DEN HAAG, The Netherlands (AP) – Criminal gangs revealed plans to transport drug shipments and conduct killings via an FBI-powered messaging app, law enforcement officials said Tuesday when they revealed a global stabbing operation they said it caused an “unprecedented blow” to organized crime in countries around the world.
The operation known as the Trojan Shield led to police raids in 16 countries. More than 800 suspects have been arrested and more than 32 tons of drugs – including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines – seized along with 250 firearms, 55 luxury cars and more than $ 148 million in cash and cryptocurrencies.
The seeds of the sting were sown when law enforcement agencies previously destroyed two encrypted platforms, EncroChat and Sky ECC, used by criminal gangs to organize drug trafficking and underworld hits. In the gangs in the market for a new means of communication, the FBI stepped in with a secretly developed app called ANOM that was installed on modified cell phones. In the past 18 months, the FBI provided phones to more than 300 gangs in more than 100 countries through unsuspecting middlemen.
The information collected and analyzed enabled us to prevent murders. It led to drug seizures which led to weapons seizures. And it has helped prevent a number of crimes, ”said Calvin Shivers, Deputy Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Department, at a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands.
The operation – led by the FBI, with the participation of the US Drugs Agency, the European Union Police Department Europol and law enforcement agencies in several countries – dealt an unprecedented blow to criminal networks worldwide, ”said Dutch National Police Chief Constable Jannine van den Berg.
Australian Federal Police Commander Jennifer Hearst called it “a turning point in the history of global law enforcement.”
The ANOM app became popular in criminal circles as users told each other that it was a safe platform. The police looked over the shoulder of the criminals all the time while discussing beatings, drug deliveries and other crimes.
“There was a loophole created by the lack of these encrypted platforms,” Shivers said of the initial step of removing apps previously used by gangs. “This created an opportunity to work with our international partners to not only develop the specific tool, but also develop the process of gathering information and disseminating the information.”
Law enforcement agencies from Sweden to New Zealand described the operation as having a significant impact.
The Swedish police have prevented a dozen planned killings and believe they have arrested several “leading actors in criminal networks”, according to Linda Staaf, head of the Swedish secret service.
Finnish police said Tuesday that nearly 100 people were arrested and more than 500 kilograms (half a ton) of drugs were seized, along with dozens of guns and cash valued at hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars). In Germany, according to the Frankfurt Public Prosecutor’s Office, more than 70 people were arrested on Monday and drugs, cash and weapons were confiscated.
In Australia, authorities said they had arrested 224 people and seized more than four tons of drugs and $ 35 million. New Zealand police said they had arrested 35 people and seized millions of dollars’ worth of drugs and assets.
“Today the Australian government dealt a heavy blow on organized crime as part of a global operation,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. “Not just in this country, but in one that organized crime will echo around the world.”
European police dealt a heavy blow to organized crime last year after cracking an encrypted communications network called EncroChat, which is used by criminal gangs across the continent.
In March, Belgian police arrested dozens of people after cracking another encrypted chat system and seizing more than 17 tons of cocaine.
The last operation went even further.
“The success of Operation Trojan Shield is the result of tremendous innovation, dedication and unparalleled international collaboration,” said Shivers. “And the results are overwhelming.”
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated press authors Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Jari Tanner in Helsinki and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.