Thanks to a “secure” messaging application, more than 800 suspects of various crimes were arrested in an operation in 18 countries, which had joint action by the police from Australia and the FBI and started in 2018.

The officers reached the suspects via the ANOM app, an encrypted messaging app that, unbeknownst to criminals, was developed by the FBI itself.

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Suspects were tricked into using the app, secretly distributed among criminals. Through the program, police were able to monitor conversations about drug trafficking, money laundering and even assassination plots. Carrying out the operation is considered a "watershed" by the authorities.

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ANOM, the application used in the operation, is part of a network of encrypted devices operated by the FBI. The US federal police secretly distributed devices with the chat app to the criminal underworld through informants, explained the with the BBC.

The idea to carry out the operation came after two other encrypted platforms were taken down by security agencies. So gangs needed new “safe” channels of communication. The devices were initially used by supposed 'bigger' criminals.

According to the police of Australia, you had to know someone involved in the criminal world to get one of the devices, which did not receive calls or emails. About 12 devices were used by 300 criminal organizations in more than 100 countries.

The key to distributing the phones was Haka Ayij, suspected of drug trafficking and Australian fugitive. He inadvertently recommended the app to other criminals he knew after receiving a device from undercover cops.

The main targets of the police were drug gangs and people with ties to the mafia. In addition to the people arrested, drugs, weapons, luxury vehicles and money were seized. The list includes eight tons of cocaine, 250 guns and more than $48 million (BRL 242 million) in various currencies and cryptocurrencies.

For Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the operation "dealts a heavy blow against organized crime" around the world. Europol, police of the European Union, described the operation as the “highest law enforcement against encrypted communication”.

Street: with the BBC

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