US and Australian authorities hacked into an app used by criminals to read millions of encrypted messages, leading to hundreds of arrests of suspected organised crime figures in 18 countries. "Operation Ironside" by Australian police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation ensnared suspects in Australia, Asia, South America and the Middle East involved in the global narcotics trade. Australia said it had arrested 224 people, including members of outlawed motorcycle gangs. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation "struck a heavy blow against organised crime – not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world" "This is a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history," Morrison told reporters in Sydney. Over 800 suspected members of organised crime gangs were arrested and $148 million in cash seized in raids around the world. Tons of drugs were also seized, the officials said. Named Operation Trojan Shield by the FBI, it was one of the biggest infiltrations and takeovers of a specialised encrypted network
When an Australian underworld figure began distributing customised phones containing the app to his associates as a secure means to communicate, police could monitor their messages. The gangs believed the system was secure because the phones did not have any other capabilities - no voice or camera functions were loaded - and the app was encrypted. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said we have been in the back pockets of organised crime. "All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered,"Kershaw said. Executing Australia's largest number of search warrants in one day, police on Monday seized 104 firearms as well as almost A$45 million ($34.9 million) in cash. A total of 525 charges have been laid but authorities expect more in the coming weeks.
New Zealand said it had detained 35 people. The operation, which was conceived by Australian police and the FBI in 2018, saw officials in the United States take control of the ANOM messaging app, which is popular with organised crime networks.Police in New Zealand seized methamphetamines, firearms, and millions of dollars in cash and assets during the operation. New Zealand Police said it was the “world’s most sophisticated law enforcement action against organised crime to date”. In Europe, officials said 75 Swedish suspects were arrested and over 60 detained in Germany. Forty nine were arrested in Holland.