Audacious "honeytrap" operation infiltrates hundreds of international criminals

August 11, 2021

An international law enforcement coalition has carried out one of the “biggest and most sophisticated” stings against illicit trade to date after luring unwitting criminals into using an encrypted communications platform, built and run by law enforcement.

In Operation Greenlight/Trojan Shield, the FBI and Australian authorities created their own encrypted messaging platform, called ANOM. Criminals were lured onto the platform, and law enforcement spent 18 months gathering surveillance data, which added up to 27 million messages.

The information triggered a series of large-scale law enforcement actions, with 700 house searches and 800 arrests made across 16 countries in just two days. Law enforcement seized:

- Over eight tons of cocaine
- 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin
- Two tons of synthetic drugs (amphetamine and methamphetamine)
- Six tons of synthetic drugs precursors
- 250 firearms
- 55 luxury vehicles 
- More than $48 million in worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies

Building a platform for criminals

In 2019, the FBI and Australian police developed and began covertly operating ANOM, their encrypted device company. The approach was the first of its kind, offering devices with encryption features that are highly sought after by organized crime networks, including remote wiping capabilities and panic passwords. The devices retailed at around $1,300 for a six-month plan.

ANOM quickly accrued thousands of criminal customers. Ultimately, 12,000 devices were in the hands of more than 300 criminal syndicates in 100 countries, including an Italian organized crime group, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and international drug trafficking organizations.  

Encrypted communications have long been the tool of choice for criminal networks to organize and communicate their activities. Their anonymity, lack of traceability, ease of use, and international reach have made them vital tools in the functioning of illicit trade and criminality. 

The “elaborate and sprawling honeypot trap”

Operation Greenlight/Trojan Shield targeted global organized crime groups, as well as drug trafficking and money laundering organizations around the world in what was described as an “elaborate and sprawling honeypot trap.”

Believing their devices were shielded by impenetrable encryption, criminal users openly discussed topics ranging from narcotics to money laundering to violent threats. Criminal masterminds shared their movements and activities unaware that they were under surveillance. Armed with this information, international law enforcement were able to act in real time, thwarting drug deals and successfully preventing threats to life.

Related operations will be carried out in the weeks to come as authorities further unravel illegal networks and gain deeper access to users’ activities. As criminals adapt their routes to market, particularly in the online sphere, law enforcement must pool resources and intelligence if they are to keep up with perpetrators. 

Operation Greenlight/Trojan Shield is a clear example of the international, multi-jurisdictional collaboration required to bring international law enforcement one step closer to diminishing the threat of illicit trade.  

STOP: ILLEGAL previously reported on the takedown of encrypted platform EncroChat, heralded as “the broadest and deepest ever U.K. operation into serious organized crime.” Click here to find out more.


Written by STOP: ILLEGAL

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