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The Criminals Thought the Devices Were Secure. But the Seller Was the F.B.I.


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The operation led to more than 800 arrests.

The dragnet, which was hatched by U.S. and Australian law enforcement authorities, employed at least 9,000 law enforcement officials across the globe and captured some 27 million text messages by alleged criminals.

Credit: EPA

The cellphones, procured on the black market, performed a single function hidden behind a calculator app: sending encrypted messages and photos.

For years, organized crime figures around the globe relied on the devices to orchestrate international drug shipments, coordinate the trafficking of arms and explosives, and discuss contract killings, law enforcement officials said. Users trusted the devices' security so much that they often laid out their plans not in code, but in plain language, mentioning specific smuggling vessels and drop-off points.

Unbeknown to them, however, the entire network was actually a sophisticated sting run by the F.B.I., in coordination with the Australian police.

On Tuesday, global law enforcement officials revealed the unprecedented scope of the three-year operation, saying they had intercepted over 20 million messages in 45 languages, and arrested at least 800 people, most of them in the past two days, in more than a dozen countries. Using the messages, U.S. court papers say, the authorities have opened a barrage of international investigations into drug trafficking, money laundering and "high-level public corruption."

From The New York Times
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