'A watershed moment': The app that brought down Australia's underworld

06/09/2021 10:07 |

'A watershed moment': The app that brought down Australia's underworld

Law enforcement agencies say they've arrested hundreds of criminals across the world in a three-year operation using an FBI-designed app.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States along with police officers in over a dozen countries cracked down on mafia groups, crime syndicates and criminal networks as part of operation "Trojan Shield" leading to the arrest of 800 people worldwide.

In Australia, authorities said they arrested 224 people and seized more than four tons of drugs and $35 million.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that a vast global crime sting operation in partnership with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and thousands of Australian police officers have been in the works for three years, and it has been a success.

Some 9,000 law enforcement officers in 18 countries around the world were involved in the operation, which Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called "a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history" that will echo around the world. That allowed police to look over the shoulders of criminals as they discussed hits, drug shipments and other crimes.

Operation Ironside -known as Operation Trojan Shield in the USA and Europe - led to the arrest of 224 offenders on 526 charges in every mainland Australian state.

Users of the app were concentrated in Germany, the Netherlands, Serbia and Australia, according to the report.

But from early on, the devices' developer was collaborating with the FBI - and as their use spread, they surreptitiously sent copies of the criminals' messages to the FBI, the Australian Federal Police, and other agencies.

"Essentially we've been in the back pockets of organized crime", said Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw.

While present across the globe, the heaviest use of the ANOM phones was in Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Australia and Serbia, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

An global security expert has explained why criminals fell for an app which was central to the world's largest organised crime takedown.

Investigators also had pulled the plug on the Anom network because their wiretap authorizations were coming up for renewal and the sting had already gathered so much evidence, said Suzanne Turner, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.'s San Diego office. It led to the seizure of drugs that led to the seizure of weapons.

A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry declined to confirm reports that the raids were linked to the FBI's hacking of encrypted communications networks used by criminals.

Operation Ironside led to the arrests of hundreds of people and millions of dollars' worth of cash and assets being seized.

Although the authorities have cracked or shut down encrypted platforms in the past - such as one called EncroChat that the police in Europe successfully hacked - this is the first known instance in which officials have controlled an entire encrypted network from its inception.

Operation Trojan Shield involved police raids in 16 countries in which 250 firearms and 55 luxury cars were also seized, officials announced at a news conference in The Hague.

Finnish police said Tuesday that almost 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).

Hundreds of arrests and tons of drugs were also seized overseas as a result of the operation, the AFP said, but didn't specify where. You could only communicate with someone on the same platform.

Law enforcement should be congratulated for the outcome of this operation - but this is far from the end of their work.

Commissioner Kershaw said that in Australia, police had been able to intercept drug operations and prevent incidents such as mass shootings.

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