In September 2016, Senator Rob Portman delivered a briefing to members of the Senate regarding a bill aimed at ending darknet drug trafficking through the mail. Throughout the year, we have repeatedly seen the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) credited in darknet drug trafficking cases. And, at least in the United States, the United States Postal Service (USPS) unknowingly trafficked the overwhelming majority of darknet and deepweb drug packages in 2016. As a recent job listing pointed out, the USPS needs help; while the number of cases USPIS agents helped close increased, so too, according to many studies, did the number of drugs sent through the Postal System.
Senator Rob Portman stood behind the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act after Customs started seizing Carfentanil packages (both by US and bordering neighbor agencies). He called the use of the Postal Service a legal loophole in the system. Despite the the debate constantly surrounding the status of USPS being a Federal institution, the Federal structuring restricts law enforcement’s ability to investigate suspicious packages. Unlike other private carriers such as UPS or Fedex, package handlers lack the authority to open packages sent via USPS without a warrant.
The Senators behind the bill explained the even greater loophole, in their opinion. Again, unlike FedEx and UPS, the USPS allowed international packages to hit US borders without electronic advance data. The electronic advance data from private carriers, according to the bill, gave Customs and Border Protection to see the sender and recipient of any given package before the package arrived on US soil. The STOP act pointed to China and India as the main problem countries.
According to a recent job listing, the USPIS is looking to deal with the issue internally. The listing asked for experienced professionals to fill the position of an “Intelligence Gathering Specialist.” The position scope highlighted the darknet, along with other “opened and closed web sources, including but not limited to news publications, blogs, social media platforms, paste sites, government websites, forums, and onion sites.” Another section of the listing included several additional sources of information: “social media, chats, forums, darknet, Tor network, news feeds, internet relay chats and other sources of data openly available on the Internet.”
The highlight of the application and potential zenith fell in the requirements section. Intelligence Gathering Specialists, according to the USPIS listing, ultimately need to identify darknet entities and relay their real-life information to relevant authorities.
“Candidates shall be capable of performing a prioritized assessment of the data to identify the most critical and reliable data in order to identify , bitcoins, locations, accounts, services, travels, email addresses, IP addresses and other pattern of life data in an effort to determine physical attribution of an Internet identity. Candidates shall be capable of creating intelligence and investigative reports which represent the steps taken, the data sources reviewed and the conclusions drawn from the evaluation of the Internet information.”
Motherboard wrote that members of the security community received a similar job listing for a “Investigative (Internet) Analyst” position. According to Motherboard contributor Joseph Cox, the job listing requested applicants start as soon as possible. Paul J. Krenn, the national information officer for Motherboard, explained that the program developed as a response to the 2014 incident where hackers stole the personal information of 800,000 employees.
Regarding that incident, he explained:
“As a result, the dark web, deep web and open source Internet information is important to position the organization with better cybersecurity defenses, cybercrime information, knowledge of cyber threats and cybercriminal activities, tactics and practices. The cybercrime program believes the information provided in these information outlets will help prioritize the cybercrime investigations toward those cyber-criminals who are using the U.S. Mail to facilitate crime and who are targeting the Postal Service, and its digital assets and infrastructure.”
Many recent cases involved the USPIS and, if this program takes off in the direction hoped for, more cases will follow. Some involved USPIS inspectors almost entirely and only called for outside assistance when the investigators needed a warrant. Cox said, “The FBI isn’t the only US law enforcement agency on the dark web,” and, in that phrase, best explained the current darknet landscape—with respect to law enforcement.