This might be the ultimate digital sting operation. Since 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been secretly running Anom, a stealth message platform preferred by criminals, and it has succeeded in shutting down global criminal networks with the help of international law enforcement.
Authorities have arrested hundreds of suspected criminals around the world who were duped into using Anom, which promised users total secrecy if they bought special mobile devices. The FBI enticed people from the criminal world to send and receive messages on their phones about their illegal operations, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The FBI monitored 27 million messages from more than 12,000 Anom users across more than 100 countries, officials said.
The global sting operation, dubbed “Operation Trojan Shield,” included an international coalition of law-enforcement agencies led by the FBI.
The idea for Operation Trojan Shield came after two other encrypted platforms were taken down by law enforcement agencies, leaving criminals looking for new secure communications platforms, The BBC reported. The FBI created Anom.
Investigators in the FBI’s San Diego field office have been involved with Anom since 2018, when they co-opted and began running the service. Anom mobile phones cost thousands of dollars each and had a single application for covert communication installed, with regular smartphone elements such as GPS removed for security and anonymity, Wall Street Journal reported. They could also be remotely wiped if seized by law enforcement.
Similar devices were once sold on the open market but after the 2018 arrest of an executive at a company called Phantom Secure, the distribution of mobile devices meant to evade law-enforcement access increasingly went underground.
Anom users discussed their crimes in detail, not realizing the FBI was watching
“All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered, a whole range of things,” said Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw.
Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division said the operation had enabled police agencies to “turn the tables on criminal organizations,” with intelligence gathered preventing murders and several other crimes.
“We were actually able to see photographs of hundreds of tons of cocaine that were concealed in shipments of fruit,” he said.
The sting was revealed in a series of news conferences by authorities in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Operation Trojan Shield involved more than 9,000 law-enforcement offices around the world. Police carried out more than 800 arrests in 16 countries and seized more than 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis, and 2 tons of synthetic drugs, as well as 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles, and more than $48 million in various currencies.
In the U.S., the FBI arrested 17 foreign nationals operating in places including Australia, the Netherlands, and Spain, charging they violated federal racketeering laws. Eight of those individuals are in custody and nine remain at large, authorities said.
Photo credit: domoyega
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