FBI efforts in combating darknet crime were reviewed recently by the US Department of Justice. The inspector’s report uncovered a series of misalignments, duplicated work and inefficiencies.
The FBI came under the microscope in an unclassified version of the Office of the Inspector General report released on Dec. 17.
Strategies, not strategy
After a short introduction into the dark web and its uses, good and bad, the authors attempt to examine the FBI’s strategy. They found none. Instead, the bureau’s operational units each have their own strategies upon which they base their work.
The OIG claims that this hodge-podge of uncoordinated directions needs to be replaced with an overall strategy. Doing so, they contend, will ‘help ensure clarity’, provide strategic continuity’, and provide baseline data collection guidelines’, among other things. In short, the OIG says that the lack of overall strategy hurts the FBI’s efforts. Currently, if the above is an indication, they are unclear, random, and disconnected from each other.
Four operational units in the FBI investigate illegal darknet activities. These include the Hi-Tech Organized Crime Unit focused mainly on dark-web drug trade; Child Exploitation Operational Unit; Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate’s Investigative Unit, and Major Cyber Crimes Unit, which pays attention in particular to hacking tools and their distribution.
The activities of these operational units run the gamut of illegal activity on the dark net. This ranges from targeting the people who operate darknet sites and the supporting infrastructure, to money launderers connected to the dark web, to those who create and sell illegal goods and services as well as their clients.
The OIG does recognize that there are individual success stories among the four operational units. However, the lack of coordination prevents those success stories from being known.
Moreover, the variation or overlap on everything from training to cryptocurrency tracing shows that an agency-wide support strategy in particular would raise efficiency. These issues, and inconsistencies such as data entry, led the OIG to make five recommendations to the FBI.
These recommendations include:
- Ensuring that the Hi-Tech OC Unit focuses sufficiently on fentanyl and other opioids in ways, “consistent with the priorities articulated by the Deputy Attorney General”;
- Developing a coordinated FBI-wide approach that at a minimum clarifies responsibilities, baseline data collection, investigative tool development, and centralized, up-to-date training;
- Ensuring that units coordinate on procedures;
- Developing timelines for strategy development and feedback;
- Sorting out deconfliction issues and data sharing.
FBI on crypto, too
The FBI did agree, overall, with the OIG’s recommendations. The one area that drew the shortest response, however, was the recommendation that cryptocurrency-related guidelines be established. From this, one can assume that new FBI guidelines on crypto are coming.