Hundreds of criminals from more than a dozen countries spanning Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East were arrested this week in perhaps the largest organized crime sting in history.
The operation — variously referred to as "Ironside," "Greenlight," and "Trojan Shield" — was jointly conceived by the FBI and Australian police in 2018 and sold supposedly encrypted phones to criminals around the world, enabling law enforcement to track their communications, multiple outlets reported on Tuesday.
It all started when U.S. officials became involved in the development of ANOM, a technology perceived to be a secure encrypted messaging app that customized cell phones to remove all their capabilities, including voice and camera functions, apart from the technology.
The app was then sold to organized crime officials, unbeknownst to them that they were being monitored. Those crime officials then distributed phones containing the app to associates, believing the phones to be secure, the Guardian reported.
Over the next two years, law enforcement in more than 100 countries was able to monitor the internal communications of more than 300 criminal groups, including plans for drug smuggling, money laundering, and even murder.
Then, according to Europol, early this week, 16 countries conducted raids based on the evidence gathered, leading to more than 800 arrests in at least 18 countries across the globe. Tons of drugs, cryptocurrencies, luxury cars, and weapons were also seized in the raids, along with $148 million in cash.
In a press conference, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation "struck a heavy blow against organized crime — not just in this country, but one that will echo around organized crime around the world."
"This is a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history," Morrison added.
Australia's federal police commissioner, Reece Kershaw, said nothing was hidden from law enforcement: "It was there to be seen, including, 'We'll have a speedboat meet you at this point,' 'This is who will do this,' and so on."
"We have been in the back pockets of organized crime," he said. "All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered."
FBI Assistant Director Calvin Shivers called the results "staggering" Tuesday at Europol's headquarters in the Netherlands, according to Agence France-Presse. Shivers noted that aside from the operation's arrests, it also foiled dangerous and murderous criminal plans.
"Not only have we heard about the number of arrests and the number of seizures, but over 100 threats to life that were mitigated," he said.
Kershaw agreed: "We have arrested the alleged kingmakers behind these crimes, prevented mass shootings in suburbs and frustrated serious and organized crime by seizing their ill-gotten wealth."
The FBI is expected to hold a press conference announcing further details on Tuesday.