FBI Expertly Lured And Then Busted Criminal Gangs Using Its ANOM Secure Messaging App

fbi runs messaging network to catch criminals and seize drugs guns cash and cars
While a push toward privacy is great for the average person, it is also simultaneously great for criminal gangs. Using secure messaging systems, these gangs can secretly communicate plans for drug shipments or killings worldwide. However, if law enforcement is inside these messaging apps, then the criminals can be caught easily. It appears the FBI did exactly that by running a “secure” messaging system leading to the seizure of hundreds of millions in drugs, weapons, cars, cash, and cryptocurrency.

This sting operation saga started in 2018, when law enforcement agencies took down Phantom Secure, which made custom encrypted devices for criminals. In this operation, AP News reports that the “FBI also recruited a collaborator who was developing a next-generation secure-messaging platform for the criminal underworld called ANOM.” This collaborator then gave the FBI a backdoor into ANOM so they could see any messages being sent.

Though it took several years for ANOM to take hold in the criminal underworld, the payoff would most definitely be worth it. The FBI managed to provide phones with ANOM to gather intelligence against more than 300 gangs in over 100 different countries. Since October of 2019, the FBI cataloged over 20 million messages from 11,800 devices on its server that saw messages sent on the ANOM network.

This intel collection led the FBI, in partnership with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Europol, and other law enforcement agencies, to deal “an unprecedented blow to criminal networks,” around the globe, according to Dutch national Police Chief Constable Jannine van den Berg. Calvin Shivers, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, explained in a news conference from The Hague that the intel “enabled [law enforcement] to prevent murders. It led to the seizure of drugs that led to the seizure of weapons. And it helped prevent a number of crimes.”

In total, more than 800 suspects are now behind bars, and 32 tons of drugs, 250 firearms, 55 luxury cars, and over $148 million in cash and cryptocurrencies have been seized. While this is not the end of organized crime, it certainly causes issues for criminals worldwide. In the future, no messaging platform is guaranteed to be safe anymore, which makes communication, and therefore criminal activity, much harder.