US Navy warns staff not to buy LSD on the dark web

Personnel are advised that authorities may pay rewards for information leading to convictions

Andrew Naughtie
Thursday 02 July 2020 18:47 BST
Sailors stand atop the USS Illinois in harbour at Groton, CT
Sailors stand atop the USS Illinois in harbour at Groton, CT

The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has noticed an uptick in Navy personnel buying, using and distributing LSD – and while it long ago stopped routinely testing for the drug, the agency is prepared to crack down on service service members, including by rewarding informants.

“Recent law enforcement reporting has revealed that an increasing number of people are moving to purchasing illicit substances via the dark web because of the perceived anonymity provided by tools like The Onion Router (TOR),” it said in a recent memo. “They also use cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin to pay for purchases.”

And lest sailors think they can get away with this, anonymity for those buying the drugs concerned, it seems, is far from guaranteed.

“While TOR offers anonymity by obscuring IP addresses, law enforcement use various investigative techniques to identify both purchasers and sellers. Additionally, many cryptocurrency transactions are traceable.”

The navy and other armed forces have had a few high-profile incidents of LSD use and dealing among personnel, including one 2018 incident where several sailors pled guilty to possessing and distributing drugs including LSD and MDMA in Japan while serving in the nuclear department of the USS Ronald Reagan.

“As quickly as new markets are established, law enforcement will work to identify and seize these markets whenever possible, each time leading to the arrest of users and sellers.”

It is notoriously easy to find drugs for sale on the dark web, and as the NCIS recognises, efforts to close down substance markets altogether have not succeeded. Instead, they often grow in response to real-world demand, and sellers shift their dark web activities in concert with global circumstances.

As various countries’ coronavirus lockdowns began this spring, for instance, listings for various illegal drugs exploded, their dealers looking for new customers now that bars and clubs were closed and streets empty.

The risks to sailors of buying drugs on TOR and elsewhere, says the NCIS, include not just dangerously tainted substances but also a very risk of falling foul of all manner of law enforcement agencies, from international to local.

The NCIS, for one, “continues to use investigative tools – including source networks and tipsters – to identify and prosecute DON personnel attempting to buy LSD or other illicit substances on the dark web”.

And perhaps sailors shouldn’t trust their fellows in uniform to keep quiet. “NCIS offers rewards,” the agency concludes, darkly. “NCIS may provide a reward to you for information that leads to a felony conviction.”

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