POLICE have arrested more than 800 people worldwide – including Brits – in a huge global sting involving encrypted phones that were secretly planted by the FBI.
Cops in 16 countries were able to read the messages of underworld figures as they plotted drug deals, arms transfers and gangland hits on the compromised Anom devices.
Cops have arrested more than 800 people worldwide – including BritsCredit: Australian Police force
More than 800 arrests were made, with more than 700 locations searched and more than eight tonnes of cocaine foundCredit: Australian Police force
Mafia groups, Asian crime syndicates, motorcycle gangs and other criminal networks were all monitored using the spiked phones as part of operation “Trojan Shield”.
The sting, jointly conceived by Australia and the 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 EU’s police agency Europol in The Netherlands.
Shivers said the FBI had provided criminal syndicates in over 100 countries with the devices over the past 18 months “that allowed us to monitor their communications”.
And the brazen messages being sent to and from the crims have been released.
One message reads: “I have a cargo ship with captain on side too, they want to throw over load as they leave.”
Another read: “The rate is 65k per coin roughly.”
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.
Messages released by the US Department of Justice reveal crime figures discussing drugsCredit: US Department of Justice
Money seized by Australian Federal Police are seen after its Operation Ironside against organised crimeCredit: Reuters
A person is arrested in the sting in AustraliaCredit: Reuters
The global sting saw a string of arrests, including in AustraliaCredit: Reuters
Cars and drugs were seized in the stingCredit: picture by Pixel8000 Ltd
Australian cops revealed photographs of cars seized as part of the massive operationCredit: EPA
Hakan Ayik was one of more than 800 people arrestedCredit: Universal News & Sport
Australia’s most wanted allegedly used the ANOM appCredit: Facebook / Hakan Ayik
More than 800 arrests were made, with more than 700 locations searched and more than eight tonnes of cocaine found.
Police also seized 22 tonnes of cannabis, two tonnes of methamphetamine, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various currencies and cryptocurrencies, Europol said.
Australian police said the supposedly hardened encrypted devices were handed out to criminals as part of the FBI-led plot.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday that the operation 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.
New Zealand police said: “The closure of those two encrypted communication platforms created a significant void in the encrypted communication market.
To fill the void, “the FBI operated its own encrypted device company, called ‘Anom.'”
Showing the massive global scale of the sting, Australia said more than 200 people had been charged already.
BI, Europol and Australian Police arrest hundreds after monitoring criminal gangsCredit: Australian Police force
Australian police said the supposedly hardened encrypted devices were handed out to criminals as part of the FBI-led plot.Credit: Australian Police force
The sting, jointly conceived by Australia and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, prevented around 100 murdersCredit: Australian Police force
Sweden arrested 155 people, including five in Spain. The authorities had been able to hone in on around 600 suspects, preventing “more than 10 planned murders within Sweden” alone.
Neighbouring Finland announced around 100 arrests, including a major seizure of machine guns and a 3D printing workshop turning out parts for firearms.
Germany detained 70 suspects, the Netherlands 49, and New Zealand 35 in the operation.
Most of the 27 million ANOM messages obtained by the sting were in Dutch, German and Swedish, Dutch police said.
Dutch police said: “Criminals assumed that the service was safe and touted it among themselves as the platform you should use… Nothing could have been further from the truth.”
The devices are said to have had no email, call or GPS services and could only message other Anom phones.
They could only be bought on the black market — for around $2,000 — and required a code from an existing user to access.
“We didn’t hand them out, people actually came to us seeking those devices,” Shivers said.
Australian agencies helped get the phones in the hands of underworld “influencers” – including an Australian fugitive drug boss on the run in Turkey – in a bid to gain trust.
The cover appeared to be blown in March 2021 when a blogger detailed Anom’s security flaws and claimed it was a scam linked to Australia, the United States and other members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network. The post was later deleted.
Anom’s website was unavailable Tuesday, with a message that the “domain has been seized”.
What is Anom?
Users of the communications network Anom thought their messages were encrypted and secure from prying eyes.
Instead, their messages were secretly being copied to the FBI since 2019.
The FBI began operating an encrypted device network called Anom, and 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.
The devices were initially used by alleged senior crime figures, giving other criminals the confidence to use the platform.
The app was accessible by entering a password into what appeared to be a calculator tool.