The FBI has scored a major victory against organized crime the world over in a joint operation aided by law enforcement in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The massive undertaking, called Operation Trojan Shield, was spearheaded by the FBI and was assisted by the DEA, Europol, and various law enforcement agencies all over the world.
The key component of the plan involved an encrypted messaging app called ANOM. The app was supposedly completely encrypted and would allow criminals to organize their activity out of view of law enforcement. In reality, the secretive app was created by the FBI, and all messages sent through the app were subject to law enforcement oversight.
“Operation Trojan Shield was an innovative approach to an ongoing, evolving and complex problem law enforcement continues to face every day — how to infiltrate closed encrypted communication devices utilized solely and exclusively for criminal activity,” said FBI special agent Suzanne Turner.
The massive sting has resulted in at least 800 arrests as of the time of this writing. The FBI has disclosed that the majority of the arrests from the sting occurred within a span of 48 hours. The speed with which law enforcement closed in on the suspects was necessary to catch the criminals before they got wind of the sting and made a break to evade arrest.
The main target of the raids so far has been hidden drug labs, the locations of which were pulled from the ANOM app. Evidence gathered from the app allowed the FBI to procure search warrants for the locations, allowing them to swoop in and knock out criminal enterprises in hundreds of hidden locations.
The FBI has noted that they’ve seized over 32 tons of drugs. Law enforcement has also seized millions of dollars in currency from all over the world and retrieved over 250 firearms from the drug labs.
The FBI used undercover agents to spread the word of the app to criminal organizations. The FBI themselves distributed thousands of smartphones with the app installed on them, doling them out to criminal groups over the course of two years. Over time, the ANOM app became trusted by organized crime rings, all of whom rely on encrypted messaging software to communicate without the threat of law enforcement noticing their activity.
The FBI has described this reliance on encrypted messaging as a “glaring weakness” of modern organized crime. ANOM was created by the FBI after the agency took down Phantom Secure, an encrypted app that was favored by criminals. The FBI’s replacement was able to fill the void left by the prior service, leading to criminals effectively handing law enforcement all the details of their crimes.
While the battle against organized crime is never over, today is a victory for law enforcement. This damage dealt to the criminal underworld today will be felt all over the world.