Law enforcement officials from dozens of nations across the world executed one of the most sophisticated crime stings in history late on Monday and during the early morning hours on Tuesday, resulting in the arrests of hundreds of criminals around the world.
“The operation by Australian and European police and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation ensnared suspects in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East involved in the global narcotics trade,” Reuters reported. “Over 800 suspected members of organized crime gangs were arrested and $148 million in cash seized in raids around the world. Tons of drugs were also seized.”
The operation was conceived by Australian law enforcement officials and the FBI in 2018. The FBI secretly distributed encrypted phones, which had the app ANoM installed on them, to criminal organizations that allowed authorities to monitor all communications on the devices over a span of over a year and a half.
“ANoM could only be found on phones bought through the black market, which had been stripped of the capability to make calls or send emails,” CNN reported. “The phones could only send messages to another device that had the app and criminals needed to know another criminal to get a device.”
“Over the last 18 months the FBI provided criminal organizations with over 300 encrypted devices in over 100 countries that allowed us to monitor their communications,” FBI Assistant Director Calvin Shivers said. “Not only have we heard about the number of arrests and the number of seizures, but over 100 threats to life that were mitigated.”
“Europol said police from a total of 16 countries launched raids on the basis of evidence from the phones, around 12,000 of which were distributed worldwide,” AFP reported. “Australian police said the supposedly hardened encrypted devices were handed out to operatives within the mafia, Asian crime syndicates, drug cartels and outlaw motorcycle gangs as part of the elaborate FBI-led plot.”
“Today, Australia is a much safer country because of the extraordinary outcome under Operation Ironside,” AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said. “It highlights how devastatingly-effective the AFP is when it works with local and global partners, and takes its fight against transnational organized crime offshore. This world-first operation will give the AFP, state and territory police years of intelligence and evidence. There is also the potential for a number of cold cases to be solved because of Operation Ironside.”
“However, tomorrow, and in the future, law enforcement will come up against serious challenges,” Kershaw said. “AN0M was an influential encrypted communications app but there are even bigger encrypted platforms that are being used by transnational and serious organized criminals targeting Australia. They are almost certainly using those encrypted platforms to flood Australia with drugs, guns and undermine our economy by laundering billions of dollars of illicit profit. Organized crime syndicates target Australia, because sadly, the drug market is so lucrative. Australians are among the world’s biggest drug takers.”
“One of the causes behind domestic violence, sexual assault, neglect of children and unspeakable tragedy, is illicit drugs,” he continued. “Our first responders, our teachers and every Australian should be able to go to work and live in our communities without being harmed by an individual under the influence of dangerous drugs.”