FBI launches fake encrypted messaging app, trapping numerous criminal organizations

By appealing to so-called criminal influencers, active on obscure sites and platforms pursued by potential criminals, the FBI managed to put in their pockets hundreds of phones equipped with an encrypted messaging application, under the control of the US investigative agency.

Without suspecting anything, criminals and criminal organizations from several regions of the month have for months disclosed essential information about the operations carried out.

For example, FBI agents learned from intercepted conversations some of the more creative ways in which foreign drug traffickers move their “goods” from one location to another, such as placing drugs in banana boxes, hollowed pineapples, and canned fish. sealed.

The FBI said the informants provided suspicious criminal organizations around the world with 12,000 devices equipped with the FBI-controlled messaging application, called ANOM. The operation called Trojan Shield gave law enforcement the opportunity to observe from within how international drug and firearms trafficking organizations operate.

Evidence on file based on the encrypted messaging application includes examples of “criminal conversations” examined by the FBI. Court documents cite two people identified by the pseudonym Ironman and Real G, who used the ANOM app in May 2020 to discuss how they would transport drugs between Colombia and Hong Kong. Ironman told Real G that there was no corrupt official in the port of Hong Kong to hide a possible delivery and asked how the cocaine would be shipped. In response, Real G sent a photo with packages of suspected cocaine and said it would be shipped in banana crates.

But the documentation submitted to the court covers many other operations. For example, in October 2020, an organization brokered the transport of cocaine from Ecuador to Belgium in a transport container hidden among tuna cans. U.S. agents working in Brussels searched the container with local police and found 613 kilograms of cocaine inside, and another 1,523 kilograms of drugs were found in a different container heading to the port of Antwerp, according to documents.

In April 2021, the FBI learned that a criminal organization was planning to send cocaine from Ecuador to Spain using a container full of refrigerated fish, according to documents. Spanish law enforcement officers searched the container when it arrived in the port of Algeciras and found 1,401 kilograms of cocaine. A month later, the FBI and law enforcement in Spain intercepted a shipment to the same port and found 1,595 kilograms of cocaine stuffed in hollowed pineapple, according to documents.

“The conversations detailed above are a small sample of the more than 20 million messages the FBI has analyzed about Anom’s criminal users,” the FBI said.

The locations visited by FBI agents would include the headquarters in Mountain View, California, but not because Google employees would have done anything illegal. “These messages show that more than 450,000 photos have been sent detailing conversations on other encrypted platforms discussing criminal activity, cryptocurrency transactions, mass cash smuggling, law enforcement corruption and self-identifying information.” The communications included alleged “murder plots, mass drug trafficking and arms distribution,” Australian police said in a statement on Tuesday.

The information gathered from the encrypted messaging application eventually led to the arrest of 800 people in Australia and across Europe, according to the FBI and Europol. In addition to drugs, law enforcement forces confiscated 55 luxury vehicles and more than $ 48 million in various currencies as part of the operation, Europol said in a statement.

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