Special Agent in Charge Cheri Oz, believe the increased collaboration and resources provided by the task force will give them greater flexibility to quickly target suspects.

New, easily accessible advances in encryption technology and the mainstream adoption of more difficult-to-trace cryptocurrencies, the feds argue, have left law enforcement at a disadvantage. Encryption advocates, on the other hand, have long argued these tools are crucial to protect users’ privacy in an online world.

“Drug traffickers who are hiding in the darknet will be aggressively targeted and unmasked by this task force,” Oz said in a statement.

For now, the task force appears to be focusing its efforts in the state of Arizona, though it’s unclear whether it plans to expand its purview to other areas. The five agencies involved in the task force did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment

In 2021, forensic crypto firm ChainAnalysis estimated cryptocurrency-related crime hit a then-all-time high, with illicit crypto addresses receiving $US14 billion worth of crypto in a single year. Those figures were nearly double the $US7.8 billion illegal addresses reportedly received the year before. Much of the seemingly surge in criminal transactions, ChainAnalsyis notes, owes to the rapid mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies during that time.

Dark net transactions, which loosely refer to the underground economy only accessible through certain onion-routing software, have long been a hotbed for illegal activity. Though its anonymised nature makes it more difficult to find accurate figures on dark net transactions some estimates suggest anywhere between 37% to 57% of dark web purchases further criminal activity.

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