In an impressive global effort, law enforcement agencies across the world announced on Tuesday that they had arrested over 800 alleged criminals in a sting known as “Trojan Shield” in the United States and Europe and “Special Operation Ironside” in Australia.
As reported by The Washington Post, the operation exposed “alleged drug syndicates, contract killers and weapons dealers,” across 16 countries, leading to the seizure of “8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, 2 tons of synthetic drugs, 6 tons of synthetic drugs precursors, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies.”
But how did they achieve this feat of law enforcement? The answer may surprise you.
The international sting was made possible by an encrypted messaging app which was — to the dismay of those arrested — actually launched and run by the FBI.
Working alongside Australian and European authorities, the FBI set up a company called “AN0M,” which was then installed on phones which had been updated to remove any other methods of communication. These phones were then slowly distributed to criminals, with the devices growing in popularity among criminal organizations.
While the users believed their communication was protected by encryption infrastructure, their messages were actually visible to law enforcement agencies. As Europol explained in a press release, “The FBI and the 16 other countries of the international coalition, supported by Europol and in coordination with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, then exploited the intelligence from the 27 million messages obtained and reviewed them over 18 months while ANOM’s criminal users discussed their criminal activities.”
What makes this case particularly notable is that the law enforcement agencies leveraged encrypted communication devices to their benefit, while such technology is usually used to engage in criminal activity and avoid government control or legal consequences.
“Encrypted criminal communications platforms have traditionally been a tool to evade law enforcement and facilitate transnational organized crime,” said Calvin Shivers, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our international partners continue to push the envelope and develop innovative ways to overcome these challenges and bring criminals to justice.”
The scale of the international effort also deserves praise. As the press release noted, this operation “is one of the largest and most sophisticated law enforcement operations to date in the fight against encrypted criminal activities,” with “a series of large-scale law enforcement actions” being “executed over the past days across 16 countries resulting in more than 700 house searches, more than 800 arrests and the seizure of over 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, 2 tons of synthetic drugs (amphetamine and methamphetamine), 6 tons of synthetic drugs precursors, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies.”
Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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