A fake encrypted messaging app cooked up over beers by Australian cops and the FBI has taken down gangsters across the world and hauled in 3.77 tonnes of drugs, £25 million in cash, as well as guns, luxury cars, motorbikes and watches.
A huge overnight bust saw 4,000 officers storm the underworld in sweeping raids across Australia, the US, Britain and Europe, after gangsters were monitored for three years using the app called ‘AN0M.’
Secretly developed by the FBI, the crooks thought the app meant they were safe from the law. But it was actually a Trojan Horse, re-routing all their secret messages to FBI special agents and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
The app was seeded into the underworld by police informants before it was picked up by drug kingpins who unwittingly acted like ‘influencers’ – the jewel in the crown was Australia’s most wanted man, Hakan Ayik, who became the ‘principal distributor,’ giving the app legitimacy in crime syndicates throughout the world.
The compromised ‘AN0M’ devices reached suspected criminals in 90 countries, who blind copied – or ‘BBCed’- police on around 20 million messages.
In Australia alone, more than 200 people have been charged as part of the operation, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison said had ‘struck a heavy blow against organised crime – not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world’.
Through the covert operation, detectives allegedly uncovered 21 murder plots, gunrunning and drug trafficking, with mafia bosses, biker gangsters, and reality TV stars arrested and charged.
McLaren and Lamborghini sports cars, Ducati and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Rolex watches, sniper rifles, bullet-proof vests, ammunition and even memorabilia from the Hollywood classic The Godfather were seized from safe houses.
Suspects in handcuffs are watched over by special police forces officers after sweeping raids by the Australian Federal Police last night stunned the world’s criminal gangs
Ninja Warrior 2017 contestant Sopiea Kong (left) was arrested at her home where police allegedly seized 154g of meth (left), and seized in a separate bust are handguns and packets of ammunition (right)
A McLaren sports car seized by Australian police during raids which swept across the country as part of Operation Ironside
Luxury Ducati and Harley Davidson motorcycles are hauled away by police officers after they raided hundreds of suspects last night
A high-powered sniper rifle taken in the sting which saw dozens of weapons, ammunition and bullet-proof vests seized
Ammunition, magazines, bullet proof-vests (left) and rifles (right) were among the items seized in the massive bust
A Lamborghini sports car seized by cops in New South Wales as part of the sting launched in Australia and across the world
Narcotics seized in the sting last night by Australian Federal Police. A total of 3.77 tonnes of drugs were taken off the streets in the raid
The bust exposed new details about how one of Australia’s most wanted fugitives gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld
Among the items seized by the AFP was memorabilia from the 1972 cult classic The Godfather
Australia’s biggest ever police bust has seen 3.77 tonnes of drugs, $45 million in cash, guns, luxury cars, motorcycles and watches pictured) seized
But the Daily Mail can reveal the entire elaborate sting was placed in jeopardy in late March, when an anonymous tech geek sounded the alarm, labelling the platform a ‘scam’ which rerouted peoples’ data through to the United States.
The anonymous blogger known only as ‘canyouguess67’ posted an article warning users to keep off ANOM for their ‘own safety’, Daily Mail Australia can reveal.
‘STAY AWAY FROM ANOM IF YOU VALUE YOUR PRIVACY AND SAFETY,’ the blogger wrote in an article, which has since been pulled down.
‘THEY ARE COMPROMISED, LIARS AND YOUR DATA IS RUNNING VIA USA’. The hacker added that law enforcement agencies had been tipped off.
However, it seems few alleged criminals in the sights of law enforcement did a cursory Google search into the ‘encrypted’ phone and app platform.
The AFP announced on Tuesday said that it had seized 3.7 tonnes of drugs, 104 weapons and almost $45million in cash as part of the operation – which was three years in the making.
The alleged offenders are linked to the Australian-based Italian mafia – known as the Ndrangheta – as well as outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organised crime figures.
Police have charged 224 alleged offenders with 525 charges, shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill, including saving a family of five.
Prime Minister Morrison said the AFP operation, known as Operation Ironside, had struck a ‘heavy blow’ against organised crime.
