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Hundreds Jailed in Global Sting Operation

June 22, 2021 by Reece Nations
Acting U.S Attorney Randy Grossman, right, speaks as law enforcement officials look on during a news conference announcing Operation Trojan shield, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in San Diego. The global sting operation involved an encrypted communications platform developed by the FBI and has sparked a series of raids and arrests around the world in which more than 800 suspects were arrested and more than 32 tons of drugs — cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines were seized. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Criminal groups in 16 countries were tracked for years by law enforcement agencies under the guise of a secure smartphone-based messaging application known as “ANOM,” leading to over 800 arrests.

ANOM was developed by an individual cooperating with the San Diego branch of the FBI who had been working on creating an encrypted messaging service for criminal activity. This unknown individual, who was facing charges and cooperating with law enforcement for a reduced sentence, developed the app and then distributed it to other criminal agents through existing networks.

Over 9,000 law enforcement agents from 18 countries were involved in the three-year trojan horse sting operation. German, Swedish and Dutch were the most commonly used languages by criminals in the app.

“This operation, known as OTF Greenlight/Trojan Shield, is one of the largest and most sophisticated law enforcement operations to date in the fight against encrypted criminal activities,” the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, also known as Europol, announced in a written statement. “A series of large-scale law enforcement actions were executed over the past days across 16 countries resulting in more than 700 house searches, more than 800 arrests and the seizure of over 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, 2 tons of synthetic drugs [amphetamine and methamphetamine], 6 tons of synthetic drugs precursors, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies.”

The first communications were sent through the app in Oct. 2018 which culminated in simultaneous global search warrant executions in June 2021. While the app disabled certain smartphone features such as location tracking and voice recognition, it would copy and send the messages to secure servers operated by the FBI.

Intercepted communications showed that every device utilizing ANOM was used for criminal activities, the majority of which were used by organized crime syndicates. Over the course of the operation, Europol stated it collected 27 million messages from over 100 countries. 

The majority of the arrests were made in Australia and Sweden, with 224 and 155 arrests respectively. No arrests were made by law enforcement in the U.S. because of privacy laws that shield domestic subjects.

“This was an unprecedented operation in terms of its massive scale, innovative strategy and technological and investigative achievement,” Acting United States Attorney Randy Grossman said in a written statement. “Hardened encrypted devices usually provide an impenetrable shield against law enforcement surveillance and detection. The supreme irony here is that the very devices that these criminals were using to hide from law enforcement were actually beacons for law enforcement. We aim to shatter any confidence in the hardened encrypted device industry with our indictment and announcement that this platform was run by the FBI.”

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