Over the last few weeks, the Philadelphia Inquirer has been slowly spooling out one of the most interesting, most ambitious journalistic undertakings of the year: an 8-part series -- complete with a ton of online extras -- on an Internet drug-smuggling ring, importing illegal pharmaceuticals into this country from India. Here's a snippet from the first installment. But, when you've got some time, do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.
Whenever DEA supervisor Jeff Breeden grew nervous, he would rub his forehead with his left hand. Now, as the arrest briefing began, Breeden dug deep into his brow.Tomorrow's worldwide takedown of the Bansal network was to be monitored from this drab conference room overlooking Independence Mall.The network supplied a rainbow of pills - painkillers, sleep aids, sedatives, stimulants, steroids, psychotropics, erectile-dysfunction medication. Thousands of orders a day.Who knew who made this stuff, where it came from, what was in it? The public health risk that Internet drugs posed, Breeden thought, was incalculable.Yet no one in DEA had ever worked a major global online pharmacy investigation. He knew it was a career case, one colleagues would always link to his name. Breeden? Yeah, he's the guy who supervised the Internet pill case out of Philly.To take down the network, agents were using a number of weapons - surveillance, undercover buys, cell-tower pings, trash pulls, e-mail wiretaps, bank subpoenas, immigration reports, even provisions of the Patriot Act. Agents here had flown to Australia, Costa Rica and India.As Breeden listened to the arrest briefing, he thought about everything that could go wrong.Would foreign banks and governments cooperate? Or would they protect the targets, allowing Akhil and others to flee with millions? Would magistrates in several states authorize search warrants in time? Would the bad guys be there when agents raided their homes at dawn? Had any of them gotten wind of the premature arrest in New York? Did Akhil, as he implied in e-mails, really have a mole inside U.S. Customs?Had they overlooked anything?