The app was lauded by criminals around the world, who promoted it "for its absolute reliability," says Jannine van den Berg, chief constable of the Central Unit of the Dutch police, per the Washington Post. "But nothing was further from the truth." The encrypted messaging app, AN0M, was in fact controlled by the FBI, which joined with agencies in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, and South America to crack down on criminal users. On Tuesday, law enforcement officials announced the arrests of more than 800 users in 17 countries, tied to organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, and even murder plots. The effort, dubbed Trojan Shield, was "one of the largest and most sophisticated law enforcement operations to date in the fight against encrypted criminal activities," said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Europol's deputy director for operations.
Officials seized more than $48 million in cash and cryptocurrencies, tons of drugs, and 250 firearms in recent raids. They also apparently prevented the planned assassination of a family of five. Australian police had created the app, allowing officials to decrypt and read communications in real time, after meeting with the FBI in 2018. The app was then sold to organized-crime networks before spreading to 12,000 encrypted devices in more than 100 countries, per the BBC and Guardian. More than 9,000 law enforcement officers ultimately read through 27 million messages in 45 languages. Criminals discussed "drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered ... not knowing we were watching the entire time," said Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw. He calls it "a criminal takedown like we have never seen," per CNN. (Read more organized crime stories.)