An international coalition of law enforcement officials announced Monday they had duped criminals worldwide into using phones loaded with an encrypted messaging app controlled by the FBI.
Evidence gathered via the app has led to 800 arrests worldwide.
Led by the FBI, Australian Federal Police and numerous European law enforcement agencies, the investigation gave the officials a window into the conversations of criminal networks, as people planned illegal drug shipments, plotted robberies and put out contracts for killings.
For nearly three years, law enforcement officials have been virtually sitting in the back pocket of some of the world’s top alleged crime figures. Custom cellphones, bought on the black market and installed with the FBI-controlled platform, called Anom, circulated and grew in popularity among criminals as high-profile crime entities vouched for its integrity, the Washington Post reports.
The global operation, known as Special Operation Ironside in Australia and Trojan Shield in the United States and Europe, has allegedly exposed criminals linked to South American drug cartels, triad groups in Asia and criminal syndicates based in the Middle East and Europe. A total of 17 countries took part in the effort.
More than 9,000 law enforcement officers were involved, sifting through 27 million messages that were sent via the app over the 18 months of the operation. The alleged criminals used the app like an illicit WhatsApp or text message system, communicating in 45 languages to trade details of their activities, officials said.
“To give you an idea of the magnitude of our penetration, we were able to actually see photographs of hundreds of tons of cocaine that were concealed in shipments of fruit. We were able to see hundreds of kilos of cocaine that were concealed in canned goods,” Calvin Shivers, assistant director from FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, told reporters in The Hague. “The results are staggering.”