Britain's 'FBI' makes first UK Silk Road arrest in Devon
Four men suspected of being significant users of Silk Road, the billion dollar online narcotics bazaar, have been arrested in the UK, it has emerged.
The arrests - which include a man in his early 50s who was held in Devon - were the first in the UK following the collapse of the world's biggest internet drug dealing hub and the detention of its alleged founder Ross Ulbricht, 29, in San Francisco by the FBI last week.
Three others in their early 20s were arrested in Manchester on suspicion of supplying controlled drugs.
They are being investigated by the newly formed National Crime Agency, which launched on Monday with 4,000 officers and has vowed to instill "fear" into organised criminals.
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More British suspects linked to Silk Road, which had hundreds of thousands of users, are expected to be detained in coming weeks.
Keith Bristow, the NCA’s Director General, said: “These arrests send a clear message to criminals, the hidden internet isn't hidden and your anonymous activity isn't anonymous. We know where you are, what you are doing and we will catch you."
Ulbricht appeared in court in San Francisco on Friday and is accused of operating under the internet moniker "Dread Pirate Roberts" to run Silk Road.
The FBI claims the website facilitated $1.2 billion in sales in less than two years, with Ulbricht taking $80 million in commissions.
It was used by drug dealers around the globe to advertise their products for sale including heroin, LSD, cocaine and cannabis. It was also used by computer hackers and hit men to offer their services in many countries
Referred to as an "anonymous Amazon," it was part of what investigators call the hidden "dark web," where users are more difficult to track.
Using technology first developed by the US Navy communications are bounced off servers around the world.
People using the site to buy drugs also used the virtual currency Bitcoin to lessen the chances of being detected.
After sales were agreed drugs were sent through the regular post between vendors and buyers with consignments vacuum packed to avoid discovery.
According to a 33-page FBI affidavit filed in San Francisco there were 957,079 user accounts on Silk Road.
About 30 per cent of those were in the United States and the country with the next highest number of users was the UK. The agency did not say how many users there were in the UK.
The UK arrests were carried out by National Crime Agency officers who were working closely with American law enforcement agencies, and took place hours after Ulbricht was held in San Francisco.
Andy Archibald, head of the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit, said: “This is only the start of a wider campaign to tackle the ‘dark’ or ‘deep’ web and the criminals exploiting it.
“These criminal areas of the internet aren’t just selling drugs. It’s where fraud takes place, where the trafficking of people and goods is discussed, where child abuse images are exchanged and firearms are traded."