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WASHINGTON — U.S. federal law enforcement agencies and Europol announced dozens of arrests to break up a global operation that sold illegal drugs using a shadowy realm of the internet.
At a Department of Justice news conference Tuesday in Washington, officials said they arrested 150 people for allegedly selling illicit drugs, including fake prescription opioids and cocaine, over the so-called darknet. Those charged are alleged to have carried out tens of thousands of illegal sales using a part of the internet that is accessible only by using specialized anonymity tools.
The 10-month dragnet called "Operation HunTor" — named after encrypted internet tools — resulted in the seizure of 234 kilograms of drugs, including amphetamines, cocaine and opioids worth more than $31 million. Officials said many of the confiscated drugs were fake prescription pills laced with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. The counterfeit tablets are linked to a wave of drug overdoses.
"This international law enforcement operation spanned across three continents and sends one clear message to those hiding on the darknet peddling illegal drugs: there is no dark internet," said U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speaks during a news at the Department of Justice in Washington, Oct. 26, 2021. Photo credit: VOA
Investigators rounded up and arrested 65 people in the United States. Other arrests occurred in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In addition to counterfeit medicine, authorities also confiscated more than 200,000 ecstasy, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methamphetamine pills.
"We face new and increasingly dangerous threats as drug traffickers expand into the digital world and use the darknet to sell dangerous drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine," said Anne Milgram, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). "We cannot stress enough the danger of these substances."
The international police agency Europol worked alongside the U.S. Justice Department's Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team.
"No one is beyond the reach of the law, even on the dark web," said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Europol's deputy executive director.
The dark web is preferred by criminal networks who want to keep their internet activities private and anonymous. In this case, it served as a platform for illegal cyber sales of counterfeit medication and other drugs that were delivered by private shipping companies.
Investigators said the fake drugs are primarily made in laboratories in Mexico using chemicals imported from China. Prosecutors also targeted drug dealers who operated home labs to manufacture fake prescription pain pills.
FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate, second from left, speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, Oct. 26, 2021. Photo credit: VOA
"Those purchasing drugs through the darknet often don't know what they're getting," Associate Deputy FBI Director Paul Abbate said. The joint investigation followed enforcement efforts in January in which authorities shut down "DarkMarket," the world's largest illegal international marketplace on the dark web.
Last month, the DEA warned Americans that international and domestic drug dealers were flooding the country with fake pills, driving the U.S. overdose crisis. The agency confiscated more the 9.5 million potentially lethal pills in the last year.
More than 93,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2020, the highest number on record, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. U.S. health officials attribute the rise to the use of fentanyl, which can be 100 times more potent than morphine.
U.S. officials said investigations are continuing and more arrests are expected. (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally wriiten by Chris Simkins)
Keywords: Drug Vendors, Investigation, DEA, Illegal purchase, Police Operation, Internet
By- Salil Gewali
If humanity is hurt, God is hurt.
Religion without compassion might give way to hatred. Compassion with a "self-interest" motive is completely irreligious. But of late, some of the religions have departed from those basic human values. Love and compassion are for only those who follow their "specific" faith. Very sadly, the religions are up as trading commodities in the world of proselytization. Better preachers attract more followers. Of course, no issue if they are not vying for their religious "supremacy". But the ground reality is utterly different. The claim for exclusive supremacy has become the first commandment --- a real bone of contention among the existing religions. In the name of religion, we have polluted our minds. we have corrupted our souls. We have also gone so much astray that God must have now shut his gateway to heaven!
Are we not too foolish to believe in the twenty-first Century --- my God is different and your God different? If the Sun and the Moon are the same for Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, by that simple logic, why is the CREATOR of the infinite cosmos not ONE for all? Is the digestive system in the stomach of a Hindu and a Christian different? The body system secrets the same kind of digestive enzymes to digest the food eaten by people of any faith. One divine power is controlling each of us. It is too outrageous that we bear malice and hostility towards others for God. The paths are different but the destination is the same. One wonders in amazement, why we are so "unscientific" in our approach to the Almighty? Why is there so much bad blood among the different faiths? Truly, our fanaticism and belligerence have become the stumbling block in our understanding of the real teachings of the holy scriptures.
Follow NewsGram on Facebook to stay updated.The recent unprecedented brutal atrocities upon Hindus in Bangladesh during the holy festival of Durga Puja made each of us more anxious. It should also serve as a wake-up call for West Bengal and Assam. How could one's holy place of worship provoke godless hatred in others? If God-believing people nurture animosity for others, then that religion itself has been wrongly understood or misinterpreted. Who all are to blame? Is there any organisation of rectitude that will come up to address this glaring fault line?
Brutal atrocities upon Hindus in Bangladesh during the holy festival of Durga Puja made each of us anxiousFile
All should agree that "tolerance to inhumanity" begets more violence. The act of vandalizing the religious pandals of Hindus in Bangladesh is utterly unpardonable. This calls for serious soul-searching. Who has placed the Holy Koran near the sanctum sanctorum of Hanuman Idol? The investigating agency has found out that it was not by Hindu, but some Iqbal Hossain with wrong intent upon the minority Hindus.
