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.
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.
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.
Another blow to a crypto network followed in March 2020. The investigators in France, the Netherlands and Belgium blocked “Sky ECC”. The operations against Encrochat and Sky ECC, says Europol, gave “invaluable insights” into the communication of organized crime. But there was one more effect that is now taking effect. The gangs switched to Anom. And with that, without knowing it, into the arms of the FBI. The number of Anom users has grown from 3,000 to 9,000 since March. The Trojan shield became a heavyweight.
The Australian-Turkish drug lord Hakan Ayik played an involuntary leading role in the spread of the Anom devices. The Australian police had identified him as the ideal target because of his large network in the international drug trade. Undercover agents managed to equip Ayik with an Anom cell phone. He recommended the new crypto cell phones to his business partners.
Ayik is one of the most wanted criminals in Australia and is said to have lived in Turkey for a long time. “Given the threat he is now facing, it is best if he surrenders himself to us as soon as possible,” said Australian Police Chief Reece Kershaw.
Who was in charge of the investigation?
“This was one of the largest and most sophisticated missions ever,” said Deputy Europol Director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe in The Hague. Operation Trojan Shield was under the direction of the American FBI, the US drug agency DEA, the police of Sweden and the Netherlands and was coordinated in Europe by Europol.
Investigators in 16 countries were involved, including Germany. With a raid on nationwide over a hundred apartments, warehouses and business premises, the police took action against drug crime on Monday. In Germany alone, with a focus on Hesse, the police forces searched over 100 apartments, warehouses and business premises on Monday.
In Saxony, officials from the State Office of Criminal Investigation arrested five men between the ages of 19 and 25 who are said to have traded drugs. There are two Germans, a Russian, a Moldovan and a Turk. During the searches, especially in Chemnitz, five kilos of marijuana, two limousines, more than 20,000 euros in cash and five crypto cell phones were seized.
Who are the alleged perpetrators who were arrested in the raids?
In Hesse, two different groups are being investigated in two investigations. It is about 19 young men from the Main-Kinzig district and their illegal drug trafficking. The second group consists of 16 suspects from the Rhine-Main area and also illegal drug trafficking. They are said to have brought large amounts of drugs from abroad to Germany in specially converted cars.
What was confiscated?
Virginie Wegner, press spokeswoman for the State Office of Criminal Investigation in Hesse, told Tagesspiegel that 37 high-quality cars had been secured and are now being forensically examined. Drug dealers would prepare the cars in such a way that they could hide large amounts of drugs there without them being seen and difficult to detect by drug detection dogs. How this was done with these cars is still being investigated. In the past, tanks were often made smaller or cavities behind the cladding were used, reports Wegner.
In addition to the cars and IT equipment, more than 120 kg of marijuana, 25 kg of hashish and over 6000 cannabis plants, 3 kg of heroin, about one kg of cocaine and 100 kg of diluents, over 30 kg of amphetamine and 15 canisters of amphetamine base as well as firearms were used in Hessen and other weapon-like objects secured.
How did you work with the Americans?
The German authorities were only inaugurated by the FBI a month ago, said Chief Public Prosecutor Benjamin Krause from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Frankfurt am Main the Tagesspiegel. Krause is the spokesman for the Central Office for Combating Internet Crime (ZIT). The FBI provided the Federal Criminal Police Office with the technology with which the criminals’ communication via crypto cell phones could be read.
“That was a gold mine for us,” said Krause. “The criminals communicated very openly because they believed they could not be monitored.” Drugs were ordered and arranged via the crypto cell phones, “where is what goes there”.
Krause emphasized that he was by no means dissatisfied that the Americans did not inform their German colleagues about the planned international strike against organized crime until so late. “Communication on the Internet cannot only be monitored nationally,” he said.
Krause couldn’t explain why the FBI didn’t speak to the Germans until May. He rejected the suspicion that the Americans had only given late information in order to prevent possible outflows from the police to organized crime.