But for nearly three years, a crypto app used by criminals has been secretly monitored by the FBI and Australian Federal Police (AFP), resulting in hundreds of arrests and tens of millions of dollars in asset seizures, have authorities revealed on Tuesday.
According to AFP, intelligence gathered from the decrypted messages led to the arrest of 224 suspects on more than 500 charges and the seizure of 3.7 tons of drugs and nearly $ 35 million in cash during the last three years in Australia.
A number of those charged are believed to be linked to the Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organized crime, AFP added.
“Operation Ironside,” as the investigation was named, began three years ago as a collaboration between several global law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, AFP, New Zealand Police and Europol.
ANoM could only be found on phones bought on the black market, which had been deprived of the ability to make calls or send emails, according to AFP. Phones could only send messages to another device with the app, and criminals had to know another criminal to get a device.
“The devices circulated organically and gained popularity among criminals, who were convinced of the legitimacy of the application because high-level organized crime figures vouched for its integrity,” the statement said. ‘AFP.
Unbeknownst to users of the app, the FBI had access to the app and its communications, which the organization then used to gather intelligence on criminal operations.
Kershaw said the criminals did not use any codes or pseudonyms on ANoM, brazenly discussing crimes in the mistaken confidence that their communications were secure.
“Essentially, we’ve been in the back pockets of organized crime and operationalized a criminal dismantling like we’ve never seen before,” Kershaw said.
“Using encrypted communication applications presents significant challenges for law enforcement and ANoM has given law enforcement a window into the level of crime we have never seen before on this scale. ”
Hundreds of arrests and tons of drugs were also seized abroad as a result of the operation, AFP said, without specifying where. Police also seized assets in Australia that authorities say would be worth millions of dollars when sold.
In total, over the three years, more than 9,000 police officers from 18 countries were involved in sustaining the operation.
AFP said more arrests are expected in Australia and abroad following the operation.
Kershaw added that there were other larger encrypted communications apps that the police were struggling to access.