‘The operation puts Australia at the forefront of the fight against criminals who peddle in human misery and ultimately, it will keep our communities and Australians safe,’ he said on Tuesday.
‘Illicit drug use ruins lives and fuels organised crime.’
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said federal agents had been in the ‘back pockets’ of criminals through the encryption app.
‘The FBI had the lead on this. We provided the technical capability to decrypt those messages,’ he said.
‘Some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers.’
Ninja Warrior 2017 contestant Sopiea Kong was among those arrested. The 33-year-old was charged last week following a raid at a Kangaroo Point home, where police allegedly seized 154g of meth.
An anonymous tech geek posted a blog in March, titled ‘AN0M ENCRYPTED SCAM EXPOSED’, placing the mission into jeopardy
Blogger ‘canyouguess67’ posted a chilling warning to users of the AN0M app on March 29, warning people: ‘STAY AWAY …. IF YOU VALUE YOUR PRIVACY & SAFETY’
Police have charged 224 alleged offenders with 525 charges, shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill
Hakan Ayik (pictured), Australia’s most wanted man, gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld through encrypted communications app AN0M
A luxury Audi sedan seized by the AFP as part of their joint investigation with the U.S. FBI
A high calibre sniper rifle seized by police in New South Wales during the overnight raids
A suspected gangster is detained by Australian police during their massive raid on the criminal underworld
Crates of cannabis and wads of cash seized in the massive drugs bust which saw criminal gangs smashed in Australia, the US and the UK
A sniper rifle fitted with a bi-pod which was seized last night as part of what Aussie cops dubbed Operation Ironisde
A man being detained by officers in rural Australia. The Australian Federal Police were able to infiltrate the underworld by using a fake encrypted messaging app
The bust exposed new details about how one of Australia’s most wanted fugitives gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld. Pictured: one man being arrested by AFP officers is seen with a Breaking Bad poster in the background
A leather biker jacket seized in the raid. The massive bust saw some of the country’s most notorious biker gangsters, known locally as ‘bikies’, taken down by the cops
A man is led away in cuffs by police in armour vests during the huge raid which saw 200 arrested in Australia alone
A suspect kneels with his hands tied behind his back after being arrested following raids (left) and police officers in night operations gear prepare for the sting with crowbars, chainsaws and rifles (right)
A luxury Ducati motorcycle was among the hundreds of items seized by AFP officers during raids as part of Operation Ironside
Kong, who was also allegedly in possession of $2,030 cash and a revolver, was granted bail and will appear in court on June 28.
Former Bachelorette star Samuel Minkin, who appeared on Becky and Elly Miles’ season of the dating show, was charged with possessing a large commercial quantity of cannabis after police stopped a van in Byron Bay last month.
Former Bandito biker Benjamin Joseph Thornton, 31, was arrested after police seized two mobile phones and a small quantity of cocaine. He was denied bail and will reappear in court next week.
The bust exposed new details about how one of Australia’s most wanted fugitives gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld.
Drug kingpin and Comancheros biker associate Hakan Ayik has spent the last decade on the run from Australian authorities after fleeing the country in 2010.
Now living in Turkey, he was tricked into distributing messages to his criminal associates around the world via encrypted communications app AN0M, unaware it was being run by FBI special agents.
Three years ago, AFP identified Ayik as a key influencer to successfully distribute the encrypted AN0M devices due to his high status in the criminal underworld.
REVEALED: The truth about AN0M, secret FBI spy app used by the Australian Federal Police
On its glitzy website, the ‘ANoM’ phone looks like any new tech innovation with sleek black lines, ‘invite only’ exclusivity and a pledge to ‘enforce your right to privacy’.
But its best feature – and for most of its users, the worst – wasn’t promoted in its marketing material.
The phone, which supposedly allowed encrypted communications safe from the eyes of the law, was actually a cunning trap laid for a who’s who of organised crime.
The Australian Federal Police on Tuesday revealed a breathtaking three-year tech ploy which led to 4,000 police executing 525 search warrants.
