Organized crime all over the world is reeling after the FBI has rolled up some 800 suspected criminals in a massive sting operation. “Operation Trojan Shield,” as the FBI called it, involved the cooperation of law enforcement in 16 countries and saw the shuttering of hundreds of clandestine drug operations.
The most interesting part about the massive drug bust, however, isn’t necessarily the arrests themselves. What has been most impressive about this turn of events for many is the manner in which the FBI retrieved the information that led to the arrests. To put it simply, in its own words, the FBI pitted organized crime’s “glaring weakness” against itself.
In order to communicate with one another without being detected by law enforcement, criminals often use encrypted communication apps. Up until 2018 or so, the preferred encrypted app of organized criminals was Phantom Secure. The FBI put a stop to that app, however, using the legal system to take it off of the internet and forcing criminals to scramble to find a new way to organize their dirty deeds.
The FBI, thinking swiftly, decided to enact a plan that would lay the foundation of one of the biggest drug busts in law enforcement history. Sensing an opportunity to take advantage of the vacuum left by Phantom Secure, the FBI created a system called “ANOM,” an encrypted app that could take Phantom Secure’s place in the criminal underworld.
The FBI used undercover methods to slip phones containing the app into underworld circles. The phones themselves were bizarre, only able to access the ANOM app. Even basic functions, like making phone calls or taking pictures, were disabled on the allegedly “trace-free” phones.
This led to even highly influential members of organized crime communities trusting the phones, which the FBI allowed to be used for years before springing their trap. It was critical that criminals become comfortable enough with the app to use it freely, speaking without the use of code words or euphemisms when describing assaults, murders, and drug sales.
Before even launching the arrests, however, law enforcement was able to use the information gathered from the app to stop over 100 threats to innocent people from being carried out. That aspect of the app is something that law enforcement will miss, of course, but the FBI hopes the damage dealt to organized crime was worth blowing ANOM’s cover.
The endgame for the app was collecting enough evidence through it to get search warrants to various drug operations around the world and to have enough evidence on hand to bring the criminals behind these operations to trial.
With assistance from law enforcement in countries around the world, the operation saw over 800 suspects placed into custody in just 48 hours. The FBI has stated that the sting also brought in hundreds of guns, millions of dollars in various currencies, and massive stockpiles of illegal drugs. In short, it was a bad couple of days for organized crime around the globe.
“Operation Trojan Shield is a shining example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement partners from around the world work together and develop state-of-the-art investigative tools to detect, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations,” FBI Criminal Investigative Division assistant director Calvin Shivers told reporters.