Criminals trawl dark web for firearms - a worrying emerging source of supply

All too often, the mainstream media and certain politicians incorrectly blame theft from licensed firearm owners as the main source of supply for the illicit market. ‘Most illicit firearms come from licensed owners’ is the phrase politicians, mainly of the Greens persuasion, like to parrot, sticking to the theory that if you say something enough times, it becomes truth.

The SSAA does not accept that theft from our members and the broader licensed firearm community is the main source of supply to the illicit market, so much so that we appeared at the 2014/15 Senate Inquiry into this issue, headed by former Greens Senator Penny Wright, to argue our case. We have since been proven correct, with the majority report declaring there was no evidence to suggest that theft from licensed owners is the primary source of illicit firearms, and we continue to voice our opposition when this outright lie appears in the media unchallenged.

The SSAA has also written to the Australian Crime and Justice Research Centre (formerly the Australian Institute of Criminology) and the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), the government bodies responsible for researching firearm theft and the illicit market, to set the record straight.

Authorities now have a worrying new source of supply to target, with organised crime gangs appearing to head to the deep, dark pages of the internet to source their wares. The ACC identified an emerging threat posed by illicit firearms sourced online via the ‘darknet’ in its 2014/15 annual report, while the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported last year that firearms such as handguns are readily available for sale via a website found in the ‘dark web’ - a highly illegal section of the internet that requires special software to gain access. According to reports, the dark net section sees illicit items such as firearms and drugs available for sale. Law enforcement authorities have found it difficult to trace users of the dark web, making it the ideal location for those dealing in illicit items for sinister purposes.

The revelation by the AAP that a dark net website known as Executive Outcomes is being used to move illicit cargo into Australia via Brisbane is a concern to authorities, particularly when time and resources are too often spent policing the law-abiding firearm owner. The AAP gained access to the website, which advertised its illegal services by saying, “We make sure that your firearm is not serialised...that paperwork is not traceable or suspicious, and that the firearm is new and unused for optimum performance...Sending the parts at once or in separate packages is your choice. You do have to pay up front for the item so most people choose to buy the first part, then the second, then the third.” This paves the way for firearms to be disassembled and posted separately to Australia, potentially avoiding detection, with the website also offering so-called ‘decoy packaging’.

Although the Australian Border Force (ABF) has received additional funding and has reportedly increased its inspection rates, media reports that at least two shipments of firearms and parts have slipped through ports without detection add further concern and the need for authorities to focus on illegal firearms passing through our borders unchecked.

The SSAA contacted the ABF about the capability of criminals buying firearms illegally through the dark web. A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said they are “actively monitoring” the situation. “ABF actively monitors and targets the illicit online trade and continues to seize illicit goods procured through online portals including dark nets,” the spokesperson said. “ABF works in very close partnership with the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission, our state and territory police partners, and other agencies in overseas jurisdictions to ensure that Australia is as free from illicit firearms as we can make it. This collaboration results in strategic targeting and increased interception of attempted illegal imports. It also creates a global web of intelligence about known sellers and buyers online.”

The spokesperson pointed to additional funding announced in January 2014 for the former Australian Customs and Border Protection Service as part of measures to better tackle crime. “This extra funding has seen increased inspection rates across cargo and international mail streams, resulting in increased examination and inspection rates of high-risk cargo at the border. The ABF risk assesses all cargo before it arrives in Australia, and all containers deemed high-risk are examined.”

The spokesperson also pointed to the Firearms Intelligence and Targeting Team (FITT) (previously explored in the December 2014 Australian Shooter) as an intelligence unit dedicated to targeting any border-related firearms threats. In regard to dismantled firearms and firearm parts being sent to avoid detection, the spokesperson said that the ABF has “the expertise and technology [including detector dogs, x-ray, and trace detection] to detect sophisticated concealments of firearms and firearms parts.”

While it is encouraging that the ABF has ramped up inspection rates, it is clear that criminals will continue to look offshore to source illicit firearms. The SSAA will continue to lobby the government for increased resources at our borders, and remind our legislators that further restrictions on the licensed firearm owner will not stop the flow of illicit firearms or prevent criminals sourcing their wares through new means like the dark web.

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