How Cross-Border Law Enforcement Operation Trojan Shield Infiltrated Criminal Networks

In a first-of-its-kind effort, a law enforcement-created encrypted messaging platform has been used to infiltrate the communication networks of some of the most widespread criminal organizations around the world. The coordinated effort was led by the US FBI, Australian Federal Police and law enforcement agencies in Sweden and the Netherlands. A slew of charges was brought to over a dozen foreign nationals involved in the crime syndicate that allegedly distributed communication devices used for organized crime.

In June of 2021, over the course of two days, more than 500 arrests were made worldwide in relation to crimes committed during the years-long investigation conducted by the FBI in conjunction with overseas counterparts. This groundbreaking investigative operation that ran between 2018 and 2021 involved the creation of a unique company with its own encrypted device technology specifically used for the purposes of being embedded in these criminal rings. The company, named ‘ANOM,’ became the technology of choice for many crime syndicates throughout over 100 countries. Court records show how widespread this technology became among very disparate groups, including organized crime groups in Italy and motorcycle games in Australia.

How Law Enforcement Used the ANOM Platform to Infiltrate Organized Crime

The ANOM platform was specifically created for this investigation and was able to directly feed the messages and texts between users straight to the investigators. Tens of millions of messages of sensitive and seemingly private criminal communications could be read and monitored by law enforcement in connection with illegal activities that were being undertaken. Court documents indicate that the distributors and administrators of ANOM focused their sales pitch toward those who were known to be associated with criminal activities. The idea was that it would be marketed as a program built specifically for black market activities and created by individuals who were already a part of organized crime.

Messages, which were thought to be concealed through the encrypted program, contained extensive and detailed plans related to narcotics shipping, methods of concealing illegal narcotics, money laundering, and violent and threatening communications within groups. Law enforcement was privy to the organization blueprint and inner workings of these elusive organizations through the chat messages and pictures that made their way across the ANOM program. The ANOM platform has since been taken down upon the finalization of the investigation and information-gathering period.

The plan was implemented after the takedown of another popular encrypted device company named Phantom Secure that was used by significant criminal organizations. The FBI, in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police, took the opportunity to fill this gap in service by introducing ANOM as a suitable replacement.

As these crime organizations began to take on this technology and begin communicating on the platform, the messages would then be delivered as normal and also copied to a third-party country where relevant information would be then consolidated and delivered to the FBI at regular intervals in accordance with the appropriate international agreements. FBI intelligence would then review all communications, including texts, voicemails, images, and additional digital files, and distribute them to the appropriate law enforcement in each respective country. Because of the black-market nature of the way this program was distributed, it was known to be used exclusively amongst the crime syndicates.

Indictments and Arrests in Relation to Operation Trojan Shield

Since the initial raids that occurred in June 2021, over 800 arrests have been made worldwide in relation to crimes allegedly committed and discovered through Operation Trojan Shield. Many tons of illicit drugs and hundreds of firearms have been seized and prevented from entering the illegal black market as a result of the information obtained through this operation. The entire supply chain for these criminal organizations was disrupted and revealed several significant drug labs, including one of the largest ever found in Germany.

The earliest indictments came down on 17 individuals under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act for allegedly participating in an effort to distribute and market encrypted devices numbering in the thousands to various criminal organizations. Dozens of additional public corruption cases have come to light in the wake of these raids.

The encrypted devices that were once a safe haven for criminal activity were ironically the very thing that alerted law enforcement to illegal activities- putting a cloud of doubt in the minds of criminals who previously felt a sense of invisibility and security.

Putting Organized Crime on Alert

With an immense effort being made over the period of five years, the level of complexity and sophistication of the investigative work will undoubtedly put members of organized crime on notice that their communication channels are not impenetrable and that they are vulnerable in the places where they have previously felt secure. Law enforcement’s presence continues to widen, and Operation Trojan Shield is indicative of the new type of approach to fighting crime in which global partners work together in a sophisticated and highly cooperative way. It paves the way for transnational cooperation and provides a blueprint of how to weed out underground black markets.

Unprecedented Cooperation between Law Enforcement around the World

Authorities in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, and the Netherlands and European members of the Operational Task Force came together to complete this successful operation. Using an encrypted platform provided by the FBI, the agencies in partner countries would then deploy their own teams to carry out the technical aspects of the investigation to uncover some of the most wanted criminals. With the coordinated efforts and talents of the international law enforcement agencies, the strength of all of the intelligence has proven to be a force to be reckoned with.

Significance of Operation Trojan Shield on Future Operations

With a strengthened relationship between the American FBI, Australian Federal Police, and Europol, it means that the sharing of information becomes better and more efficient when it comes to tracking down crime syndicates around the world. Local authorities now have more ways to root out threats to communities by following the trail of where they stem from. Learning to better collaborate and orchestrate complex investigations across borders looks to be the future of fighting organized crime.