The seeds of the sting were sown when law enforcement agencies took down a company called Phantom Secure

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

The recent global sting is impressive:

More than 800 suspects were arrested and more than 32 tons of drugs seized, including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines. Police also seized 250 guns, 55 luxury cars and more than $148 million in cash and cryptocurrencies. An indictment unsealed Tuesday in San Diego named 17 foreign distributors charged with racketeering conspiracy.

The seeds of the sting were sown when law enforcement agencies took down a company called Phantom Secure that provided customized end-to-end encrypted devices to criminals, according to court papers.

Unlike typical cellphones, the devices do not make phone calls or browse the internet — but allow for secure messaging. As an outgrowth of the operation, the FBI recruited a collaborator who was developing a next-generation secure-messaging platform for the criminal underworld called ANOM. The collaborator engineered the system to give the agency access to any messages being sent.

ANOM didn’t take off immediately. But then other secure platforms used by criminals to organize drug-trafficking hits and money laundering were taken down by police, chiefly EncroChat and Sky ECC. That put gangs in the market for a new app, and the FBI’s platform was ready. Over the past 18 months, the agency provided phones via unsuspecting middlemen to gangs in more than 100 countries.

The flow of intelligence “enabled us to prevent murders. It led to the seizure of drugs that led to the seizure of weapons. And it helped prevent a number of crimes,” Calvin Shivers, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, told a news conference in The Hague, Netherlands.


  1. Mike in Boston says:

    Bloomberg “Money Stuff” columnist Matt Levine points out the ironic fate of the unsuspecting middlemen:

    In the U.S., the FBI charged 17 foreign nationals operating in places including Australia, the Netherlands and Spain with distributing encrypted Anom communications devices, saying they violated federal racketeering laws typically used to target organized-crime groups, officials said. Eight of those individuals are in custody and nine remain at large, they said.

    The FBI got lots of intelligence about real crimes done abroad, and referred it to foreign authorities, who arrested people for those real crimes. But the people charged by the U.S. are not charged with doing murder or drug dealing or bribes or whatever. They are charged with distributing the FBI’s spying device. The FBI built an encrypted-messaging-service-slash-spying-device, which would only be useful to the FBI if it could get it into the hands of criminals. So it subcontracted, as it were, some people to distribute the device widely to criminals. And those subcontractors did a good job and got the device in the hands of many criminals, and the FBI spied on them and arrested a lot of them.

    And then it arrested the subcontractors! For doing what the FBI wanted! For helping the FBI catch criminals! Here is the indictment, which charges them with participating in a criminal enterprise, specifically “The ANOM ENTERPRISE,” an enterprise which … the FBI .. ran? This seems very unsporting. Surely you want to reward them, no?

  2. Joe Smith says:

    Never depend on “services” e.g. Proton Mail. Take privacy matters into your own hands and learn GPG. It is not that difficult.

  3. Jim says:

    “Take privacy matters into your own hands and learn GPG.”

    LMAO! A most excellent joke, good sir, I tip my fedora to you.

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