‘Enforce your right to privacy’: This is how the ANoM website advertised its product – with users not realising that law enforcement officials could read each and every message
Senior bikies and mafia figures were tricked into buying hi-tech phones that would supposedly let them messages one another, free of police snooping.
But the ANoM phones were actually designed by the FBI and allowed Australian police to read the texts of organised crime figures.
Police watched in real time as alleged crooks spilled their secrets to one another on their own app.
Some 21 execution plots were foiled and drug and gun smuggling networks dismantled.
Some 224 people have been arrested, $44,934,457 in cash seized, as well as 104 weapons, 3.7 tonnes of drugs and multi-million dollar assets.
Alleged crooks even paid six-monthly subscription fees to the police – the money only further reinforcing law enforcement methods.
Police have charged 224 alleged offenders with 525 charges, shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill, including saving a family of five. Pictured: weapons seized by detectives
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the AFP operation, known as Operation Ironside, had struck a ‘heavy blow’ against criminals
They sat back and secretly intercepted millions of messages sent as unsuspecting associates openly stated their plans including plots to kill, importing drugs and identifying those who could help them with their criminal enterprises.
Senior investigators describe Ayik as the ‘principal distributor of the AN0M handset.’ who didn’t just distribute the devices among associates but also profited from the sales.
‘It’s like having The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) sponsoring your gym. This is a high-value criminal sponsoring a criminal communications system,’ Australian Federal Police Superintendent Jared Taggart told News Corp papers.
‘It’s just pure revenue, it’s a bit like selling Amway for him. His good name goes behind it, he gets some … fees, there’s a cut from the selling of the handsets.’
‘He’s (Ayik) essentially leveraged his position of trust in the underworld to push this platform and that’s what generated its success. His associates would readily take his word for it,’ an AFP investigator added.
Then known as Joseph Hakan Ayik, the Sydney bikie associate and gym junkie fled Australia in 2010 to avoid arrest over a $230 million heroin importation.
Ayik, subbed one of the world’s most prolific drug-smuggling masterminds, was later detained in Cyprus but then escaped and fled to Turkey, where he has created a new life.
He invested his proceeds of crime in hotel and resort developments while living a lavish lifestyle that extended to flashy cars and private yachts.
His Dutch wife, hair transplant business owner Fleur Messelink publicly flaunted the couple’s elaborate lifestyle on Instagram until this week.
How did the AN0M scam work?
Users could buy phone handsets costing between $1,500 and $2,500 from what has been described as underground distributors.
The phones were stripped down – they couldn’t even make calls, access the internet or send emails.
What did do was send encrypted messages, photos and videos, using a foreign SIM card to apparently avoid Australian data snooping laws.
Crooks could buy a six month subscription to use the app – the funds raised unknowingly redirected to the police.
The app was invitation-only as of Tuesday morning – before the page was sensationally taken down and replaced with a warning by the FBI
Anom’s Twitter account claimed the company was based in the famously neutral nation of Switzerland
The app was accessed by entering a PIN number into the phone’s calculator, the stuff of spy dramas.
ANoM’s website, which was only deleted about 10am on Tuesday, made the technology sound bulletproof.
The company was apparently based in famously neutral Switzerland and boasted of ‘military grade encrypt and sanitise’.
For its encryption, it claimed to use ‘OMEMO Double Ratchet Algorithm … independently audited by Dutch security research group Radically Open Security’.
That may have been an in-joke – as all the supposedly self-destructing messages sent on the app was radically open to the Australian Federal Police to read.
Former Bachelorette star Samuel Minkin, who appeared on Becky and Elly Miles’ season of the dating show, was charged with possessing a large commercial quantity of cannabis after police stopped a van in Byron Bay last month
Hakan Ayik (pictured) was tricked into distributing messages to criminal associates
Hakan Ayik has spent the last decade living a lavish lifestyle in Turkey. He’s pictured with wife Fleur Messelink on their wedding day
Hakan Ayik (pictured) has been on the run from Australian authorities since 2010
Ayik is wanted in several countries, including Australia, where he is listed as one of NSW’s most wanted criminals.
An Interpol red notice has also been for Ayik’s arrest, who remains on the run from authorities.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said the alleged syndicate included ‘some of the most dangerous criminals to Australia’.
