New Zealand’s “Operation Tiger” Targeted Young Darknet Users
As part of an operation that began in 2016, New Zealand law enforcement officials raided one dozen homes and arrested 13 suspects in early August. Investigators believed that all 13 suspects had acted in “furtherance” of drug distribution networks valued at millions of dollars. NZ authorities accused the group of drug importation, possession, distribution, among other crimes exclusive to specific suspects. They had allegedly purchased drugs from the darknet and resold them to peers over the course of one year or even longer.
Law enforcement called the investigation and takedown “Operation Tiger.” It was a joint venture between Customs and Waitemata Police in response to the 2016 that a significant number of “young people” had used the darknet in the recent past. And, also, the police reported receiving tip-offs from Customs regarding an influx of inbound drug packages. According to Detective Sergeant Tim Williams—one of the officials in charge of identifying suspects—the recipient’s address on any given package was that of a family home.
And the recipients themselves were young, the authorities explained. Many were teenagers or in their early 20s, “barely out of high school.” The majority had no criminal records. And when police knocked at the doors of the recipients houses, often unsuspecting, “shocked,” parents answered the door. The suspects were atypical drug dealers, authorities told the Herald. However, as it turned out, the young adults were drug dealers, atypical or not.
“They were selling to people in their same peer network, often around the same age,” Williams said. “Customs would provide us the information as to the location of where that parcel was to be delivered to and we conducted an investigation based on that information to try and identify who the offender was.” Williams explained that while the suspects had taken attempts to keep their activities hidden, “everything leaves a trace.” Officers explained that the suspects used Bitcoin to cover their tracks, but law enforcement still discovered some of their larger purchases: 37 liters of GBL and a little over one pound of MDMA.
Other than the age and believed innocence of the suspects, the other parts of the case and investigation fit that of any other darknet investigation. Or even knock-and-talk investigations. The Herald likened the investigation to a much smaller version of Operation Hyperion, an international law enforcement collaboration that targeted darknet users. The efficacy is still unknown.
According to information given by investigating officers, the term “group” only applied loosely. The 13 suspects operated, for the most part, fully independently. Williams explained that the group lacked friends and had hoped that selling drugs would have increased their popularity. However, unsurprisingly, “when they got arrested and charged, their friends also got spoken to by the police – that didn’t make them popular,” the senior detective added. “These offenders are completely different to what we deal with. Young and often not committing a series of other crimes.”
Some of the items seized during the operation and house searches included: MDMA, meth, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine, and LSD worth $500,000 or more; $220,000 in cash; a firearm; and “a property.” Netsafe’s director of technology, Sean Lyons, recommended that parents take action to prevent their “kids” from accessing the darknet:
“If you’re directly worried about kids being on the darknet then what you need to be doing is be making sure you’re aware of what they’re installing on their computers. Don’t just sit there stewing. Find someone, find a technician who is capable of [knowing what software to look for] and make sure you are aware of that. If you look over your kid’s shoulder at their laptop and they’re using some browser that you’ve never seen, don’t just sit there and ponder over that. Ask them what it is, find out what it is.”
Lyons insightfully explained that one does not end up on the darknet after searching for Rugby online. He added another piece of wisdom before concluding: “a developing adolescent might [tell his peers] ‘don’t waste your time on the open web, you want to be on the dark web.’” According the the internet safety professionally, the darknet is a place where adolescents try to prove themselves to their peers.