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FBI Worked With Ex-Drug Trafficker To Create Fake Encrypted App To Catch Criminals

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FBI Worked With Ex-Drug Trafficker To Create Fake Encrypted App To Catch Criminals

Hundreds of suspected criminals have been arrested after they were tricked into using an encrypted messaging app that was actually being run by the FBI.

Operation Trojan Shield kicked off in 2018 and saw the FBI and officials in Australia collaborate with a former drug trafficker to create a new hardened encrypted phone with a bespoke app called ANOM that was secretly gathering information from users, Reuters reports.

The ex-trafficker turned developer was paid $120,000 (£85,030) plus expenses, and was given the opportunity for a reduced prison sentence, to work with the FBI on the project, according to the news outlet.

Credit: FBI
Credit: FBI
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Police were able to monitor chats about all levels of criminal activity from drug smuggling to murder plots across the three-years.

Organised crime groups use encrypted phones to avoid detection from police and securely arrange drug deals and other criminal activities.

In 2018, authorities managed to take down an encrypted smartphone network known as Phantom Secure, which prompted the FBI to try and launch its own as a way to capture criminals.

Explaining how it worked, Australian Police said: "You had to know a criminal to get hold of one of these customised phones. The phones couldn't ring or email. You could only communicate with someone on the same platform."

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Court documents first shared by Vice claimed '100 percent of ANOM users in the test phase used ANOM to engage in criminal activity'.

Credit: FBI
Credit: FBI

In a statement, the FBI said: "Criminal organisations that rely on hardened, stripped-down devices to send encrypted messages may learn this week they have been using a platform operated by the very investigators they are trying to thwart.

"In an innovative effort, the FBI, with the help of the Australian Federal Police, launched their own encrypted communications platform and supplied more than 12,000 devices to hundreds of criminal organisations that operate around the globe."

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In the end, the operation saw the involvement of 9,000 law enforcement officials from 17 different countries who had access to around 27 million messages from 12,000 different devices in 100 countries around the world.

Credit: FBI
Credit: FBI

So far there have been 800 arrests as well as huge seizures of eight tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis, two tons of synthetic drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48million in cash and cryptocurrencies, according to Europol.

European Union police agency Europol said it was the 'biggest ever law enforcement operation against encrypted communication'.

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Europol says it expects more arrests and seizures.

Featured Image Credit: FBI

Topics: crime, FBI

Claire Reid
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