Niko’s book is a deep exploration into the gritty sides of use, trade, politics and all the people that are involved in drugs, whether they like it or not. He draws from his lived experiences, from spending time in prison to touring many drug-producing countries in the world, giving readers a crazed tour of the drug world that surrounds us.
The extract below focuses on the inner dynamics of Hydra, the largest Russian-language darknet markets which is estimated to account for more than three-quarters of global darknet market revenue. It has been edited for brevity.
The young woman stepped out of her drab Moscow apartment block and made her way to the park. She had to find a quiet spot — the last thing she wanted was to run into any cops or a nosy grandma, greeting her with cries of ‘what are you doing, young lady?’
Once she’d found a little hideaway, far from the eyes of any prying babushkas, she crouched down to take a small packet out of her backpack and hid it under a tree. Onto the next one. Just as she turned the corner she saw a police van and a couple of officers checking the documents of several Asian faces.
‘I knew that if I took a sharp turn now or if it looked like I’m panicking, then instead of the immigrants they’d take care of me,’ Galina said. ‘I had enough mephedrone in my backpack to put me away for fifteen years. I walked straight past them and when the danger passed I hid behind a garage, fell to the ground and began to sob, thanking God for saving me. I could have gone to prison for the rest of my days, and only a miracle saved me.’
It’s like logging onto eBay. We fired up the browser to start browsing the catalogue — Afghan heroin, Peruvian premium, DMT, 2-CB, PCP, and of course sticky nugs of Big Green Buddha — all handily broken into categories and so lovingly photographed you could see every crystal. I was like a drug-addled kid in a candy store.
‘Great stuff, bro,’ wrote one happy customer. ‘I haven’t had my face numb like that since I had a stroke.’
We were on HYDRA, the Russian Internet’s Amazon of Drugs. After weeks of trawling through the forums and being told ‘no’ (sometimes in a way that wasn’t so polite), I finally found a dealer who agreed to be interviewed on encrypted chat. Galina, now in her mid-30s, worked as a courier, or a kladman, for a multimillion-dollar drug-dealing enterprise before going into business for herself.
‘You only need around 60-100 thousand rubles,’ Galina explained. “The vast majority of shops are now opened by former employees of other stores. Dropmen, warehousers, admins, support staff… we all have crazy thoughts in our head like, “I can do it too!”’
Everything you need is on the site. If you don’t have a direct line to El Chapo, Hydra sells IKEA-style spice labs and mephedrone kits, along with the ingredients (usually from China).
‘I see my job like working in a liquor store. People will always have a need to change their state of mind, for whatever reason. Some of them like drinking beer and vodka, and some of them go to me. If I hadn’t done this, they would have gone to any other shop on the site and got what they wanted.’
Work for Team Connor, earn 100-300k rubles ($1600-4700) a month! The author commented: "I’m not sure this is an authorized use of the McGregor brand"
Western dark markets deliver right to your doorstep, but in Russia, it’s a little different. Getting a package delivered in Russia means filling out more paperwork than a Tolstoy novel, so instead of having the drugs sent to your door the sellers give you the location of a dead drop somewhere in the woods, sending you on a little Easter Egg hunt. Once you place an order, you get sent exact GPS coordinates and instructions where to find the stash: for example, through the north gate to the park, under the third bin to your left. These Easter eggs can be hidden anywhere — in the bushes, stuck to the back of a drainpipe, lodged in a crack in the Kremlin walls. They are hidden by an army of kladmen; typically kids recruited on social media. They in turn pick up the goods wholesale from a master stash deep in the forest outside town, and get paid in bitcoin. No-one in the operation needs to know each other.
‘I started working in a store where I’d been buying for a long time and the admins knew me well,” Galina recalled. “For one drop they paid me around 300 rubles, depending on the weight and type of drugs. The cheapest were hash and grass, 300-400 rubles per gram; while cocaine and mephedrone paid the most, 600-1000 a gram. I made about 10-20 drops a day, but there were times I’ve done 30 or 40. At first I mostly worked with hash, ecstasy and amphetamine, then almost exclusively with mephedrone. Towards the end they started giving me cocaine. I got the goods through a masterklad: that’s a whole stash of anywhere between 20 to 500 grams hidden deep in the forest, far from Moscow.’
To be a successful kladman, there are several rules you have to follow. You can’t plant near schools, cemeteries, police stations or anywhere else that draws unwanted attention. You’ve got to avoid acting suspicious and don’t be seen planting the package. If the feds clock a teenager in a rastacap digging around a park at night they know what’s up. Police are clued-up to the dead drop system – if they suspect someone’s hiding a package they will search the area.
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