© Reuters. This undated handout photo dated June 8, 2021 shows the Australian Federal Police during their Operation Ironside against organized crime. Australian Federal Police / handout via REUTERS
By Colin Packham and Toby Sterling
CANBERRA / AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A worldwide stab in which organized crime gangs sold encrypted phones that law enforcement could monitor has resulted in more than 800 arrests and seizures of drugs, weapons, cash and luxury cars, officials said on Tuesday with.
The US Department of Criminal Investigation, Australian and European police operations have ensnared suspects in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East who are involved in drug trafficking, officials said.
Raids around the world have seized millions of dollars in cash, along with 30 tons of drugs, including more than eight tons of cocaine.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation had “dealt a heavy blow to organized crime – not just in this country but … around the world”.
Operation Greenlight / Trojan Shield, designed by the Australian Police and the FBI in 2018, was one of the largest infiltrations and takeovers of a specialized encrypted network.
It started when US officials paid a convicted drug dealer to give him access to a smartphone he had customized and installed ANOM, also known as An0m, a secure encrypted messaging app. The phones were then sold to organized crime networks through underworld distributors.
The FBI helped infiltrate 12,000 devices into 300 criminal groups in more than 100 countries, Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Department told reporters in The Hague.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice announced charges against 17 suspected traders for their involvement in marketing and selling thousands of ANOM devices to transnational criminal organizations.
All of the defendants were foreign nationals outside the United States and eight of them were arrested on Tuesday, Randy Grossman, acting US attorney for the Southern District of California, said at a news conference in San Diego. The others remain at large.
The prosecution accuses the defendants of knowing that the devices they distributed were used by criminals to coordinate drug trafficking and money laundering, Grossman said.
“Today marks the culmination of more than five years of strategic, innovative and complex investigative work to disrupt and dismantle encrypted communications services targeting criminal elements worldwide,” said Suzanne Turner, special agent in charge of the FBI field in San Diego office.
COCAINE IN FRUITS
In a pattern repeated elsewhere, an Australian underworld character began handing out phones using the app to his employees, believing their communications would be secure as the phones had been rebuilt to include all functions, including voice and camera, except ANOM , to remove.
As a result, there was no attempt to hide or encode the details of the messages the police read.
“It was there, including ‘We are going to have a speedboat hit you at this point,’ ‘that will do’ and so on,” said Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw.
“We were in the back pockets of organized crime … they only talk about drugs, violence, mutual beatings, innocent people being murdered.”
The phones were such a hit that Italian mobsters, Asian triads, biker gangs, and transnational drug syndicates all used them, delivering a treasure trove of 27 million messages to the FBI and its partner forces around the world.
Shivers said the FBI saw photos of “hundreds of tons of cocaine hidden in fruit shipments.”
PRINTER FOR PISTON PARTS
Australian police said they had arrested 224 people, including members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, and disrupted 21 murder plans.
On Monday alone, they confiscated 104 firearms, including a military-grade sniper rifle, and nearly A $ 45 million ($ 35 million) in cash, including A $ 7 million from a safe buried under a garden shed in suburban Sydney.
In Europe, there were 49 arrests in the Netherlands, 75 in Sweden and over 60 in Germany, where authorities seized hundreds of pounds of drugs, more than 20 weapons and over 30 luxury cars and cash.
The Finnish police not only arrested nearly 100 suspects and confiscated 500 kg of narcotics, but also found a warehouse with 3D printers for the manufacture of weapon parts.
The operation also revealed that gangs had received evidence of police actions, which, according to an affidavit by an FBI agent, resulted in “numerous high-level public corruption cases in several countries.”
Kershaw said the Australian underworld figure who went into hiding “essentially built his own colleagues” through the distribution of the phones and is now a scarred man.
“The earlier he gets in touch, the better for him and his family.” ($ 1 = 1.2893 Australian dollars)