Global strike against organised crime may hit highest reaches of Irish gangland

Encrypted messaging systems Anom and EncroChat infiltrated by law enforcement

Irish organised criminals were using the Anom encrypted messaging system, which was secretly run by the FBI, and information taken off it will be used to strike against Irish gangs at home and abroad in the months ahead, senior Garda sources believe.

Separately, The Irish Times has established intelligence from the infiltration by European law enforcement last year of the encrypted messaging system EncroChat has been used in Garda operations in recent months. That information directly led to one very significant strike in the Republic against an Irish gang, as well as providing information for other raids targeting drug gangs.

Garda sources last night said while some other European police forces had made public statements about the raids they had carried out based on the intelligence from the Anom operation, and EncroChat last year, the Garda was taking a more discreet approach.

“EncroChat did provide intelligence and we’re confident Anom will provide high-grade information,” said one source. “But that’s more likely to be used as intelligence for investigations and searches rather than leading directly to a huge breakthrough that we’d go public on and link it [to Anom].”

Other sources said while the messages sent by criminals in Ireland over Anom could be very useful, they were hopeful some of the messages may relate to the biggest Irish gang leaders, including the leadership of the Kinahan cartel offshore.

Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, last night said the Garda worked "in close co-operation with European and international partners" to investigate organised crime, adding it did not comment on those activities.

“An Garda Síochána’s success in tackling organised crime is evidenced by the significant seizures in recent years of large quantities of drugs, cash and firearms from organised crime gangs, as well as major CAB operations to seize assets from individuals involved in organised crime,” it added.

Europol, the European Union's police agency, described the use of Anom to infiltrate organised crime as the "biggest ever law-enforcement operation against encrypted communication".

Criminal gangs

The Anom encrypted messaging system was being used by an estimated 300 crime gangs across 100 countries. They sent 27 million messages over 18 months, most of which were still being analysed.

Europol said the information analysed to date had already resulted in 800 suspects being arrested and the seizure of eight tonnes of cocaine, two tonnes of amphetamines and 22 tonnes of cannabis. There had also been 700 house searches, 250 firearms seized and $48 million in cash or cryptocurrency seized. The Swedish police said they had thwarted 10 gangland murders that were being planned via messages on the Anom system. Other messages the criminals sent to each other related to multimillion-euro drug deals, money laundering and trafficking in firearms.

The Anom operation involved the FBI taking control of a system designed to allow organised criminals send encrypted message to each other on modified mobile phones. The FBI took control of it in 2019 from a suspect in the US who had developed it but later became an informer.

Undercover agents from the US and Australia offered the phone to selected criminals for a sign-up fee of about €1,100 followed by €800 every six months. New customers had to be introduced to the suppliers by existing customers. As criminals used the phone for messaging, apparently without detection, they grew in confidence and recommended it to others they wanted to communicate with.

The modified phones the app was installed on could not be used to make calls. Instead, the messaging app was the main function and was accessed via the calculator function on the phones. The service was being used by up to 12,500 people – almost all of whom were believed to be criminals – when the Australian and US authorities yesterday went public with their operation.