Operation Trojan Shield: How an Informant and Messaging App ANOM Led to large Global Crime Sting

Shield

It took $120,000 (roughly Rs. 87 lakhs) plus expenses, and therefore the opportunity for a reduced prison sentence, for the smartphone developer to collaborate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2018 and kick-start Operation Trojan Shield, consistent with a court document.

Three years later, the investigation involving 9,000 enforcement officers from 17 countries saw authorities monitor 27 million messages from 12,000 devices in 100 countries and track the activities of quite 300 organized crime groups, the ECU Union’s enforcement agency, Europol, said during a statement.

To date, there are quite 800 arrests and therefore the seizure of quite eight tonnes of cocaine, 22 tonnes of cannabis, two tonnes of synthetic drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury vehicles, and over $48 million in cash and cryptocurrencies, Europol said. More arrests and seizures are expected, it said.

The US court document – an affidavit from an FBI agent first published by Vice News – says the “confidential human source”, a former pusher, had been creating a replacement hardened encrypted phone with a bespoke app called ANOM, also styled An0m.

The source came on board after authorities dismantled the Phantom Secure encrypted smartphone network and arrested its CEO in 2018.

For a minimum of a decade, organized crime groups have used phones like Phantom Secure to organize drug deals, hits on rivals, and launder illicit earnings without detection, police say. Among many of the phones’ features, content is often remotely wiped if they’re seized.

But together model was put out of business, new ones would enter the lucrative market.

The FBI decided it might launch its own, inserting a passkey into the devices that attached to every message and enabled enforcement officers to decrypt and store them as they were transmitted. the value within us was $1,700 (roughly Rs. 1.2 lakhs) for a six-month subscription, a US official said.

In 2018, Australian police investigators and analysts met with the FBI. “As you recognizea number of the simplest ideas come across a few of beers,” said Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Reece Kershaw on Tuesday.

Prodded by authorities, the developer-turned-informant tapped his trusted distributors, who targeted the Australian market. They settled on a soft launch in October 2018. The developer gave the distributors only 50 devices to sell. Seeing a “huge payday”, they agreed, consistent with the affidavit.

As the AFP monitored the messages and photos shared on the devices, “100 percent of ANOM users within the test phase used ANOM to interact in criminal activity”, the affidavit said. The business grew organically, by word-of-mouth. Soon overseas criminals were flocking to use the ANOM phone.

Law enforcers had “an edge” that they had never had before, said Kershaw. Among many arrests and plenty of drugs seized, Australian authorities said they also disrupted 21 murder plots, including a mass killing, because of ANOM.

But, thanks to “technological issues”, the FBI couldn’t directly monitor the phones in Australia. A writ in late 2019, however, issued by an unspecified country where a server for the phones was located, gave the agency far greater and more timely access to their content.

The FBI and other countries’ law enforcers discovered that Italian organized crime, Asian triads, biker gangs, and transnational drug syndicates were all users.

The special agent’s affidavit, and therefore the AFP’s Kershaw, said criminals used the phones openly, often not even using code words and regularly sharing photos of massive drug consignments and details of how they might be transported.

Among the pictures shared within the affidavit were mounds of blocks of illicit drugs and a mailbag identified within the court document as French and said to be wont to transport cocaine from Colombia. There was also evidence of corrupt officialdom and police.

Crime groups were being “notified of anticipated enforcement actions”, the affidavit said.

“The review of ANOM messages has initiated numerous high-level public corruption cases in several countries.”

Raids targeting users of another encrypted phone, Sky ECC, in March saw ANOM’s popularity surge, with active users growing from 3,000 to 9,000 in months, the affidavit said.

But the expiry of the unspecified country’s writ on Monday signaled the top of the phones’ torrent of criminal intelligence. during a series of stories conferences around the world subsequent day, Operation Trojan Shield was revealed.

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