Authorities in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Europe said Tuesday that they’ve dealt a huge blow to organized crime after hundreds of criminals were tricked into using a messaging app that was being secretly run by the FBI. Police said criminal gangs thought the encrypted app called ANOM was safe from snooping when, in fact, authorities for months had been monitoring millions of messages about drug smuggling, money laundering and even planned killings.
The app was part of a worldwide sting called operation Trojan Shield, which was led by the FBI and involved the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the European Union police agency Europol and law enforcement agencies in more than a dozen countries. Europol said police from a total of 16 countries had carried out raids sparked by evidence from the FBI-monitored smart phones.
About 9,000 officers have been deployed worldwide to make arrests and search more than 700 locations over the past 48 hours, according to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. More than 32 tons of drugs — including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines — were seized along with 250 firearms and $48 million in various worldwide currencies, the FBI said. More than 50 clandestine drug labs have been dismantled — including one of the largest clandestine labs in German history — and 800 people have been arrested in total, including 500 in the last 48 hours, according to U.S. officials.
“The results are staggering,” FBI Assistant Director Calvin Shivers said Tuesday morning at Europol’s headquarters in The Netherlands.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California unsealed an indictment Tuesday, charging 17 foreign defendants who administered or distributed the devices with racketeering counts. Eight of the defendants were taken into custody Monday night, and the other nine are considered fugitives, officials said.
“Operation Trojan Shield was an innovative approach to an ongoing, evolving and complex problem law enforcement continues to face every day — how to infiltrate closed encrypted communication devices utilized solely and exclusively for criminal activity,” said Suzanne Turner, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office.
Turner said criminals often use encryption to communicate under a “cloak of secrecy,” inhibiting law enforcement’s ability to detect crime before it happens. She said the investigative team sought to exploit criminal enterprises’ need for closed encrypted devices, which she called a “significant vulnerability” for the criminals.
The FBI said they provided more than 300 criminal syndicates in more than 100 different countries with about 12,000 devices. The French news agency AFP quoted Shivers as saying the devices containing the ANOM app were distributed over almost…