On Tuesday morning, Europol, the police agency of the European Union, announced at a press conference the results of a major police operation against organized crime that led to the arrest of hundreds of people in different parts of the world.
The operation was carried out thanks to the infiltration of an app, called ANoM, which was used by alleged criminals to exchange encrypted messages. The operation was led by the FBI, the investigative agency of the US federal police, with the cooperation of the police services of 15 other countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Sweden and the United Kingdom).
Europol called the operation “one of the largest and most sophisticated police operations ever”. In all, more than 800 people have been arrested around the world, more than 30 tons of drugs and 250 firearms have been seized, as well as 48 million dollars in national currencies of various countries and cryptocurrencies.
Europol’s announcement was anticipated hours earlier by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said information gleaned from intercepted messages in his country led to the arrest of 224 people, the seizure of 3.7 tonnes of drugs and nearly $ 35 million in cash. New Zealand instead announced that it had arrested 35 people and kidnapped $ 2.7 million.
As he told Vice, the police operation began in 2018, when the FBI came up with the idea of taking control of ANoM, a little-known app at the time, and spreading it to the criminal world. Usually these surveillance operations take place through the interception of an app already widespread among the alleged criminals; this time, however, the FBI decided to run the app from the start, to control the entire network.
Thanks to ANoM, the FBI was able to monitor communications from alleged criminals who used it without their noticing, in collaboration with law enforcement agencies in other countries such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The app was only installed on cell phones that were traded on the black market by criminal organizations: the phones were modified in such a way that they could only be used for the app, and could therefore not make calls, send messages or emails.
Thanks to the surveillance on ANoM, in the last 3 years the police forces have managed to collect important information on criminal operations organized through the app.
Australian police said most of the people arrested were part of criminal gangs, the Australian mafia and Asian criminal organizations. He also said the operation helped prevent homicides, intercept large drug trafficking, uncover six clandestine laboratories and prevent money laundering operations. Among the blocked criminal operations was also an organized crime project to kill a family of five.
Reece Kershaw, Australia’s chief of police, said phones with the ANoM app installed were very popular with criminals, and that they were confident of the app’s anonymity because “high-profile organized crime figures vouched for its integrity. “. Kershaw spoke of these figures as “crime influencers”. He added that the criminals did not use coded messages or aliases on ANoM, and openly discussed the crimes, believing that their communications were secure.