Leading Irish gangland criminals may not have been greatly impacted by the EncroChat breach because they are using other encrypted mobile phone services, senior Garda sources believe.
Last month, it emerged an international policing operation, led by the French authorities, had broken into the EncroChat secure mobile phone system, which was used by major criminals to send text messages and photographs hidden from police.
But Garda officers specialising in investigating organised crime said Irish criminals had always used several systems and gang members using EncroChat could simply switch to new systems that provided similar secure services.
“There’s no doubt it was a help and when you make any of these breakthroughs it damages these [gangs],” one senior officer said of the EncroChat investigation. “But these people will also seek to stay one step ahead and there’s no short of options for them that they can easily avail of.”
Another officer said the EncroChat breakthrough was a warning to organised crime that no system they used was beyond law enforcement. However, he said most of the phones seized from criminals during Garda searches were not encrypted.
“We will take any evidence from this that we get about our criminals operating here or what they are doing abroad, but you could overestimate its significance,” he said of the EncroChat operation and Irish criminals.
While at least two Irish men have been arrested arising from the EncroChat breach, the full extent of the evidence about other Irish criminals that has become available to the Garda is not yet clear.
Irish criminals, including members of the Kinahan cartel, have long been using modified Blackberry devices to send encrypted messages to each other. The messages could also be remotely deleted if the phones were seized by the Garda or international police forces.
Encrypted phones were seized in Dublin last week during a Criminal Assets Bureau raid against a suspected drug dealer and were also found in drug-related raids in March and May.
EncroChat phones, which cost about €1,000 each, are Android devices with the camera, microphone and GPS removed. Users were required to sign up for the secure messaging service at a cost of €1,500 every six months. The system had about 60,000 users.
When European law enforcement broke into the EncroChat system earlier this year, they were able to read texts and view photographs before they became encrypted. The breach resulted in the arrest of hundreds of organised crime suspects, the foiling of murder conspiracies and the seizure of large quantities of drugs.