Iqbal Hossain, a Muslim, deliberately placed a copy of the Quran at a Puja Pandal and gave hate speeches against HindusFile
Of course, this act is not at all sacrilegious as understood. One holy mandap and another holy book do not make anything unholy. But the "intention" must be good. It is my personal observation. But this incident, a pre-mediated plan with "wrong motive", has stoked the unprecedented communal violence in Bangladesh. And consequently, many places of worship were desecrated, sacred idols were destroyed, houses and business properties of the minority community were burnt down. Besides the United State, even UN officials condemned this diabolical cruelty against the minority Hindus. Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, retorted – "God is love, and his true servants embody and manifest that love in this world. It is time for the supposedly secular government of Bangladesh to protect that country's religious minorities from the jihadist forces of hate."
The Hindus in the country are experiencing regular vitriolic attacks from the dogmatic group which is beyond descriptionFile
Hatred for Hindus is not confined to Bangladesh. Even in the home states, Hindus are not at all safe. Kashmir, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala have become the hotbed of crime and violence against Hindus even then being the majority. The Hindus in the country are experiencing regular vitriolic attacks from the dogmatic group which is beyond description. The silence of the unpatriotic media, and other sinister forces have given enough leverage to such extremist elements. It has been established that madrasas are factories where tender minds are radicalized – the fact is passionately reiterated by an eminent social activist Khalid Umar of Lahore, Pakistan. Just two days ago, one boy in Assam posted a photo in which he placed his foot on a Ganesh idol. Such shocking instances with photos and videos are regularly posted on social media. But such cases are suppressed too soon.
Well, one can't agree more than what Human Right Activist and a senior journalist of Bangladesh – Mr Saad Hammadi has said --- "Such repeated attacks against individuals, and destruction of the homes and places of worship of minorities in Bangladesh over the years show that the state has failed in its duty to protect minorities. Targeting religious sensitivities to stoke communal tension is a serious human rights violation and requires immediate and decisive action from the government to address the situation of minorities in the country."
Here one wishes that all people would stand with Mr Saad Hammadi. The hatred and violence should always be vociferously condemned by one and all. No one has the right to hold humanity to ransom. As believers of GOD, all should shake off narrow dogmatism and malice. All need to follow the path that takes us from darkness to light and ignorance to knowledge. The practice of expressing LOVE and COMPASSION for "all" ---- irrespective of caste, creed, and colour, always ensures communal harmony and peace. Not just that, it is the pathway to DIVINITY. If humanity is hurt, God is hurt.
An India-based writer and researcher, Salil Gewali is best known for his research-based work entitled 'Great Minds on India' that has earned worldwide appreciation. Translated into Twelve languages, his book has been edited by a former NASA scientist – Dr AV Murali of Houston, USA.
R&B star R. Kelly is a predator who lured girls, boys and young women with his fame and dominated them physically, sexually and psychologically, a prosecutor said Wednesday, while a defense lawyer warned jurors they'll have to sift through lies from accusers with agendas to find the truth.
The differing perspectives came as the long-anticipated trial began unfolding in a Brooklyn courtroom where several accusers were scheduled to testify in the next month about the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer whose career has been derailed by charges that have left him jailed as he goes broke.
Jerhonda Pace, the first government witness, told jurors Wednesday that she was a 16-year-old virgin and a member of Kelly's fan club when he invited her to his mansion in 2010. He immediately told her to take off her clothing, Pace said.
"He asked me to continue to tell everyone I was 19 and act like I was 21," she said. Kelly responded "that's good" when she revealed her virginity, said that he wanted to "train her" sexually and ordered her to call him "Daddy," she said.
They continued to see each other for another six months, with Kelly growing more and more controlling and erupting in violence when she broke what she called "Rob's rules."
One time he grew so angry, "He slapped me and choked me until I passed out," she said with no hint of emotion.
Afterward, he spit in her face and forced her to have oral sex, she said. She kept a blue T-shirt from the episode that has provided DNA evidence of the misconduct, prosecutors said.
The Associated Press doesn't name alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent unless they have spoken publicly extensively. Pace has appeared in a documentary and participated in media interviews.
Prior to Pace's testimony, lawyers gave jurors an outline of the trial in their opening statements.
"This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot," Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez told the jury as she explained the evidence to be revealed at his federal trial. "This case is about a predator."
She said he distributed backstage passes to entice children and women to join him, sometimes at his home or studio, where he then "dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically."
Courtroom sketch of R. Kelly's trialvoa
The prosecutor said Kelly would often record sex acts with minors as he controlled a racketeering enterprise of individuals who were loyal and devoted to him, eager to "fulfill each and everyone one of the defendant's wishes and demands."