‘We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian Mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organised crime groups,’ he told reporters on Tuesday.
‘We allege they’ve been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale.
‘Sadly, criminal gangs are targeting Australia because it is one of the most profitable countries in the world to sell drugs, and for three years, this operation has been overt.’
Mr Kershaw said detectives have arrested the alleged ‘King makers’ behind the alleged crimes, prevented mass shootings in suburbs and ‘frustrated serious and organised crime by seizing their ill-gotten wealth’.
‘And these figures are likely to increase over the coming days. Collectively, these alleged offenders are facing jail terms that could run into hundreds of years and some of the charges they are facing carry life imprisonment,’ he said.
An Interpol red notice has also been for Ayik’s arrest, who remains on the run from authorities. Pictured: ammunition seized by authorities
Picnic cooler bags are filled with stacks of cash which police in New South Wales seized on intelligence gained from the AN0M app
Bin bags filled to the brim with cannabis are photographed by cops following the raid which saw 4,000 officers deployed
A box of cash wrapped up in rubber bands after it was seized by officers in New South Wales
Cannabis inside a plastic bag after the drugs were taken off the streets in the massive bust
Operation Ironside foiled 21 murder plots and seized more than three tonnes of drugs, $35.8 million in cash, 72 firearms and 1650 devices with the encrypted app
The app AN0M was installed on mobile phones that were stripped of other capability. The mobile phones, which were bought on the black market, could not make calls or send emails.
It could only send messages to another device that had the organised crime app. Criminals needed to know a criminal to get a device.
The devices organically circulated and grew in popularity among criminals, who were confident of the legitimacy of the app because high-profile organised crime figures vouched for its integrity.
‘These criminal influencers put the AFP in the back pocket of hundreds of alleged offenders,’ Mr Kershaw said.
‘Essentially, they have handcuffed each other by endorsing and trusting AN0M and openly communicating on it – not knowing we were watching the entire time.’
Mr Kershaw said detectives witnessed associates ‘turning on each other’ and doing business behind each other’s backs.
‘There’s no doubt going to be some tension within the whole system about who owes what drug debt and so on. So that was pretty brazen to see that they were actually disloyal to their own groups,’ he said.
More arrests are expected domestically and offshore under a coordinated global response connected to Operation Ironside.
The AFP is also likely to seek extradition requests of a number of persons of interest living overseas. It comes as there have been tonnes of drugs and hundreds of arrests overseas.
‘I have a message for the criminals targeting Australia and Australia’s interests – the AFP will be relentless,’ Mr Kershaw said.
Samuel Minkin, 28, appeared in court last week after allegedly being busted by cops
The AFP is also likely to seek extradition requests of a number of persons of interest living overseas. It comes as there have been tonnes of drugs and hundreds of arrests overseas. Pictured: items seized by the AFP
More arrests are expected domestically and offshore under a coordinated global response connected to Operation Ironside. Pictured: one of hundreds of arrests
‘We will outsmart you. We will be a step ahead. Operation Ironside is just the beginning and the AFP is living up to our maximum of keeping Australians safe.’
New Zealand authorities have also arrested 35 people for alleged drug dealing and money laundering, seizing some $NZ3.7 million ($A3.4 million) in assets.
Only five per cent of encrypted messages sent by criminals in Australia use the Anom platform – but Mr Morrison said suspects will now be living in fear ahead of further sting operations.
‘It is our intention that they are looking over their shoulder,’ he said.
‘We’re bearing down upon them. But you know, this isn’t over. This is a long way from over.’
Australia’s world-first Assistance and Access Act passed in 2018 allows intelligence agencies to require tech companies to hand over encrypted messages.
Mr Morrison said the AFP’s covert mission was ‘seeking to frustrate [the alleged criminals] in every link of the chain’.
‘And it is our intention that they are looking over their shoulder, because our law enforcement agencies and the partnerships we have around the world are bearing down upon them,’ he said.
‘That’s what we’re doing. We’re bearing down upon them. But you know, this isn’t over. This is a long way from over.’