Global sting nets 800 gang members due to spy phones
A global sting in which organized crime gangs were sold encrypted phones that law enforcement officials could monitor has led to more than 800 arrests and the confiscation of drugs, weapons, cash and luxury cars, officials said on Tuesday.
The operation by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, Australian and European police ensnared suspects in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East involved in the global narcotics trade, the officials said.
Millions of dollars in cash were seized in raids across the world, along with 30 tons of drugs, including more than 8 tons of cocaine.
Operation Greenlight/Trojan Shield, conceived by Australian police and the FBI in 2018, was one of the biggest infiltrations and takeovers of a specialized encrypted network.
It began when US officials paid a drug trafficker to give them access to a smartphone that he had customized, on which he was installing ANOM, also styled An0m, a secure encrypted messaging app.
The phones were then sold to organized crime networks through underworld distributors.
The FBI helped to infiltrate 12,000 devices into 300 criminal organizations in over 100 countries, Calvin Shivers of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division told reporters in The Hague.
In a pattern repeated elsewhere, one Australian underworld figure began distributing phones containing the app to his aides, believing their communications were secure because the phones had been rebuilt to remove all capabilities, including voice and camera functions, apart from ANOM.
As a result, there was no attempt to conceal or code the details of the messages – which police were reading.
"It was there to be seen, including 'we'll have a speedboat meet you at this point,' 'this is who will do this' and so on," Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said.