In what is being touted as the world’s most sophisticated law enforcement action against organised crime to date, hundreds of suspected criminals have been arrested worldwide in a three-year operation, using an encrypted messaging app covertly run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday said that his government has struck a heavy blow to organised crime that will echo around the world.

Calling it a watershed moment in Australia’s law enforcement history, Morrison told a news conference that the operation has charged more than 800 hundred alleged offenders, seized millions of dollars in criminal proceeds, and removed weapons from the streets and saved lives. Morrison was joined by Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Reece Kershaw and FBI legal attaché at the US embassy Anthony Russo for the announcement. The AFP commissioner told reporters that the law enforcement agency partnered with the FBI and gained access to a new encrypted application named AN0M.

“As of today, we have charged 224 alleged offenders, including 525 charges laid, shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill, including saving a family of five. And seized 104 firearms and weapons and almost $45 million in cash,” said Kershaw, adding that the figures are likely to increase over the coming days.

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What is AN0M?

According to New Zealand police, the FBI dismantled encrypted communication platforms, including Canadian-based encryption service company Phantom Secure, used by criminals. Under the covert law enforcement operation, named ‘Operation Trojan Shield’, the FBI created a closed encrypted company called ‘AN0M’ to fill this void. The US federal law enforcement agency distributed the chat app in the criminal underworld through undercover officers. AN0M was initially used by alleged senior crime figures and later trickled down to associates and other criminals as confidence in the app grew.

New Zealand police said in a statement that criminal users of AN0M unknowingly communicated on the system operated by FBI agents, believing their devices were protected from law enforcement by the shield of impenetrable encryption. AN0M was used to “target organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering activities across the globe by monitoring individuals’ communications about their criminal offending,” New Zealand police added.

‘Operation Trojan Shield’ was led by the FBI and coordinated with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), AFP, Europol and numerous other law enforcement partners from more than a dozen countries. New Zealand became involved in the operation in January 2020.

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Why did they reveal the existence of the operation?

Without further elaborating on it, AFP’s Kershaw said that there was a legal time frame for this operation. “Part of it has to do with legal authorities…there is going to be a technical briefing by Assistant Commissioner Ryan,” he said.

Talking about the legality of the operation, the commissioner told the reporters that they used the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2018 in combination with legal authority from the FBI. “So there were legal authorities used in relation to this app,” he added.

World News


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