ANOM: Hundreds arrested in massive global crime sting using messaging app

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More than 800 suspected criminals have been arrested worldwide after being tricked into using an FBI-run encrypted messaging app, officials say.

The operation, jointly conceived by Australia and the FBI, saw devices with the ANOM app secretly distributed among criminals, allowing police to monitor their chats about drug smuggling, money laundering and even murder plots.

Officials called it a watershed moment.

Targets included drug gangs and people with links to the mafia.

Drugs, weapons and cash were also seized en masse in the operation.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation had “struck a heavy blow against organised crime” around the world.

Europol described Operation Trojan Shield/Greenlight as the “biggest ever law enforcement operation against encrypted communication”.

The FBI is expected to present more details later on Tuesday.

How did ANOM work?

After the FBI had dismantled two other encryption services, it began operating its own encrypted device company called ANOM, officials said.

Devices with the chat app were distributed in the criminal underworld.

The devices were initially used by alleged senior crime figures, giving other criminals the confidence to use the platform.

In Australia, fugitive drug trafficker Hakan Ayik was key to the sting, having unwittingly recommended the app to criminal associates after being given a handset by undercover officers, police said.

“You had to know a criminal to get hold of one of these customised phones. The phones couldn’t ring or email. You could only communicate with someone on the same platform,” the police explained.

In total, some 12,000 encrypted devices were used by around 300 criminal syndicates in more than 100 countries.

Officers were able to read millions of messages in “real time” describing murder plots, mass drug import plans and other schemes.

“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.

Agencies
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