FBI encrypted phone app leads to hundreds of global arrests

Bill Mount

Hundreds of criminal gang members around the world were tricked into using a phone encryption app operated by the FBI to plan their heinous crimes, leading to their arrests, according to authorities. Law enforcement officers in Australia and New Zealand began to unveil the scope of what is known as […]

Hundreds of criminal gang members around the world were tricked into using a phone encryption app operated by the FBI to plan their heinous crimes, leading to their arrests, according to authorities.

Law enforcement officers in Australia and New Zealand began to unveil the scope of what is known as Operation Trojan Shield late Monday.

Authorities in Europe were scheduled to make their own announcement early Tuesday, with the FBI’s San Diego field office doing the same at noon.

Antipodean authorities credited the scheme with the arrest of more than 250 individuals and the seizure of more than 100 illegal firearms and other weapons, as well as millions of dollars in cash, drugs and other assets.

In addition, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Reece Kershaw told reporters that the app helped thwart 21 murder plots, including one that would have targeted a family of five.

Kershaw added that arrests were made in 18 countries, including the US. Other countries where police raids were executed included the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

A phone encryption app operated by the FBI has been used to arrest hundreds of criminals worldwide.
A phone encryption app operated by the FBI has been used to arrest hundreds of criminals worldwide.
Australian Federal Police/Handout via Reuters
Narcotics seized by Australian Federal Police are seen after an operation against organized crime.
Narcotics seized by Australian Federal Police are seen after an operation against organized crime.
Australian Federal Police/Handout via Reuters

Kershaw said the idea for the app, called AN0M, was hatched by American and Australian law enforcement officers “over a couple of beers” in 2018. Undercover Australian agents would give phones with the AN0M app pre-installed to certain high-level criminals who recommended the app to their associates.

“These criminal influencers put the AFP in the back pocket of hundreds of alleged offenders,” Kershaw said.

The phones could not make calls or send emails, and they could only be obtained through the black market. They also gave authorities access to up to 25 million encrypted messages in real time.

Police in Australia and New Zealand arrested more than 250 people in an operation against organized crime.
Police in Australia and New Zealand arrested more than 250 people in an operation against organized crime.
Australian Federal Police/Handout via Reuters
Arrests were made in 18 countries, including Australia (pictured), New Zealand, Germany and the US.
Arrests were made in 18 countries, including Australia (pictured), New Zealand, Germany and the US.
Australian Federal Police/Handout via Reuters
In Australia and New Zealand, police seized millions of dollars in cash, drugs and other assets.
In Australia and New Zealand, police seized millions of dollars in cash, drugs and other assets.
Australian Federal Police/Handout via Reuters

According to Australian media, one underworld figure who played a key role in encouraging the use of the app was fugitive drug trafficker Hakan Ayik.

“I think given the threat that he faces, he’s best off handing himself in to us as soon as he can,” Kershaw said of Ayik, who is believed to be in Turkey. “What you’re seeing is that he was one of the coordinators of this particular device. So he’s essentially set up his own colleagues. And my view would be the sooner he hands himself in and to look after his family, he’s a wanted individual, the better for him and his family.”

According to Kershaw, some of those arrested in Australia were “members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian Mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organized crime groups” who trafficked drugs Down Under “at an industrial scale.”

Antipodean cops nabbed over 100 illegal firearms and other weapons.
Antipodean cops grabbed over 100 illegal firearms and other weapons.
Australian Federal Police/Handout via Reuters
Weapons seized by Australian Federal Police during an operation against organized crime.
Weapons seized by Australian Federal Police during an operation against organized crime.
Australian Federal Police/Handout via Reuters
Australian Federal Police are seen during its operation against organized crime in a photo released June 8, 2021.
Australian Federal Police during their operation against organized crime in a photo released June 8, 2021.
Australian Federal Police/Handout via Reuters

“One local [motorcycle gang] chapter we discovered … were making $20 million net a month out of the peddling of drugs into this country,” he said.

The Australian newspaper reported that arrests of suspected members of South American drug cartels as well as Middle Eastern and European crime syndicates are expected to be announced throughout the day.

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