THE HAGUE (AFP) – Police arrested more than 800 people worldwide in a huge global sting involving encrypted phones that were secretly planted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), law enforcement agencies said yesterday.
Cops in 16 countries were able to read the messages of global underworld figures as they plotted drug deals, arms transfers and gangland hits on the compromised ANOM devices.
Mafia groups, Asian crime syndicates, motorcycle gangs and other organised crime syndicates around the world were all monitored using the spiked phones as part of Operation ‘Trojan Shield’.
The sting, jointly conceived by Australia and the United States (US) Federal Bureau of Investigation, prevented around 100 murders, foiled several large-scale narcotics shipments and led to seizures of weapons and cash, they added.
“The results are staggering,” FBI Assistant Director Calvin Shivers told reporters at the headquarters of the European Union’s (EU) police agency Europol headquarters.
Shivers said the FBI had provided criminal syndicates in over 100 countries with the devices over the last 18 months “that allowed us to monitor their communications”.
Europol hailed the “exceptional” operation, which saw around 12,000 of the ANOM devices distributed worldwide to criminals who thought they were chatting in secret.
“This information led over the last week to hundreds of law enforcement operations on a global scale from New Zealand to Australia to Europe and the USA, with impressive results,” said Deputy Director Operations at Europol Jean-Philippe Lecouffe.
“More than 800 arrests, more than 700 locations searched, more than eight tonnes of cocaine.”
Police also seized 22 tonnes of cannabis, two tonnes of methamphetamine, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over USD48 million in various currencies and cryptocurrencies, Europol said.
Australian police said the supposedly hardened encrypted devices were handed out to operatives within the mafia, Asian crime syndicates, drug cartels and outlaw motorcycle gangs as part of the elaborate FBI-led plot.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday had “struck a heavy blow against organised crime – not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world”.
The operation began after global police work in the past two years disrupted two other major encrypted phone networks used by criminals, Encrochat and SkyGlobal.
“The closure of those two encrypted communication platforms created a significant void in the encrypted communication market,” said New Zealand police.
To fill the void, “the FBI operated its own encrypted device company, called ‘ANOM’”, the New Zealand police added.The FBI’s Shivers said this enabled them to “turn the tables” on criminals.
“We were actually able to see photographs of hundreds of tonnes of cocaine that were concealed in shipments of fruit, we were able to see hundreds of kilos of cocaine that were concealed in canned goods,” Shivers said.
Showing the massive global scale of the sting, Australia said more than 200 people had been charged already.
Sweden said it had arrested 155 people, Germany detained 70 suspects, the Netherlands 49, and New Zealand 35 as a result of the operation.