While famous cartel bosses like Pablo Escobar and Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman may have gone to the trouble of building secret airstrips in the jungle to help them shift their contraband, cyber-age drug dealers are distributing their illicit merchandise by simply popping it in the post. As risky as this may seem, it is actually considered by many to be the most secure way of anonymously smuggling gear around the country, and has helped to fuel the growth of the so-called dark net into the world’s biggest drugs market.
Dark net marketplaces operate using an underground network called the Onion Router, or Tor, which relays communications through a series of servers all over the world, making it virtually impossible to trace activity back to a user’s IP address. The anonymity this gives both buyers and sellers has transformed the drug dealer from a shady-looking guy in a dark alley to a bespectacled nerd in his bedroom.
The most famous site on the dark net was the Silk Road, which, prior to being shut down in 2013, was thought to be turning over around $1.2 billion in sales every year. While users of this and other similar sites could rest assured that their online dealings would not be tracked by the authorities, physically delivering the drugs bought over the network represented a different challenge – yet one that had a remarkably simple solution: the US Postal Service (USPS).
Unlike private couriers like UPS or FedEx, USPS is an independent agency of the American government, and as such is covered by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to privacy. This means that law enforcement agencies are not allowed to search packages being transported by USPS unless they have a warrant, making it the perfect option for anonymous drug dealers shipping naughty packages around the country.
The dark net uses a network called Tor to hide users' identities. Eugene Sergeev/Shutterstock
The ability to use USPS as a drugs mule has subsequently made the dark net particularly popular as a mode of buying and selling narcotics in the US. According to a recent investigation by Vocativ, more weed, LSD and cocaine is sold over the dark net in the US than in any other country.
Naturally, even when using this relatively safe mode of transporting their gear, dark net dealers take extra precautions to ensure their drugs are not intercepted, often using moisture barrier bags and other, more sophisticated types of packaging to mask the appearance and the smell of these suspect packages.
All of this has led to a great deal of concern among the powers that be, with former Attorney General Eric Holder telling the Senate in 2014 that “it is shocking to see the amount of drugs that get pumped into communities around this country through our mail system.”