Massive international operation against organized crime led to arrests of more than 800 people in 17 countries after agents successfully deciphered communications between suspects who unwittingly used phones distributed by the FBI, the US Federal Police .
During a press conference on Tuesday (8), the deputy director of operations of Europol, Jean Philippe Lecouffe, indicated that hundreds of arrests intervened during searches in more than 700 places in countries like New- Zealand, Australia, the United States, Germany, Italy. , Sweden and the Netherlands.
48 million US dollars (R $ 242 million) in cash and cryptocurrencies, more than eight tons of cocaine, 22 tons of marijuana, two tons of synthetic drugs, 250 weapons and 55 luxury cars were also seized.
From 27 million messages from over 12,000 devices in 100 countries, details of the criminal activities of over 300 organized groups have been uncovered, including the Italian Mafia, Asian Triads, and transnational drug trafficking gangs. .
Operation Trojan Shield began in 2018 and involved approximately 9,000 police officers. That year, the FBI offered a former drug dealer who was also a developer of smartphone software the opportunity to have his sentence reduced and $ 100,000 (R $ 504,000 at the current rate) to cover his expenses. The details of the operation were unveiled on Monday on the website of the American magazine Vice.
The informant was arrested in connection with another operation in which authorities dismantled an encrypted smartphone network known as Phantom Secure. For at least a decade, criminals have used these phones to plan drug trafficking, attacks on rivals, and money laundering. The system made it possible to remotely erase the content of the devices in the event of a seizure.
When they got out of circulation, the FBI decided to launch its own smartphone, called Anom, infiltrating a feature that would allow officers to decrypt and store every message as it is transmitted.
Also in 2018, Australian Federal Police investigators and analysts met with the FBI. “As you know, some of the best ideas come with a few beers,” Australian agency commissioner Reece Kershaw said Tuesday.
The developer-turned-informant accepted the FBI’s offer and contacted his former vendors, who were looking to expand their operations in Australia. These, in turn, purchased 50 Anom cell phones, which were used, according to Australian police, for criminal activity 100% of the time.
The cell phones, which were bought in the underground market for around $ 2,000 (R $ 10.1,000), had no email, did not make regular calls, or were connected to GPS systems. Additionally, a code sent by another Anom device was required, so anyone wishing to use one of the devices would have to know another user in advance.
“The devices circulated organically and became popular with criminals, who trusted the app’s legitimacy because prominent organized crime figures defended it,” Australian police said in a statement.
According to Kershaw, the criminals walked “with federal police in their pockets” and used phones without moderation, often without using code words and sharing photos of large shipments of drugs and details of how they would be transported. In Australia alone, at least 21 assassination plans have been stopped thanks to ANOM, the commissioner said. In total, according to the FBI, more than 100 lives at risk have been saved.
Due to legal and technological limitations, the FBI was unable to directly monitor devices in Australian territory. At the end of 2019, however, a court ruling issued by the country that hosts the phone servers and which has not been identified by authorities gave US agents greater possibilities to access monitored content.
The court order, however, expired on Monday (7), ending the criminal intelligence operation by telephone and, as a result, the exploits of Operation Trojan Shield were made public on Tuesday.