It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
More than 800 suspected criminals have been arrested worldwide after being tricked into using an FBI-run encrypted messaging app, officials say.
The operation, jointly conceived by Australia and the FBI, saw devices with the ANOM app secretly distributed among criminals, allowing police to monitor their chats about drug smuggling, money laundering and even murder plots.
Officials called it a watershed moment.
Targets included drug gangs and people with links to the mafia.
Drugs, weapons, luxury vehicles and cash were also seized in the operation, which was conducted across more than a dozen countries. This included eight tonnes of coc aine, 250 guns and more than $48m (£34m) in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies.
The FBI began operating an encrypted device network called ANOM, and covertly distributed devices with the chat app among the criminal underworld via informants.
The idea for the operation came after two other encrypted platforms were taken down by law enforcement agencies, leaving criminal gangs in the market for new secure phones.
The devices were initially used by alleged senior crime figures, giving other criminals the confidence to use the platform.
Running a sort of WhatsApp platform for criminals is a bold move, and getting bespoke handsets into the hands of the very law-breakers they were trying to catch, was ambitious, to say the least.
Officials reportedly took control of a communications firm called ANOM around three years ago, after a convicted criminal promised them access to it in return for a more lenient sentence. The devices were billed as super-secure and had a very specific target market - organised crime groups.
The authorities even took advantage of a current trend in Silicon Valley - they charged a monthly subscription for the product.
Officers were able to read millions of messages in "real time" describing murder plots, mass drug import plans and other schemes.
"All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered, a whole range of things," said Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw.
In total, some 9,000 police officers around the world were involved in the sting.
Calvin Shivers of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division said the operation had enabled police agencies to "turn the tables on criminal organisations", with intelligence gathered preventing murders and a number of other crimes.
"We were actually able to see photographs of hundreds of tons of coc aine that were concealed in shipments of fruit," he said.
The FBI is expected to present more details later on Tuesday.
Europol's deputy executive director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe described the operation as an "exceptional success".
The agency did not break down the arrests in each country, but local officials said they included 70 people in Sweden and 49 in the Netherlands, according to Reuters news agency.
Linda Staaf, the Swedish police's head of intelligence, said the operation had helped to prevent more than 10 planned murders in Sweden.