Law enforcement continues to pursue vendors who sold on darknet markets that have been closed for years. In one such recent example of this, two men in their late 20s from Georgia, Gerren Johnson and William Jackson, have been arrested and charged by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) with selling firearms on the former Black Market Reloaded, Utopia, and Agora darknet markets. Agora and Black Market Reloaded became two of the top darknet markets to rise after the government seized the original Silk Road marketplace. The Utopia market was based on Black Market Reloaded. All three of the darknet markets that the two men are accused of dealing firearms on are now closed. Black Market Reloaded closed in December of 2013, Utopia was shut down by Dutch police in 2014, and Agora closed in August of 2015.
The two men operated under the vendor names CherryFlavor and WorldWideArms, according to a federal indictment against them that was filed last month. Their last alleged sale was three years ago. The ATF accuses the two men of being part of gun smuggling ring that includes two other people from Georgia, Brendan Person and Sherman Jackson, who the ATF charged in 2014 and who have subsequently pleaded guilty. US Attorney John Horn said in a press release that Gerren Johnson and William Jackson sold firearms “in over a dozen foreign countries.” Horn went on to say that, “Relying on the anonymity of the Internet, these defendants hoped to circumvent federal firearms laws.”
“Organized criminal groups often rely on the availability of weapons to carry out their activities; thus, the market for illegal firearms around the world. ATF will aggressively and acutely target any individuals who seek to diminish the general welfare of our communities with illegal firearms trafficking,” ATF Special Agent in Charge Wayne Dixie, of the Atlanta Field Division said in the Department of Justice’s press release.
The two men are accused of illegally selling and exporting several brands of 9mm pistols. Documents filed in court by the ATF show that the vendors were discovered because some of their packages had been considered suspicious and were opened up. Once investigators found guns in the suspicious packages, the suspected customers were interviewed and it was determined that the guns had been mailed as part of a transaction on a darknet market. All of the firearms that investigators found in the case traced back to the Atlanta area, where the defendants had bought the firearms legally from a site called OutDoorTraders.
Federal law enforcement had sent the shipping details of over 50 packages to law enforcement agencies in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. According to the indictment, Australian postal inspectors discovered one suspicious package that contained a karaoke machine, in which a 9mm handgun was found. In another case described in the indictment, inspectors found a 9mm handgun in a DVD player.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) conducts it’s own mass surveillance program called Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT), which was implemented after the anthrax letter attacks in 2001. The program essentially extends a process called “mail cover” where the front and the back of an envelope or package were photographed, a process which had previously only been used on letters and parcels for addresses which law enforcement specifically requested. Now that the MICT program is in operation, a photograph of the exterior of every letter and package sent through the US Postal Service is recorded, stored, and and can be shared with law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies at their request. The USPS MICT mail covers program is not all that much unlike the e-mail and telephone metadata bulk collection programs that the NSA operates, where the sender’s and receiver’s addresses and any notes (like the subject line in an e-mail) are recorded, stored, and shared. It is likely the the MICT program was used to retroactively track and share the details of the vendors’ packages.