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Trojan Shield: Europol details massive organized crime sting

June 8, 2021

The operation was built around the ANOM messaging platform, which was being secretly run by the FBI. Some 16 countries, along with Europol, were involved in the global operation.

Officials from some of the law enforcement agencies involved, including Eurpol and the FBI
Operation Trojan Shield, also known as Task Force Greenlight, was one of the largest global operations against encrypted criminal activity to dateImage: Jerry Lampen/ANP/picture alliance

Europol held a press conference on Tuesday to praise the successes of Operation Trojan Shield that saw law enforcement agencies around the world work together to uncover organized criminal activities.

Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy executive director of Europol said "this law enforcement operation is exceptional by its global outcomes."

The agencies involved "carried out one of the largest, and most sophisticated law enforcement operations to date in the fight against encrypted criminal activities," he added.

Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division Calvin Shivers also spoke at the press conference, saying that "the success of Operation Trojan Shield is the result of tremendous innovation, dedication and unprecedented international collaboration."

He added that the operation also resulted in the seizure of over "six tons of cocaine, five tons of marijuana or hashish, two tons of methamphetamine, and over $148 million in currency."

A written Europol statement said that further results were expected as "countless spin-off operations will be carried out in the weeks to come."

Who was involved in the operation?

Some 16 countries were involved in the operation that was headed by the FBI and Europol along with Dutch and Swedish police. Over 18 months, they had access to more than 27 million messages sent over the ANOM app. As a result of the cooperative efforts, police were able to make more than 800 arrests and search 700 locations.

Earlier in the day, police in Australia and New Zealand unveiled their involvement in the operation that resulted in the arrests of hundreds of organized crime suspects through access to an "encrypted" communications platform. 

What about Germany? 

German prosecutors in Frankfurt said Tuesday that police had arrested more than 70 suspects and searched over 150 locations in Germany as part of the global crackdown. 

The raids were focused on the western state of Hesse and were carried out in cooperation with Europol, according to the Frankfurt public prosecutor. Security forces also made arrests in the city of Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hesse, police said

Other raids around Germany were carried out at apartments, warehouses and business premises.

Police officers in Essen in western Germany, conducting a search in front of an office building. June 7, 2021.
Raids also took place in the western city of Essen on MondayImage: Stephan Witte/dpa/picture alliance

On Monday, Steve Alter, a German Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed there were "criminal procedural measures in Germany but also in other countries around the world against people who are suspected of involvement in organized crime." At the time, Alter stopped short of directly linking the measures to Operation Trojan Shield.

What is the ANOM app?

The FBI and Australian Federal Police designed the ANOM platform to specifically suit the needs of organized crime gangs after noticing huge demand for encrypted communications and only volatile offerings.

Last year, European police cracked an encrypted communications network, known as EncroChat, used by criminal gangs across the continent. Belgium arrested dozens of suspects earlier this year after police cracked Sky ECC, another encrypted chat system. Authorities then seized over 17 tons of cocaine.

The ANOM app successfully enticed criminal gangs and ended up servicing more than 12,000 devices belonging to 300 different criminal organizations in over 100 countries, including the Italian mafia, motorcycle gangs and international drug traffickers, Europol explained in their statement.

Under the radar – encrypting your data

The groups that began to use the ANOM service ended up having their communications and plans saved on systems accessible to law enforcement. Gangs rushed to switch over to the platform after the takedown of Sky ECC, thus allowing the FBI and other agencies around the world to get an insight into what the criminal organizations were doing and planning.

What did Australia and New Zealand reveal? 

By virtue of time zones, Australia and New Zealand were the first to issue more complete information on Tuesday.

"The encrypted communications — which allegedly included plots to kill, mass drug trafficking and gun distribution — were decrypted from a platform covertly run by the FBI,"  the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said. The platform was then spread by word of mouth on an invitation-only basis in organized crime circles.

Australian police arrested 224 people, who were now facing more than 526 charges. It also shut down six underground drug labs and seized firearms and dozens of millions of dollars in cash. They also believed they foiled a murder plot targeting a family of five.

"We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organized crime groups," federal police commissioner Reece Kershaw said. "We allege they've been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale."

The operation "has struck a heavy blow against organized crime — not just in this country, but one that will echo around organized crime around the world," Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

New Zealand police — who arrested 35 people — described the operation as the "world's most sophisticated law enforcement action against organized crime to date." 

ab,fb/msh,wmr (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, LUSA)