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FBI executes global spy phone sting leading to 800+ drug arrests with 30 tons of drugs

FBI agents. (Melanie Rodgers Cox/US Air Force)
June 09, 2021

Over 800 individuals involved in organized crime gangs were arrested as part of a global sting operation in which the criminals were sold encrypted phones so law enforcement could monitor them, officials first revealed Tuesday.

More than eight tons of cocaine, 30 tons of drugs, and millions of dollars in cash were confiscated during the global raids after the FBI assisted with placing 12,000 devices into 300 criminal networks in more than 100 countries, according to a Department of Justice press release.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as police from Australia and Europe, caught suspects in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East who were working in the narcotics trade.  

“Today marks a culmination of more than five years of strategic, innovative, complex investigative work to disrupt and dismantle encrypted communication services that cater to the criminal element across the globe,” said Suzanne Turner, special agent in charge of the San Diego FBI field office.

Operation Greenlight/Trojan Shield, a joint operation between Australian police and the FBI, began in 2018 when U.S. officials paid a convicted drug trafficker to let them access an encrypted messaging app that was being sold to criminal organizations around the world.

In Australia, police monitored phones that contained the app.

A full video of the press conference announcing the operation on Tuesday is below:

“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,” 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.”

The phones with the encrypted messaging app became so popular that Italian mafiosi, Asian triads, biker gangs and transnational drug syndicates all opted to use them, giving the joint operation access to nearly 27 million messages.

Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division said the FBI was able to view “hundreds of tons of cocaine that were concealed in shipments of fruit.”

The Department of Justice announced 17 suspected distributors were indicted for allegedly selling thousands of devices with the encrypted messaging app to criminal groups.

During a press conference in San Diego, Randy Grossman, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, said the defendants are accused of knowingly distributing the devices to groups who were using them to coordinate drug trafficking and money laundering.

At least 224 people were arrested in Australia, interrupting 21 murder plots. In Europe, 49 people were arrested in the Netherlands, 75 in Sweden and more than 60 in Germany.