Deadly illegal drugs sold on a secret website are being delivered to homes across Britain through the post.
Shipments of cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and cannabis are disguised as ordinary mail and even household bills by cunning online crooks, a Sunday Mirror investigation reveals.
The drugs can easily be bought on the Amazon-style Silk Road which is hidden away on the internet and can’t be found through normal search engines.
And we discovered the sinister market place site is thriving despite the National Crime Agency claiming just six months ago that it had been CLOSED.
Instead its drug barons have grown even more cunning, bragging of their new “stealth” methods of delivery. These entail sending deadly substances out by First Class post in ordinary stamped addressed envelopes that would raise no suspicion at Royal Mail.
Our undercover reporter tracked down Silk Road – hosted on what is known as the dark web – in the wake of a worrying 2014 Global Drug Survey which showed nearly a quarter of users now bought their illegal substances online.
He set up a delivery address and bought four shipments from UK peddlers which all arrived within three days in innocent looking envelopes. One of them, containing 1g of ketamine, was there within 24 hours.
Locating the site involved the use of a special downloaded web browser popular with criminals. It works just like Internet Explorer or Safari but hides the user’s location. After registering on Silk Road – a process that only asks for you to choose a username and *password – an astonishing illegal drugs market place opened up.
As well as cocaine, ketamine, MDMA – the main component of ecstasy tablets – and types of cannabis, there were also steroids, morphine-like opioids, psychedelics and a host of other other illegal stimulants.
The website also has sections for users who want illegal weapons, forged documents and porn.
Unlike mainstream markets such as eBay and Amazon, transactions on Silk Road are made using the controversial internet-only currency Bitcoins.
These can be bought online through an ordinary bank account and traded across the web between individuals with little chance of the cash source ever being traced.
Peddlers on Silk Road brazenly push their deadly wares as if they have no fear of ever being caught by police. One claimed to have “the best coke in stock at the moment, so get grabbing”.
Another bragged: “Our cocaine is the best and we can guarantee that anyone who complains does not know what they are taking.” He added: “Top quality product which is not over-estimated and will arrive exactly as described”.
And, just like Amazon, there are reviews of the killer drugs from buyers. One happy customer wrote: “A+++. Trusted seller. Top class stealth, very inconspicuous.” Another buyer said: “Next day delivery, great stuff for the price.”
The dealers also detail the devious methods they use to conceal the drugs in low-key packages which can slip through the mail unnoticed.
One writes: “We use safe, secure stealth *packaging.” Most even offer free shipping.
Their confidence at being safe from the authorities is understandable. The Silk Road has already been targeted here and in the US. It was shut down once and some arrests were made.
National Crime Agency director general Keith Bristow said his team had sent “a clear message to criminals – the hidden internet isn’t hidden and your anonymous activity isn’t anonymous. We know where you are and we will catch you.”
But within weeks Silk Road was back in business elsewhere on the dark web. Our man began the operation to infiltrate the site by setting up a trading account on a website far removed from Silk Road, and transferring funds there from an ordinary bank account.
Then he bought Bitcoin at the market rate and transferred it into a separate Silk Road account. Drug dealers receiving payment in Bitcoins simply reverse the process to turn their money into whatever currency they want.
After looking around Silk Road – and before buying anything – the Sunday Mirror hired the services of a Home Office approved drug-testing laboratory based in the medical school at St George’s University of London, in Tooting.
Our reporter then made four controlled purchases of small amounts of the UK’s most popular drugs – cannabis, MDMA, cocaine and ketamine – to be delivered to a private address set up by the SundayMirror. From one vendor called “jerseycow” our man bought a sample listed as “MDMA 1 gram – pure & uncut rocks” for £23.65. In Bitcoin currency, it cost BC 0.1042. Then he bought a sample listed as “Ketamine 1g” costing the equivalent of £25.57 from “project4” as well as “0.2g uncut Colombian cocaine flake” from a seller called “DRUGKINGS”.
Finally our man paid £41.16 for “3.5g stinky bud” – cannabis – from vendor “trava!”. Within hours of making the purchases the ketamine showed up as “shipped” on the Silk Road site.
The next morning, a brown envelope looking just like a bill arrived, addressed to our fictitious buyer. Later St George’s University lab toxicologist Dr John Ramsay opened the packet. Using a process called Fourier Transform Infra-red Spectroscopy, he confirmed the sample was ketamine. The next day a more bulky, padded unmarked envelope arrived looking just like thousands of other posted daily by eBay sellers. When Dr Ramsay opened that, he found a small bag containing MDMA crystal wrapped in several layers inside an empty cassette box. On the third day the final two packages arrived and yielded cocaine and cannabis which closely matched the description given in the listings on Silk Road.
In all cases the drugs were wrapped in a heat-sealed foil which, according to Dr Ramsay, is impenetrable to *scanners used by the authorities. He said: “The packaging is typical of the kind we find when we analyse amnesty bins used in nightclubs to collect illegal drugs.”
After all the samples had arrived, Dr Ramsay’s team then used an analysis method called Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry to confirm beyond any doubt that the drugs were what we believed them to be. After proving it was possible to buy drugs online and have them delivered using the UK postal system, our reporter withdrew the remaining funds from Silk Road.
The Sunday Mirror has now made the evidence available to the police.
A Royal Mail spokesman said: “Where Royal Mail has any suspicion that illegal items are being sent through our system, we work closely with the police and other authorities to assist their investigations and to prevent such *activities from happening.”
A spokesman for the National Crime Agency told us: “Threats posed by hidden web marketplace sites such as Silk Road, and the use of fast parcel and postal services to smuggle illegal commodities, are clearly identified in the National Strategic Assessment, published by the NCA earlier this month.
“The NCA and its partners are engaged in a range of operations and other activity to both target and disrupt this criminality.”
The Minister for Organised Crime, Karen Bradley, said: “We take the issue of unlawful advertising and sales of drugs on the internet very seriously.
“Criminals might think they can hide their activities in the dark web, but the National Crime Agency is working to shine a light into even its darkest corners. For the first time, the UK has a dedicated Cyber Crime Unit within the NCA which is working to identify, locate and arrest cyber criminals who pose the greatest threat. The NCA are also working with Border Force, HMRC, law enforcement and private sector partners to address the *vulnerability of postal and parcel systems.
“This work will improve our ability to target contraband, increase opportunities for taking action against parcels before they reach the border and enable more targeted intelligence-led operations against them.”
But, as the Sunday Mirror found, it may prove far from easy to pull down the shutters on sites like Silk Road for good.
May 24th 2014
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