800 arrested after FBI-run messaging app tricks organized crime in global sting

Nation/World

Operation led to police raids in 16 nations

In this undated photo supplied by the New Zealand police, a large amount of cash is displayed during a police raid as part of Operation Trojan. Authorities in Australia and New Zealand said Tuesday, June 8, 2021, they’ve dealt a huge blow to organized crime after hundreds of criminals were tricked into using a messaging app that was being secretly run by the FBI. (New Zealand Police via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Criminal gangs divulged plans for moving drug shipments and carrying out killings on a messaging app secretly run by the FBI, law enforcement agencies said Tuesday, as they unveiled a global sting operation they said dealt an “unprecedented blow” to organized crime in countries around the world.

The operation known as Trojan Shield led to police raids in 16 nations. More than 800 suspects were arrested and more than 32 tons of drugs — including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines — were seized along with 250 firearms, 55 luxury cars and more than $148 million in cash and cryptocurrencies.

The seeds of the sting were sown when law enforcement agencies earlier took down two encrypted platforms, EncroChat and Sky ECC, that had been used by criminal gangs to organize drug trafficking and underworld hits. With the gangs in the market for a new means of communication, the FBI stepped in with a covertly developed app called ANOM that was installed on modified mobile phones. Over the past 18 months, the FBI provided phones via unsuspecting middlemen to more than 300 gangs operating in more than 100 countries.

Intelligence gathered and analyzed “enabled us to prevent murders. It led to the seizure of drugs that led to the seizure of weapons. And it helped prevent a number of crimes,” Calvin Shivers, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, told a news conference in The Hague, Netherlands.

In this undated photo supplied by the New Zealand police, a bag of marijuana is displayed during a police raid as part of Operation Trojan. Authorities in Australia and New Zealand said Tuesday, June 8, 2021, they’ve dealt a huge blow to organized crime after hundreds of criminals were tricked into using a messaging app that was being secretly run by the FBI. (New Zealand Police via AP)

The operation — led by the FBI with the involvement of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the European Union police agency Europol and law enforcement agencies in several countries — dealt “an unprecedented blow to criminal networks, and this is worldwide,” said Dutch National Police Chief Constable Jannine van den Berg.

Australian Federal Police Commander Jennifer Hearst called it “a watershed moment in global law enforcement history.”

The ANOM app became popular in criminal circles as users told one another it was a safe platform. All the time, police were looking over the shoulders of criminals as they discussed hits, drug shipments and other crimes.

“There was a void that was created by a lack of these encrypted platforms,” Shivers said, of the initial move to take down apps previously used by gangs. “So that created an opportunity for collaboration with our international partners, to not only develop the specific tool but also to develop the process of gathering the intelligence and disseminating the intelligence.”

Law enforcement agencies from Sweden to New Zealand described the operation as having a significant impact.

Swedish police prevented a dozen planned killings and believe that they have arrested several “leading actors in criminal networks,” according to a statement from Linda Staaf, the head of Sweden’s national criminal intelligence unit.

Finnish police said Tuesday that nearly 100 people have been detained and more than 500 kilograms (half a ton) of drugs confiscated, along with dozens of guns and cash worth hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars). In Germany, the general prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt said that more than 70 people were arrested Monday and drugs, cash and weapons were also seized.

In Australia, authorities said they arrested 224 people and seized more than four tons of drugs and $35 million. New Zealand police said they had arrested 35 people and seized drugs and assets worth millions of dollars.

“Today, the Australian government, as part of a global operation, has struck a heavy blow against organized crime,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. “Not just in this country, but one that will echo around organized crime around the world.”

European police last year delivered a major blow to organized crime after cracking an encrypted communications network, known as EncroChat, used by criminal gangs across the continent.

In March, Belgian police arrested dozens of people after cracking another encrypted chat system and seizing more than 17 tons of cocaine.

The latest operation went even further.

“The success of Operation Trojan Shield is a result of tremendous innovation, dedication and unprecedented international collaboration,” Shivers said. “And the results are staggering.”

____

Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press writers Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Popular

LATEST VIDEO

Playground summer safety tips - Carrigan Chauvin

Thermal burn threat on playground equipment - Carrigan Chauvin

Why "Jeopardy" needs to call Carrigan Chauvin - Adam and Hannah

Man swallowed by whale shares his story - Adam and Hannah react

Biden at G7, in Brussels for NATO Summit - Jessi Turnure in Washington D.C.

Heat advisories around the country - Adam Krueger

Forecast heat index, dog walk forecast

Weather update, COVID-19 and teens

Woman gets several Amazon packages that aren't hers - Adam and Hannah

Working in the Weather - Caring for a horse in the heat - Carrigan Chauvin

Working in the Weather - Keeping horses safe - Carrigan Chauvin

Monitoring Gulf Low - Adam Krueger

Upper 90's, will feel like triple digits - Adam Krueger

Heat Wave In Cities Across the Country - Adam Krueger

Forecast Heat Index - Adam Krueger

Lifetime Fitness Cafe with Omar

CW39 SHARRON MELTON INTERVIEW HISD DR. GRENITA LATHAN

Summers have been getting warmer in Houston

Grill Giveaway with Texas Star Grill Shop

Coming up... National Heat Wave, Grilling Contest - Star Harvey

NO WAIT WEATHER + TRAFFIC

More NO WAIT WEATHER + TRAFFIC

CRIME

More Crime

Local Headlines

More Local

ZIP RECRUITER

Don't Miss