Global law enforcement agencies revealed Tuesday that they arrested more than 800 alleged criminals after convincing them to use an encrypted messaging app covertly run by the FBI. The bureau worked with Australian and European police to set up app company AN0M, got suspected criminals to use it and monitored their conversations.
The operation was known as Trojan Shield in the United States and Europe, and Special Operation Ironside in Australia. It exposed alleged criminals from South American drug cartels, Asian triad groups, and Middle Eastern and European criminal syndicates, as previously reported by the Washington Post.
It was conceived by the FBI and Australian police in 2018, “over a couple of beers,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw told reporters.
The app AN0M was installed on phones that were stripped of other capability and distributed among alleged criminals. They became popular in these circles because increasing numbers of those people vouched for the app’s integrity and used it to discuss their activities.
Law enforcement groups combed through more than 27 million messages — which allegedly included contracts for killings, photos of cocaine hidden in shipments of fruit and robbery plots — over 18 months.
“Encrypted criminal communications platforms have traditionally been a tool to evade law enforcement and facilitate transnational organized crime,” Calvin Shivers, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said in a release. “The FBI and our international partners continue to push the envelope and develop innovative ways to overcome these challenges and bring criminals to justice.”