FBI carried out a global crime sting by selling devices with encrypted messaging app to criminals
The FBI caught over 800 criminals between 2019 and 2021 by introducing an encrypted messaging app called ANOM and taking down other rival platforms used by criminal syndicates. The FBI recruited the collaborator who developed ANOM who engineered the system to give the agency access to any messages being sent. ANOM did not enable the criminals to make calls or browse the internet but for secure messaging.The FBI and other agencies seeded the ANOM phones with suspected crime syndicates, in a way that they were copied on every message on these devices.The authorities gradually built a network of around 12,000 devices out of which 9,000 were active. The phones siphoned 27 million messages between 2019 and 2021, resulting in Operation Greenlight, Trojan Shield.
After the popularity of the phones increased, the agency provided phones via unsuspecting middlemen to gangs in over 100 countries. The Washington Post reports that the law enforcement agencies took down a company called Phantom Secure that provided customized end-to-end encrypted devices to criminals. Additionally, other secure platforms used by criminals to organize drug-trafficking hits and money laundering were taken down by police, chiefly EncroChat and Sky ECC.
Authorities were copied on every message on these devices, like blind receipts of an email. The ANOM messages included a master key that enabled enforcement to decrypt its contents, and each device tied a fixed ID number to any username the owner chose. The messages were secretly routed to servers that the FBI, as well as the AFP and later other police agencies, could access, The Verge reported.
The Post revealed that over 800 suspects were arrested and more than 32 tons of drugs seized, including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines. It further added that police also seized 250 guns, 55 luxury cars and more than $148 million in cash and cryptocurrencies. Reports revealed that Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia and Serbia as the most active countries.
It quoted Randy Grossman, the acting US attorney in San Diego, who at a news conference said, "The very devices that criminals use to hide their crimes were actually a beacon for law enforcement." Calvin Shivers, assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division noted that the flow of intelligence enabled the authorities to prevent murders and led to the seizure of drugs and weapons