"What his success and popularity brought him was access, access to girls, boys and young women," she said.
But Kelly's attorney, Nicole Blank Becker, portrayed her client as a victim of women, some of whom enjoyed the "notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar."
"He didn't recruit them. They were fans. They came to Mr. Kelly," she said, urging jurors to closely scrutinize the testimony. "They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr. Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent."
It would be a stretch to believe he orchestrated an elaborate criminal enterprise, like a mob boss, the lawyer said.
Becker warned jurors they'll have to sort through "a mess of lies" from women with an agenda.
"Don't assume everybody's telling the truth," she said.
The remarks fit a theme set by the defense in court papers prior to the trial describing Kelly's alleged victims as groupies who turned up at his shows and made it known they "were dying to be with him." The women only started accusing him of abuse years later, when public sentiment shifted against him, they said.
Kelly, 54, is perhaps best known for his smash hit "I Believe I Can Fly," a 1996 song that became an inspirational anthem played at school graduations, weddings, advertisements and elsewhere.
The openings and testimony came more than a decade after Kelly was acquitted in a 2008 child pornography case in Chicago. It was a reprieve that allowed his music career to continue until the #MeToo era caught up with him, emboldening alleged victims to come forward.
The women's stories got wide exposure with the Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly. The series explored how an entourage of supporters protected Kelly and silenced his victims for decades, foreshadowing the federal racketeering conspiracy case that landed Kelly in jail in 2019.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn have lined up multiple female accusers — mostly referred to in court as "Jane Does" — and cooperating former associates who have never spoken publicly before about their experiences with Kelly.
They're expected to offer testimony about how Kelly's managers, bodyguards and other employees helped him recruit women and girls — and sometimes boys — for sexual exploitation. They say the group selected victims at concerts and other venues and arranged for them to travel to see Kelly in the New York City area and elsewhere, in violation of the Mann Act, the 1910 law that made it illegal to "transport any woman or girl" across state lines "for any immoral purpose."
An anonymous jury made up of seven men and five women was sworn in to hear the case. The trial, coming after several delays due mostly to the pandemic, unfolds under coronavirus precautions restricting the press and the public to overflow courtrooms with video feeds.
The New York case is only part of the legal peril facing the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly. He also has pleaded not guilty to sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Trial, Abuse, Crime, Singer R. Kelly
Taking advantage of people’s fear of intimate moments being exposed, crooks are targeting more and more users in their attempts to extort money by sending emails with threats to release sexually explicit images or videos.
In January alone, cybersecurity firm Avast blocked over half a million sextortion attack attempts.
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Most of these attacks targeted English-speaking users including nearly 4,000 in India.
Most of the sextortion campaigns use the same modus operandi, with scammers sending emails to users claiming they recorded the user during private, intimate moments, and threatening to expose them to the public unless the victim pays money to the attacker.
“Sextortion scams are dangerous and unsettling, and can even have tragic consequences resulting in the suicide of affected users,” Marek Beno, malware analyst at Avast, said in a statement.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, cybercriminals likely see a strong opportunity for success as people spend more time on Zoom and in front of their computer overall.”
But instead of reacting to them, people should stay calm and ignore sextortion emails as they usually are fake claims, according to the security researchers.
“As scary as such emails may sound, we urge people to stay calm if they receive such a message in their inbox and ignore it, as it is just a dirty trick that cybercriminals use to try to get your money,” Beno said.
The most prevalent sextortion campaign takes advantage of the increased use of video conferencing services during the Covid-19 pandemic, falsely claiming to have accessed a user’s device and camera.
Avast said it saw an uptick of these campaigns during the holiday season in December 2020.
The threat actors claim in an email they took advantage of critical vulnerabilities in the Zoom application, allowing them access to the user’s device and camera, although no actual vulnerabilities in the Zoom application were found by Avast.
The email also mentions a “recorded sexual act”, that the attacker got “access to sensitive information”, and that this can lead to “terrible reputation damage” unless a payment of $2,000 in Bitcoin is made.
A distinctive feature of this campaign is that emails look like they are sent from the user’s email address to themselves, however, only the sender name displayed has been modified, and clicking on it reveals the real email address of the sender.
The second most common campaign sends an email in which the attackers claim a Trojan was installed on the recipient’s machine a few months ago, which then recorded all of the potential victim’s actions with a microphone and webcam, and exfiltrated all data from the devices, including chats, social media, and contacts.
The attackers demand a ransom in cryptocurrencies and include a note about a fake “timer” that started when the email was received, in order to set a ransom deadline.
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“As with the Zoom campaign, these threats are all fake. There are no undetectable Trojans, nothing is recorded, and attackers do not have your data. The timer included in the email is another social engineering technique used to manipulate victims into paying,” said Beno.
If the attacker has included an older leaked password of yours, it is important to change your password to a long, complex password if you have not done so already. (IANS)