FBI tricks criminal groups into using messaging app, makes 800 arrests

The Bureau worked with Australian and European law enforcement to oversee plots to kill people and sell drugs and guns. Then they pounced.

The FBI worked with an international group of law enforcement agencies to bring criminals to an encrypted messaging app controlled by them.

Global law enforcement agencies revealed on Tuesday that they arrested more than 800 alleged criminals after being convinced they were using an encrypted messaging app run by the FBI undercover. The bureau worked with Australian and European police to set up the app company AN0M, find suspected criminals to use and monitor their interactions.

The operation was known as Trojan Shield in the United States and Europe, and Special Operation Ironside in Australia. It exposed alleged perpetrators of South American drug cartels, Asian triad groups and Middle Eastern and European criminal syndicates, as previously reported by The Washington Post.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw told reporters that the spec was “over a couple of beers” by the FBI and Australian police in 2018.

The app AN0M was installed on more than 12,000 phones, which were removed in other capacity and distributed among hundreds of alleged criminal organizations. They became popular in these circles as an increasing number of those people affirmed the integrity of the app and used it to discuss their activities.

The FBI’s San Diego field office was the headquarters of the operation, with more than 100 agents and 80 linguists working in the Trojan Shield. The operation began in 2018 by taking down encrypted phone provider Phantom Secure, and then providing alleged criminals with their own tools to “produce a carbon copy of each message for the FBI to assess and analyze.”

Law enforcement groups combed through more than 27 million messages — which reportedly included contracts for murders, pictures of cocaine hidden in shipments of fruit, and robbery conspiracies — over 18 months.

“Encrypted devices have been and continue to be a safe haven for criminal organizations,” said FBI San Diego Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jamie Arnold. It was a creative and innovative way of looking at what was happening.”

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