NewsLocal News


San Diego federal authorities announce arrests in global law enforcement operation

Posted at 12:17 PM, Jun 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 16:57:08-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Federal authorities in San Diego revealed their role Tuesday in the creation of an encrypted communications network utilized by criminals around the globe, leading to hundreds of arrests worldwide.

Dubbed Operation Trojan Shield, the San Diego-based FBI-led operation was centered around the creation of an encrypted phone company called ANOM.

Authorities said more than 12,000 ANOM phones were purchased and distributed by criminals in more than 100 nations, and were used to coordinate and discuss criminal operations ranging from drug trafficking to money laundering.

Law enforcement officials intercepted more than 27 million messages shared on the devices over the course of 18 months, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman, who said the supposed secrecy provided by the ANOM devices were held in such high regard by its users and distributors that "they openly marketed them to other potential users as designed by criminals, for criminals."

More than 9,000 of the phones were active when the ANOM network was shut down on Monday.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the operation was born out of the takedown of the Canadian-based Phantom Secure encrypted telecommunications network by San Diego authorities, which left a void in the encrypted communications market. Takedowns of two other major encrypted networks followed, and Grossman said, "the demand for ANOM exploded."

More than 500 people were arrested over the past two days, with 800 arrested in total throughout the course of the investigation. Authorities also seized drugs, firearms and millions in various currencies, and dismantled clandestine drug labs in the process, including one on Monday in Germany, which was described as one of the largest in the country's history.

The U.S. Attorney's Office stated: "The users, believing their ANOM devices were protected from law enforcement by the shield of impenetrable encryption, openly discussed narcotics concealment methods, shipments of narcotics, money laundering, and in some groups -- violent threats, the indictment said. Some users negotiated drug deals via these encrypted messages and sent pictures of drugs, in one instance hundreds of kilograms of cocaine concealed in shipments of pineapples and bananas, and in another instance, in cans of tuna, in order to evade law enforcement."

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the investigation has also led to the initiation of "dozens of public corruption cases."

The announcement coincided with the unsealing of a federal grand jury indictment in San Diego charging 17 foreign nationals with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act -- or RICO -- for their roles in selling and marketing thousands of ANOM devices to transnational criminal organizations, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Eight of those defendants have been arrested thus far, Grossman said.

The indictment alleges the charged defendants were aware of the devices' use in criminal activity and personally handled "wipe requests" from users when their phones fell into law enforcement hands.