FBI operated encrypted messaging app leads to hundreds of arrests

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Hundreds of international criminals were tricked into using an encrypted messaging app secretly controlled by the FBI, exposing their drug smuggling, money laundering, and even planned hits to a sting operation, officials said Tuesday.

An unsealed affidavit reveals the FBI worked alongside the Australian Federal Police and Europol after striking a relationship with the developer of the app Anom, which had become a communication tool for a wide array of criminal activity, ranging from organized crime, motorcycle outlaws, and various international narcotics sources for transportation, and distribution cells.

Anom’s global reach allowed for the FBI to track the phones of 11,800 devices in 90 countries, while also collecting more than 20 million messages and over 450,000 photos.

The operation called “Trojan Shield” was put together after the agencies began an investigation into the Phantom Secure phone company. The sting led to more than 800 arrests spanning 16 countries, officials in the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the European Union police agency Europol announced at a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands.

“The Trojan Shield investigation has revealed how criminal organizations combine their activities with multiple brands of hardened encrypted devices. For example, some users assign different types of devices to different parts of a drug trafficking transaction,” the affidavit reads. “For example, conversations, where Anom is used, could be for the logistics of the drug shipments.

Seizures in the sting so far have included 250 firearms, 55 luxury cars, eight tons of cocaine, 22 tons of marijuana, two tons of methamphetamine and amphetamine, and more than $48 million in various worldwide currencies, officials said.

The police reported that in Australia alone, over 200 suspects have been arrested, with 3.7 metric tons of drugs and nearly $35 million in cash seized over the past three years, according to CNN.

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