Criminal Messaging App Leads To Widespread Arrests

A massive international sting, involving at least 17 countries, including the US, has arrested suspects, the seizure of 8 tons of cocaine and more than $48 million and over 800 suspected criminals have been arrested after being hoodwinked into using an FBI-run encrypted messaging app says the FBI and this is a continuation of Operation Trojan Shield. 

This operation by Australia and the FBI and other organisations, saw devices with the ANOM app secretly distributed among criminals, allowing police to monitor their discussions about drug smuggling, money laundering and even murder plots and the scale of the cooperation between so many different countries made this operation very important.

US law enforcement first became involved in the development of an encrypted device network called ANOM, a technology perceived to be a secure encrypted messaging app that customised cell phones to remove all their capabilities, including voice and camera functions, apart from the technology. The app was then sold to organised crime officials, without them being aware that they were being monitored. Those crime officials then distributed phones containing the app to associates, believing the phones to be secure,

The Australian Federal Police began developing the technology that allowed law enforcement to access and read messages sent on a platform covertly run by the FBI, Australian Federal Police Commander Jennifer Hurst said. "The captured data has given the AFP evidence and unique insights into how organised crime works in Australia and internationally, how they move drugs, money, guns and organise murders," she said. 

Three years later, the investigation involving 9,000 law enforcement officers from 17 countries saw authorities monitor 27 million messages from 12,000 devices in 100 countries and track the activities of more than 300 organised crime groups.

The targets included drug gangs and people with links to the mafia and drugs, weapons, luxury vehicles and cash were also seized in the operation. This included eight tons of cocaine, 250 guns and more than $48m (£34m) in various worldwide currencies and crypto currencies. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation had "struck a heavy blow against organised crime" around the world. 

The FBI began operating the ANOM network, most likely using  criminal insiders who covertly distributed devices with the chat app among the criminal underworld via informants.

The idea for the operation came after two other encrypted platforms were taken down by law enforcement agencies, leaving criminal gangs in the market for new secure phones. These devices were initially used by well known criminals, giving other criminals the confidence to use the platform. "You had to know a criminal to get hold of one of these customised phones. The phones couldn't ring or email. You could only communicate with someone on the same platform," the Australian police explained.

Australian fugitive and alleged drug trafficker Hakan Ayik was key to the sting, having unwittingly recommended the app to criminal associates after being given a handset by undercover officers, police said. Dubbed the "Facebook gangster" by Australian media outlets, Ayik is seen in social media photographs with large tattoos and a muscular physique., although he has been in hiding in Turkey since evading arrest, as he may be in danger after  unwittingly helped the FBI with their sting.

In total, some 12,000 encrypted devices were used by around 300 criminal syndicates in more than 100 countries. Officers were able to read millions of messages in "real time" describing murder plots, mass drug import plans and other schemes.  

In Australia, 224 people were arrested including members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, mafia groups, Asian crime syndicates, and serious and organised crime groups. Police said they also seized three tonnes of drugs and A$45m  in cash and acted on 20 "threats to kill", potentially saving the lives of a "significant number of innocent bystanders".

For  a decade, organised crime groups have used phones like Phantom Secure to organize drug deals, the murder of rivals and laundering illicit earnings without detection. Among many of the phones’ features, content can be remotely wiped if they are seized. But as one model was put out of business, new ones would enter the lucrative market. The FBI decided it would launch its own, inserting a master key into the devices that attached to each message and enabled law enforcement officers to decrypt and store them as they were transmitted.

Europol:     Reuters:      BBC:       NBC:         AoL:        The Blaze:     Phoenix Star:       Stuff:

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