/Hundreds Arrested in Global Sting Using App Run by F.B.I. – The New York Times

Hundreds Arrested in Global Sting Using App Run by F.B.I. – The New York Times

A big break, law enforcement officials said, came when they were able to get one of the devices into the hands of Hakan Ayik, an Australian who fled the country a decade ago and whom the police believe has been directing drug imports from Turkey.

Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy executive director of Europol, said the operation gave law enforcement “exceptional insight into the criminal landscape.”

Through the encrypted cellphones, criminals organized the shipment of cocaine from Ecuador to Belgium in a container concealed within cans of tuna, according to U.S. court documents. Cocaine was also trafficked in French diplomatic sealed envelopes out of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital.

The Australian authorities acknowledged that Anom had carried only a small percentage of the total volume of encrypted communications sent by criminal networks. But they said that Anom had an advantage: Those running it were able to listen — directly — to the target audience and give users what they wanted.

After users spoke of desiring smaller, newer phones, the authorities began to provide them.

Australian officials said they had revealed the operation on Tuesday because of the need to disrupt dangerous plots currently in motion and because of limited time frames for legal authorities invoked to intercept the communications.

The Anom website previously displayed sleek graphics and glossy videos reminiscent of Apple ads. On Tuesday, it bore a new message: Users who wanted to “discuss how your account has been linked to an ongoing investigation” could enter their account details.

Europol said that in addition to the 800 arrests, operations conducted in the past days in 16 countries had led to 700 houses searches, the seizures of tons of drugs, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and $48 million in several currencies and cryptocurrencies.

Yan Zhuang reported from Melbourne, Australia, and Elian Peltier from London. Christina Anderson contributed reporting from Stockholm.

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