Europol’s Operation SpecTor leads to massive drug bust on the dark web

Coordinated by Europol and the US Department of Justice, Operation SpecTor yesterday seized more than €50 million in cash and cryptocurrency, 850 kg of drugs (including amphetamines, cocaine, MDMA and ecstasy pills) and 117 firearms. The latter, contrary to Europol’s choice of emoji, were most likely not squirt guns.

The arrested vendors were operating the marketplace Monopoly Market, selling drugs to customers in exchange for digital currency. Monopoly has been operating since 2019, and one of the candidates hoped for a bigger slice of the darknet pie after law enforcement shut down the top-earning Hydra in April 2022.

“This operation sends a strong signal to criminals on the dark web: international law enforcement has the resources and capability to identify you and hold you accountable for your illegal activities, even on the dark web,” said Catherine De Bolle, executive Director of Europol. noticed.

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Across Europe, the synchronized arrests took place in the UK (55), Germany (52), the Netherlands (10), Austria (9), France (5), Switzerland (2) and Poland (1). Furthermore, 155 people were arrested in the US and one in Brazil. Europol stated that some of the arrested suspects were “high-value targets”.

In addition, authorities obtained buyer lists from the sellers, potentially leading to the arrest of “thousands of customers” around the world.

Transaction data accelerated investigations

German law enforcement managed to seize the “criminal infrastructure” that supported the site in 2021. Since then, they have been able to collect intelligence packages that have served as the basis for hundreds of national investigations.

“The intelligence that Europol shared with us, such as transaction data and virtual currency addresses, helped us to start new investigations and to enrich existing investigations,” says the leader of the Dutch team, Nan van de Coevering, told media in the Netherlands.

In the US, the operation was led by the Justice Department’s Joint Criminal and Opioid Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team, established in 2018. According to US Attorney General Merrick B. GarlandSpecTor represents “the most seized funds and the highest number of arrests in any coordinated international action led by the Department of Justice against drug traffickers on the dark web.”

The 18-month SpecTor operation is the latest in a line of aptly named high-profile darknet busts by international law enforcement. DisrupTor took place in 2020 with 179 arrests and Dark HunTor in 2021 with 150 arrests.

Before shutting down last year, Russia-based Hydra had about 17 million customers and focused on trafficking illegal drugs, cyber-attack tools, forged documents and stolen data.

Hydra had an estimated turnover of €1.23 billion, and German authorities seized €23 million worth of cryptocurrencies during the bust. After the closure there was an immediate, industry-wide, precipitous decline in daily revenues in the dark web market, from around €4 million to almost €400,000, according to research from Chain analysis.

Closing Monopoly may not have the same effect, but the ripples will nevertheless be felt throughout the darknet.