Inspector General: FBI needs better dark web and digital currency approach

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The FBI’s dark web strategy is inadequate and needs an overhaul. This is according to an audit of the agency’s dark web investigations by the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General. The OIG called on FBI to implement a better strategy for not just its dark web investigations, but also for digital currency-related activities.

The audit found that the FBI doesn’t have an agency-wide dark web strategy. Instead, it relies on individual units within the agency to execute their own operational strategies. Currently, the FBI has three units that focus primarily on dark web activities. These are the Child Exploitation Operational Unit, the Major Cyber Crimes Unit and the Investigative Unit. The three have failed to maintain comprehensive dark web strategies, complete with performance measures such as metrics, targets and milestones.

The OIG recommended a coordinated FBI-wide dark web approach which would ensure clarity on each operational unit’s investigative responsibilities. It would also lead to cost-effective and efficient approaches to investigative tools development and acquisition, while providing “strategic continuity during periods of turnover.”

In addition, such an approach would provide baseline data collection guidelines. This will enable the agency to better report it dark web accomplishments.

The OIG, which is currently led by Michael Horowitz, added: “Additionally, the FBI should complete an FBI-wide cryptocurrency support strategy in concert with its development of an FBI-wide dark web approach. Moreover, the FBI should ensure proper entry of dark web investigative data into the Department’s existing investigation deconfliction system.”

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The OIG’s audit had uncovered that the FBI has two components that provide operational support via the separate ‘virtual currency teams.’ They are jointly funded by the DoJ’s Assets Forfeiture Fund. These two factions have been at loggerheads over which investigation should have priority over the resources. This has been mainly due to the rising costs and static funding from the Forfeiture Fund.

The FBI has also uncovered this concern and is reportedly evaluating the best way forward for its digital currency teams.

As per the FBI, investigations involving the illicit use of digital currencies shot up from 15 cases in 2015 to over 350 in 2019. The agency was able to seize over $100 million in digital currencies in 2019.

The OIG expressed concerns over the funding of the FBI’s digital currency team. While the costs of investigations have shot up significantly over the past four years, funding has remained static. For instance, in 2016, the FBI’s premier digital currency tracing tool cost $150,000. This same tool went for $1.2 million in 2019 as criminals turned to more sophisticated tools for their crimes.

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