TAMPA - Imagine a website like Craigslist, but instead of selling things like used furniture and cars, they're selling weapons and bomb-making instructions, no questions asked.
That's "The Armory", a secretive website that is already getting the attention of law enforcement. You may not have heard of "The Armory" yet, but the Pinellas and Hillsborough Sheriff's Offices both say they have.
"It's extremely disturbing to us," said Col. Donna Lusczynski of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
"The Armory" is a website that allows anyone to buy or sell weapons, ammunition, or instructions on making things like car bombs or Molotov cocktails. The website specializes in anonymity. No background checks are needed. Buyers and sellers don't even use their real names.
"They could be selling that information to a child, a criminal, or potentially even a terrorist," said Col. Lusczynski.
The website promises their deals are impossible to trace. They use a variety of methods to protect the location of the buyers and sellers, though many claim to be outside the U.S. It's not even clear if "The Armory" website itself is based in the U.S. or outside the country.
You won't find "The Armory" by typing them into Google. Even if you had the correct web address for the site, nothing will come up when you put it into your internet browser. The only way to access the website is by downloading and running a special program on your computer that masks your identity by rerouting you through other connections.
The site even gives tips to users on how to amass an arsenal without law enforcement taking notice. They recommend having guns shipped part-by-part, rather than as a whole. They also tell users to have the weapons shipped to a friend's house, and never to sign for a package.
"They encourage that you don't use your name, that you don't use your own address, so there's no way to the necessary background check," Col. Lusczynski said.
For legitimate gun dealers like Fred Flesche at Shooting Sports in Tampa, what "The Armory" is doing is disturbing.
"The folks that are trying to sell on the black market have absolutely no regard for any public safety, because they're allowing somebody who probably should not have a gun to have access to firearms," Flesche said.
"The Armory" uses a difficult to trace online currency called BitCoin. Many of the guns they offer sell for very high prices, such as an AK-47 priced at more than $2,000. Sellers say their secrecy makes it worth the cost. Law enforcement experts we spoke with questioned the legitimacy of some of the sellers, based on the price. They speculate some of the sellers may be scammers who never actually send the weapons they promise.
Through their website, the I-Team reached out the administrators of "The Armory" to ask them questions about their business. They didn't respond, but the next day they posted a notice on the main page of their website saying they would be shutting down "indefinitely" in two weeks.
"It's challenging, because you can close down one website and then they'll open it under another name a few days later," Col. Luscyznski said.
"The Armory" is affiliated with another website called "Silk Road", which the I-Team exposed in an investigation last year (see http://wfts.tv/MiUQpy ). Silk Road specializes in selling illegal narcotics. Despite the efforts of law enforcement, the website is still up and running.
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