People are released by the Australian Federal Police after its Operation Ironside against organised crime in this unverified handout photo released on June 8, 2021. Australian Federal Police Handout via REUTERS.
It took $100,000 plus expenses and the opportunity for a reduced prison sentence for the smartphone developer to collaborate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2018 and launch Operation Trojan Shield, according to a court document.
Three years later, the investigation involving 9,000 law enforcement officers from 17 countries saw authorities track 27 million messages from 12,000 devices in 100 countries and monitor the activities of more than 300 organised crime groups, said Europol in a statement.
To date, there have been more than 800 arrests and the seizures of more than eight tonnes of cocaine, 22 tonnes of cannabis, two tonnes of synthetic drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury vehicles and millions of dollars in cash and cryptocurrencies, Europol said.
According to the plan, further arrests and seizures were expected.
The U.S. court document - an affidavit from an FBI special agent first published by Vice News - says that the new person, a former drug trafficker, had been creating a confidential cell phone with a password protected encrypted app called ANOM, also called An 0 m.
The source came to board after Authorities arrested the Phantom Secure encrypted smartphone network in 2018 and shut down its CEO in 2018.
For at least a decade, organised crime groups have been using phones like Phantom Secure to launder drug deals, strikes on rivals and organise illicit earnings without detection, police say. Among many of the features of the phones, content may be seized remotely if they are wiped on.
But as one model was put out of business, new ones would enter the lucrative market.
The FBI decided that it would start its own, inserting a master key into the devices that are linked to each message and enabled law enforcement officers to download and store them as they were transmitted. The cost in the United States was $ 1,700 for a six month subscription, a U.S. official said.
In 2018, the FBI met with investigators and analysts from the Australian police agencies. As you know, some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers, said the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw on Tuesday.
Prodded by authorities, the developer-turned informant tapped his trusted distributors who will target the Australian market. They settled on a soft launch in October 2018. The developer gave distributors only 50 devices to sell. According to the affidavit they agreed, seeing a huge payday.
As the AFP shared the messages and photos on the devices, 100% of ANOM users used ANOM at the test phase to engage in criminal activity, the affidavit said. The business grew organically through word-of mouth. Soon ANOM criminals were flocking to use the overseas technology phone.
Police operatives had an edge that they had never had before, said Kershaw. Among hundreds of arrests and tons of drugs seized, Australian authorities said they also disrupted 21 murder plots, including a mass murder, thanks to the ANOM.
Due to technological issues, the FBI could not monitor the phones in Australia directly. However, a court order issued in late 2019 by an unspecified country where a server for the phones was located gave the agency far greater and faster access to their content.
The FBI and other countries' law enforcers discovered that Italian organised crime, Asian triads, biker gangs and transnational drug syndicates were all users.
The AFP affidavit and the special agent Kershaw said criminals would openly share the phones, often never even use code words and frequently share photos of massive drug consignments and details of how they would be transported.
Among the images shared in the affidavit were mounds of blocks of diplomatic drugs and a French pouch which were identified as illicit in the court document and said to be used to transport cocaine from Colombia. There was also evidence of corrupt government officials and police officials.
the affidavit said that crime groups were being notified of planned enforcement actions.
The ANOM review of the messages has led to various high profile corruption cases in multiple countries.
Raids targeting users of another encrypted phone, Sky ECC, in March saw the popularity of ANOM dramatically increase, with active users growing from 3,000 to 9,000 in months, the statement said.
But the expiration of the criminal prosecution case on Monday signalled the end of the unspecified mobile intelligence torrents. Operation Trojan Shield was revealed in a series of news conferences around the world the next day.