Hundreds Arrested in 'Staggering' Global Crime Sting

06/09/2021 04:06 |

Hundreds Arrested in 'Staggering' Global Crime Sting

An operation led by the Australian Federal Police has charged more than 100 organized crime members after developing a world-leading ability to view encrypted communications used exclusively by organized crime. They were "designed by criminals, for criminals exclusively", one defendant told investigators, Randy Grossman, Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of California, told a press conference on Tuesday.

Law enforcement officials had also dismantled other encrypted platforms used by criminals before they began marketing the phones and ANoM directly to the underworld leaders.

Many of its users had migrated over to Sky Global, also known as SKY ECC, after European authorities decrypted a similar platform previous year, Encrochat.

Australian drug kingpin Hakan Ayik was revealed to have unwittingly distributed the app to fellow criminal associates, including Mexican cartels, Asian triads, and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Bags of cash seized during a raid in Australia.

The closure of Phantom Secure put the staff working there on the FBI's radar. This source had previously been sentenced to six years in the clink for importing illegal drugs, and agreed to cooperate with the Feds to reduce any future punishment potentially coming their way. The gangs believed the system was secure because the phones did not have any other capabilities - no voice or camera functions were loaded - and the app was encrypted. On Tuesday, it bore a new message: Users who wanted to "discuss how your account has been linked to an ongoing investigation" could enter their account details.

The Australian authorities acknowledged that Anom had carried only a small percentage of the total volume of encrypted communications sent by criminal networks.

And so, in October 2018, the three-year sting operation began.

Police said criminal gangs thought the encrypted app called ANOM was safe from snooping when, in fact, authorities for months had been monitoring millions of messages about drug smuggling, money laundering and even planned killings.

Instead, they were unwitting customers of a communications service that was secretly created by FBI agents and federal prosecutors in San Diego.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation was a "watershed" moment in crime fighting.

From its first foothold in Australia, the Anom network spread to more than 100 countries, Europol says, adding that police agencies were able to obtain some 27 million messages.

How was the app used? .

Once Hanson was arrested in 2015, the San Diego FBI - with help from Canada, Australia and others - targeted Phantom Secure's CEO Vincent Ramos.

The devices also secretly copied any message to an FBI-controlled server after they were sent. There was also evidence of corrupt government officials and police.

The growth in demand for ANØN phones spiked after Sky Global went down, according to the source.

The cellphones, procured on the black market, performed a single function hidden behind a calculator app: sending encrypted messages and photos.

AFP Commissioner Reese Kershaw thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its cooperation with the 18 countries that worked with AFP to maintain the integrity of the platform. Police seized more than 17 tons of the drug cocaine. The delivery, from a supplier in Costa Rica, had an estimated street value of $70M.

'Operation Trojan Shield/Greenlight will enable Europol to further enhance the intelligence picture on organised crime affecting the European Union ... and will support the continued effort in identifying operating high-value criminal targets on a global scale, ' Europol said.

While primarily focused on drug trafficking and money-laundering, the investigation also resulted in "high-level public corruption cases", an FBI agent quoted in the documents said. Commissioner Kershaw acknowledged the important resources provided by the Australian states and territory police in the days of resolution.

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