Trojan Phones: How the Global Strike Against Drug Crime Succeeded – Politics

In the course of global raids against organized crime, there have been more than 70 arrests in Germany. The focus was on Hesse, where more than 60 people from the drug milieu were arrested in the searches that began on Monday. About 1,500 police officers were on duty. According to the Hesse Public Prosecutor’s Office, the measures have not yet been completed.

According to Europol, international investigators have arrested more than 800 suspects in more than 16 countries while fighting organized crime. It was one of the largest international police operations to date, Europol announced on Tuesday in The Hague. More than 700 houses have been searched, tons of drugs have been seized and large amounts of cash, jewels and weapons have been seized.

For more than 18 months, the investigators had read text messages from the gangs. More than 27 million messages have been filtered. The blow was successful because undercover officers and informants had smuggled prepared phones into more than 300 gangs worldwide – Mafia gangs in Italy, rocker gangs and international drug syndicates.

How did that work technically?

Criminals use so-called crypto cell phones and specially installed apps in order to be able to communicate with one another in encrypted form. In this case, they were subconsciously using telephones that were previously set up by the American Federal Police, the FBI. The FBI had succeeded through confidants in luring criminals to the crypto platform “Anom” operated by the FBI itself.

This allowed investigators to read messages like this in real time for years. “There are 2 kg in sealed French diplomatic envelopes from Bogotta,” someone wrote in relation to a cocaine shipment and added a photo of the cargo to the message.

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In another message from May 2020, a user asks about the price of cocaine in Hong Kong and whether his chat partner has someone at the port to handle them. He replies: “The price for one kilogram is 100,000 from Australia.” And further, there is no one, i.e. no corrupt customs officer at the port, who could wave through the delivery. It was then agreed to hide the drugs in banana boxes, an example image of the boxes is attached.

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How did the FBI get hold of the criminal gangs?

The story began four years ago in California. In a request for telephone surveillance from May 2021, on which a district court had to decide, the unbelievable-sounding genesis of one of the greatest strikes against organized crime is described. The FBI initially investigated the company “Phantom Secure” in San Diego in 2017.

The company provided members of international criminal organizations, especially drug traffickers, with tap-proof cell phones. At a price of $ 2000 each and only suitable for sending encrypted messages. The police could not crack the devices technically, the gangsters felt safe.

Mission pictures from Down Under. Drugs, weapons, cars, jewelry and money were confiscated during the international raid.Photo: REUTERS

Nevertheless, in March 2018, the authorities managed to arrest the head of Phantom Secure, Vincent Ramos. And Ramos unpacked. He admitted that his company had supported the global drug trade. Ramos got away with a nine-year prison sentence in October 2018. That is little by US standards for serious crimes of this kind. But the FBI apparently came up with a promising idea about the Ramos case.

Agents recruited a criminal IT professional as an undercover agent who was already in the process of developing the next generation of crypto telephones and the “Anom” encryption app for criminals. The man has been promised a mild sentence if he makes Anom available to the FBI and if he lures gangs of criminals as a confidante. This is how the FBI began “Operation Trojan Shield”. And Anom was configured so that the police could read every message – without suspicion.

What dimension did “Trojan Shield” have?

The FBI initially cooperated primarily with the Australian Federal Police. Anom is now used by criminals in more than 90 countries. The focus is also on Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Serbia. Using Trojan Shield, the FBI and Europol identified more than 300 internationally active criminal organizations as users of Anom, including the Italian mafia, rocker gangs and narco cartels. The influx of Anom grew, however, when two more krypto networks were smashed.

In July 2020, the security authorities of France and the Netherlands paralyzed the “Encrochat” platform. The operation sent “shock waves into the criminal underworld” across Europe, according to a statement from Europol on Tuesday. A message from the Dresden public prosecutor’s office on Tuesday fits in with this.

She has charged two suspected German drug traffickers who are also said to have communicated via Encrochat. The men are accused of having bought 23 kilos of marijuana for more than 100,000 euros from a supplier in Berlin.

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