Dark Web drug trade is growing, and Dutch police have a big responsibility

The dark web is an encrypted part of the Internet known primarily as a gateway to online drug trafficking. Since the emergence of Silk Road (a dark web marketplace for trading drugs and other goods) in 2011, dozens of similar marketplaces have been created. The promise is always the same: the possibility of anonymous trading of illegal goods and services, such as drugs, illicit drugs and computer viruses. It doesn't always work, though, as police and courts around the world often seek to intervene. But there is still a world to profit from, because there are also many blind spots.

The first blind spot relates to the export of drugs from the Netherlands. We are known worldwide for the production and export of synthetic drugs such as XTC, speed and, in recent years, methamphetamine. According to criminologist and independent researcher Shanna Mehlbaum, the majority of drugs from the Netherlands are intended for export: "Estimates range from 70 to 90 percent."


Researcher Mehlbaum said, "I think there are still quite a few blind spots when it comes to drugs and the role of the Netherlands in it. We know we produce a lot, partly because of the large number of drug labs that have been found. And that number is increasing. 90 drug labs were discovered in 2019, compared to 108 already last year. What we really don't know much about is where the drugs are going, how the intermediate trade is going on and who's involved." This is problematic, according to Mehlbaum, "because it shows how little we actually still know about the criminal networks in the Netherlands."

For years, foreign governments have been pressuring the Netherlands to curb the export of drugs by mail. Earlier this week, customs data showed that the number of drug mail intercepted this year has more than doubled compared to 2020. Last year, 5,204 drug packages and letters were intercepted; this year, 12,712 were intercepted. A spokesman said, "It's impossible to monitor all outgoing mail. This must be the tip of the iceberg." Some of the mail comes from a dark web marketplace.

The Dark Web

The dark web plays an important role in drug exports, but it's hard to say how much of a role it plays. We know that XTC, the underground trading site where 30 percent of the supply is labeled Dutch XTC, is also sent from here. "It does suggest that the dark web is an important means of exporting drugs from the Netherlands." says Rolf van Wegberg, a cybercrime researcher at Delft University of Technology.

The blind spot is the rest of the drugs, because that's harder to study. We don't produce cocaine ourselves in the Netherlands, but much of it is exported from the Netherlands. "The fact that XTC comes from the Netherlands is used as a quality marker, so it's advertised with it, but that's not the case with cocaine." van Wegberg explains, "This makes research on this more difficult." With marijuana, there can be a distortion in the numbers. When cannabis is offered, it is sometimes claimed to come from cafes in the Netherlands "when it wasn't even shipped from the Netherlands."

Not always accessible

With a little technical knowledge, it's not very difficult to travel the dark web and order drugs on these marketplaces yourself. The Internet is littered with guides on how to do this as safely as possible. But the dark web extends beyond these marketplaces to many specific websites. For example, you can't search the dark web using a search engine such as Google, but you can't simply type the URL into your browser to access it. URLs on the dark web consist of many different random numbers and letters and end in .onion. This makes it very easy for criminals to keep certain sites secret and only spread them in certain circles.

It also creates another big blind spot. Most markets still have some sort of ethical code, which means that not everything is allowed or possible. "Even though there is a large supply of criminal goods, there are limits." van Wegberg, "Very heavy drugs like fentanyl may not be allowed to be sold, and also weapons, for example, are often not allowed to be sold." But many Google-like search engine sites also exist on the dark web, and Tordex is one of them. On the right side of the Tordex page, you can see in real time what people are searching for, and they often search for terms related to child pornography. "This is also not allowed to be traded on many dark web marketplaces, but again, in other parts of the dark web, it is allowed. If you're talking about a blind spot on the dark web, then this really is one.

Law enforcement

The Dutch police's Cybercrime Team (TCEC) used to be set up to curb crime on the dark web. In recent years, the team has focused solely on other forms of crime. "When it comes to criminal investigations, the focus is on prioritization. If you use your capabilities on one study, you can't use them on another." TCEC team leader Nan van de Coevering said, "Personally, I do feel frustrated that we weren't able to focus on the dark web, but when I look at the other achievements of the Dutch police, I'm incredibly proud of that. Now that we are seeing a renewed rise in dark web crime, the police are once again recognizing the importance of investigating the dark web."

From:On DarkNet – Dark Web News and Analysis
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