Flushing out the dark sites
Thai anti-drug agents, together with their counterparts from the US and Canada, will meet the media Monday to provide more details on an extremely troubling recent case. They participated in taking down the so-called "darknet" website AlphaBay. The exceptionally warped genius behind that drug-dealing and murderous internet site was a Canadian who lived for six years in Bangkok. His life and death illustrate how big-time drug trafficking has evolved.
It's actually a tale made for the movies. Operation Bayonet took and prevailed over the world's biggest drug-dealing operation. Its young and handsome Westerner had a love of luxury that translated into multiple Thai villas and more luxury sports cars -- Lamborghini, Porsche, a Mini for the girlfriend and more.
What the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) alone seized when they arrested him was worth, including bank accounts, more than 700 million baht.
Alexandre Cazes, "webmaster" of AlphaBay, was a French-Canadian from Trois Rivieres (Three Rivers) Quebec. And while writers could make him a romantic anti-hero, he was neither. He was the internet-age's version of the very worst drug dealer, the villain who hangs out at the school grounds and sells dangerous drugs to children.
That is exactly what Cazes did, except of course he did it on the internet.
AlphaBay sold pretty well any illicit drugs to anyone. It was well known for two and a half years. It operated in the part of the internet known as "dark" because the websites shield themselves from detection. Only specific web browsers work, and the commercial sites that peddle every conceivable illegal material demand payment in virtual currency, most especially bitcoin.
Cazes and his AlphaBay were also taking payment in similar currencies known as Ether and Monero.
The agents will have more details Monday morning, including on Cazes' death. That occurred in the toilet of the holding cells in the NSB's headquarters building at the Government Complex in Nonthaburi.
Final autopsy reports are still due, but it appeared he hanged himself with his towel. He certainly had a motive. The young Canadian died on the eve of his first extradition hearing in the Criminal Court.
He was certain to be extradited to the United States for federal trial. And events would certainly go badly after that. Credible evidence already public shows that an 18-year-old American died by overdose of a synthetic opioid which she bought on AlphaBay.
The darknet sites are particularly odious and dangerous drug traffickers because of their policies to sell anything to anyone. AlphaBay is not the first big fish to be gaffed. The best-known previous criminal site was Silk Road, and German police closed two such sites and arrested their guru, internet alias Shiny-Flakes.
The dark net is now where paedophiles hang out. The US FBI busted one called Playpen. And these are not small, speciality sites. Playpen served at least 4,200 perverts; AlphaBay had a customer list of 240,000.
Anti-drug agencies like the NSB, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and D Division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police can't get ahead of the dark net yet. Inventive criminals like Cazes are far ahead. With Cazes and AlphaBay they got incredibly lucky.
The main break came recently when Cazes accidentally revealed his actual email address in his boilerplate "welcome to the site" message sent to new users. Then agents of the three countries got serious, closed AlphaBay and arrested Cazes. Hard work and close international cooperation can bring about such luck.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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