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Criminals Caught After Using FBI-run Messaging Service ANOM

Michael Behr

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ANOM
What was supposed to be an encrypted messaging service was actually a specially developed app designed to allow law enforcement to read criminals’ discussions.

Hundreds of suspected criminals have been arrested after using ANOM, an encrypted messaging service run by the FBI.

The app was developed and operated by a company created by the FBI. ANOM’s messaging service offered an encrypted device that could be remotely wiped and offered duress passwords to send covert distress signals. These features are sought by organised crime networks, making ANOM an attractive choice for criminals.

The customised devices could not receive phone calls or emails – only somebody with another ANOM device could message the user.

However, the messages were viewable to law enforcement officials across 17 countries. These included discussing crimes, such as money laundering, drug smuggling, and murder, which police were able to read in real-time.

Devices running the ANOM app were distributed among potential targets, including those with connections to the Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and drug smuggling syndicates.

In total, authorities distributed about 12,000 encrypted devices. These found their way into around 300 criminal syndicates in over 100 countries.

Police were able to obtain 27 million messages and reviewed them over 18 months.

FBI Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, Calvin Shivers said: “Encrypted criminal communications platforms have traditionally been a tool to evade law enforcement and facilitate transnational organized crime. The FBI and our international partners continue to push the envelope and develop innovative ways to overcome these challenges and bring criminals to justice.”

The plan used around 4,000 police officers in Australia, and around 9,000 in total around the world. Along with the FBI and Australian police, the operation was supported by Europol, Swedish and Dutch police, and US Drug Enforcement Administration.

In a statement, Europol referred to the scheme as “one of the largest and most sophisticated law enforcement operations to date in the fight against encrypted criminal activities”.


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In total, around 800 people were arrested across 16 countries in the operations. In addition, numerous items were seized  eight tonnes of cocaine, 22 tonnes of cannabis and cannabis resin, two tonnes of synthetic drugs (amphetamine and methamphetamine), six tonnes of synthetic drugs precursors, along with 250 guns, 55 luxury vehicles, and over £34 million worth of various currencies and cryptocurrencies.

In addition, Australian police say they were able to act on 20 “threats to kill”.

Europol Deputy Executive Director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe noted: “This operation is an exceptional success by the authorities in the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and the other European members of the Operational Task Force.

“Europol coordinated the international law enforcement community, enriched the information picture and brought criminal intelligence into ongoing operations to target organised crime and drug trafficking organisations, wherever they are and however they choose to communicate.

“I am very satisfied to see Europol supporting this operation and strengthen law enforcement partnerships by emphasising the multi-agency aspect of the case.”

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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