International law enforcement agencies set up a system of encrypted devices so organized crime networks would store incriminating data there, eventually resulting in the arrest of 800 people in more than 16 countries, officials said on Tuesday.
Europol called it "one of the largest and most sophisticated law enforcement operations to date in the fight against encrypted criminal activities," and involved cooperation from officials in at least 19 countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and the United States.
Dubbed alternately Greenlight or Trojan Shield, the operation was the biggest of its kind in history, Europol said.
Starting in 2019, US and Australian officials set up a company called ANOM, which grew into a network of 12,000 encrypted devices used by more than 300 criminal syndicates in more than 100 countries, which stored data about their operations there that was then used by law enforcement to launch prosecutions.
In the end, officers had access to 27 million messages, which took 18 months to review.
According to Europol, groups caught up in the sting include organized Italian crime gang, outlaw motorcycle gangs and international drug trafficking organizations.
Most were lured to ANOM because it offered such services as remote wiping of data and "duress passwords." It helped that a French and Dutch operation shut down a different encrypted network, EncroChat, in July 2020 and anther in 2021, this time with Belgian help, blocked access to the Sky ECC communication service tool.
8 tons of cocaine seized
According to Europol, the research resulted in the arrests announced on Tuesday, which involved 700 house searches in 16 countries. Investigators seized 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, 2 tons of synthetic drugs, 6 tons of synthetic drug precursors, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and more ethan 48 million dollars in various currencies during the operations.
More spin-off operations were promised in the weeks to come.
“Encrypted criminal communications platforms have traditionally been a tool to evade law enforcement and facilitate transnational organized crime. The FBI and our international partners continue to push the envelope and develop innovative ways to overcome these challenges and bring criminals to justice," said Calvin A Shivers, the FBI's criminal investigative division assistant director.