By Anthony Luzzatto Gardner, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
This week, U.S. law enforcement worked with 16 other countries and the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, to arrest 17 individuals for involvement in selling illicit goods through a “darknet marketplace.”
Silk Road 2 was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to sell kilograms of illegal and harmful drugs, as well as firearms and other dangerous contraband. In addition to Silk Road 2, hundreds of other darknet marketplace sites were shuttered through this law enforcement action and police confiscated property and illicit cash proceeds.
So, why is this important or newsworthy? We regularly see law enforcement announce operations against criminal elements and indeed the predecessor Silk Road website was seized last year and its operator arrested in the United States.
This was different because it demonstrated the vitality, and necessity, of the multilateral model of law enforcement, with Europol’s EC3 organizing the efforts of 16 countries in coordination with a massive effort in the U.S. undertaken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Justice Department. What used to take years to organize, took mere months through the working relationship U.S. law enforcement has developed with European authorities. This is a relationship based on mutual trust and respect that is yielding positive results on both sides of the Atlantic.
This effort was also different because it showed the fallacy to which some transnational criminals cling: that the darknet is impenetrable to law enforcement. There was a massive multi-state operation undertaken by the FBI to ensure simultaneous arrests and seizures. And, according to publicly available charging documents, traditional police techniques were utilized including an undercover agent from Homeland Security Investigations, who gained high level access to insiders in the dirty world of internet-based drug dealing. Not all countries allow for undercover investigations, and while each country’s laws and sovereignty is to be respected, the use of such techniques where allowed and subject to strict judicial oversight, can be beneficial to the entire international community.
Finally, a lesson from this criminal investigation that should not be overlooked is the continued use of some virtual currencies as the payment method of choice in some unlawful activity. Virtual currencies are an emerging technology with great potential to bring financial services to the underserved, but are also being exploited by transnational criminals in an attempt to evade arrest and seizure of their ill-gotten gains. To some extent, the lack of universal regulation and enforcement against these virtual currencies contributes to this illegal use. The United States has undertaken significant steps to regulate and enforce anti-money laundering to curtail such activity and we stand ready to assist all of our European partners as they hopefully undertake similar steps.
I congratulate the men and women of law enforcement from the 17 countries today that have been made safer by their collective and sustained efforts.