Until now, Jeff Sessions, well known for his hard-line view on drug crime, has focused on punishing drug users and dealers operating in the real world. But the U.S. attorney general has found what he considers a new target: the dark web.
In a speech in Washington on Thursday, Sessions announced a coordinated international operation against “what’s called the dark web,” he said, a collection of websites where some of America’s most prolific drug suppliers hang out. Of course, most people are already well aware of the online network because of the high-profile takedown of the Silk Road by the FBI in 2013.
Still, Sessions went on to explain: “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 deadly drugs.”
The operation took two of the largest dark web marketplaces offline: AlphaBay, a marketplace offering “large amounts of narcotics,” illegal weapons, and stolen identities and Hansa, which sold similar illicit items. Multiple U.S. agencies; Europol; and law enforcement agents from Thailand, France, the U.K., the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, and Germany joined forces in the sting.
Sessions also pointed out that AlphaBay was the largest takedown of a dark web drug marketplace to date with more than a quarter-million listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals — 10 times the size of Silk Road, according to the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe.
Since the Senate narrowly approved his nomination in January, Sessions has tried to revive the failed War on Drugs, working to reverse legislation introduced by the Obama administration which sought to ease penalties against drug users.
In an attempt to drive home the point about the damage done by these sites — which allow users to anonymously buy and sell drugs using untraceable digital currencies like bitcoin and get narcotics delivered straight to their door — Sessions cited incidents of Americans dying from drugs purchased on AlphaBay.
Among those mentioned was Grant Seaver, a 13-year-old student at Treasure Mountain Junior High in Park City, Utah, who died after overdosing on a synthetic opioid purchased by a classmate on AlphaBay. Of course, the three deaths Sessions mentions are just a drop in the ocean compared to the total number of young people dying from heroin and opioid overdoses in the U.S. In 2015 alone, 2,343 deaths were recorded among 15-24-year-olds.
AlphaBay went offline in early July, leading many users to suspect the hand of law enforcement. Still, many of those same users turned to another dark web marketplace, Hansa, unaware that investigators from Holland had already taken control of that site in June after arresting the operators in Germany.
As a result, thousands of users who fled from AlphaBay to Hansa ran right into the arms of the authorities monitoring their activity.
Following the press conference, reporters questioned Sessions about President Trump’s comments that he regrets hiring the attorney general after he recused himself from the Russian investigation. Sessions, however, wouldn’t address the matter.
As he left the conference, one reporter asked: “Are you concerned you will be viewed as a zombie attorney general?”