More than 100 organized crime members from around the world have been arrested as a result of the FBI secretly monitoring an encrypted messaging app for nearly two years, Gizmodo reports.
A recently unsealed affidavit reveals the FBI worked alongside the Australian Federal Police and Europol after striking a relationship with the developer of the app Anom, which had become a communication tool for a wide array of criminals, ranging from “Italian organized crime, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, and various international narcotics source, transportation, and distribution cells.”
Anom’s global reach allowed for the FBI to track the phones of 11,800 devices in 90 countries, while also collecting more than 20 million messages and over 450,000 photos.
Operation “Trojan Shield” was made possible after the agency’s investigation into the phone company Phantom Secure, which had been known to deal “exclusively to members of criminal organizations,” led them to a high-level criminal with ties to the world of encrypted communications in 2018.
This individual’s involvement in the industry included distributing Phantom Secure and the recently dismantled encrypted network, Sky Global phones, as well as a financial stake in the development of “the ‘next generation’ encrypted communications product, poised to compete for market share against established hardened encrypted device competitors.” The agency was informed of Anom’s existence and agreed to give the devices to some of his fellow encrypted phone distributors, who were also linked to transnational crime organizations.
“The Trojan Shield investigation has unveiled how criminal organizations compartmentalize their activities with multiple brands of hardened encrypted devices. For example, some users assign different types of devices to different parts of a drug trafficking transaction,” the affidavit reads. “For example, I have seen conversations where Anom is used for the logistics of the drug shipments, but Ciphr or Sky were used to coordinate the concealment of the illicit proceeds.”
The AFP reports that in Australia alone, over 200 suspects have been arrested, with 3.7 metric tons of drugs and nearly $35 million in cash seized over the past three years, according to CNN.