Hundreds arrested in ‘staggering’ FBI encrypted phone sting

Hundreds arrested in ‘staggering’ FBI encrypted phone sting
General view of the Europol building in The Hague, Netherlands December 12, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 June 2021

Hundreds arrested in ‘staggering’ FBI encrypted phone sting

Hundreds arrested in ‘staggering’ FBI encrypted phone sting
  • Police prevented drug deals, arms transfers and gangland hits

THE HAGUE: Police arrested more than 800 people worldwide in a huge global sting involving encrypted phones that were secretly planted by the FBI, law enforcement agencies said Tuesday.

Officers were able to read the messages of global underworld figures in around 100 countries as they plotted drug deals, arms transfers and gangland hits on the compromised ANOM devices.

The evidence from “Operation Trojan Shield” prevented around 100 murders and foiled several large-scale drug shipments, said officials from the FBI, the EU’s police agency Europol and other countries as far afield as Australia.

“The results are staggering,” FBI Assistant Director Calvin Shivers told reporters at Europol’s HQ in The Netherlands.

He said the FBI had provided criminal syndicates in over 100 countries with the devices over the last 18 months “that allowed us to monitor their communications.”

Europol said police from a total of 16 countries launched raids on the basis of evidence from the phones, around 12,000 of which were distributed worldwide.

“This information led over the last week to hundreds of law enforcement operations on a global scale from New Zealand to Australia to Europe and the USA, with impressive results,” said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy director operations at Europol.

“More than 800 arrests, more than 700 locations searched, more than 8 tons of cocaine.”

Australian police said the supposedly hardened encrypted devices were handed out to operatives within the mafia, Asian crime syndicates, drug cartels and outlaw motorcycle gangs as part of the elaborate FBI-led plot.

In Australia alone, more than 200 people have been charged as part of the operation, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday had “struck a heavy blow against organized crime — not just in this country, but one that will echo around organized crime around the world.”

The operation began after global police work in the past two years disrupted two other major encrypted phone networks used by criminals, Encrochat and SkyGlobal.

“The closure of those two encrypted communication platforms created a significant void in the encrypted communication market,” said New Zealand police.

To fill the void, “the FBI operated its own encrypted device company, called ‘ANOM’,” the New Zealand police added.

The FBI’s Shivers said this enabled them to “turn the tables” on criminals.

“We were actually able to see photographs of hundreds of tons of cocaine that were concealed in shipments of fruit, we were able to see hundreds of kilos of cocaine that were concealed in canned goods,” Shivers said.

According to unsealed court documents cited by US media outlet Vice, the FBI worked with insiders to develop and distribute AN0M devices through the Phantom Secure network of existing criminal customers, unloading 50 — mostly to Australia — as a “beta test.”

The devices are said to have had no email, call or GPS services and could only message other ANOM phones.

They could only be bought on the black market — for around $2,000 — and required a code from an existing user to access.

“They actually came to us seeking these devices,” Shivers said.

Australian agencies helped get the phones in the hands of underworld “influencers” — including an Australian fugitive drug boss on the run in Turkey — in a bid to gain trust. The cover appeared to be blown in March 2021 when a blogger detailed AN0M security flaws and claimed it was a scam linked to Australia, the United States and other members of the FiveEyes intelligence sharing network. The post was later deleted.

The Australian Federal Police said that as a result of the operation, a total of 224 people were now facing more than 500 charges in Australia alone, while six underground drug labs were shut down and firearms and Aus$45 million ($35 million) in cash was seized.

“We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organized crime groups,” federal police commissioner Reece Kershaw said.

New Zealand Police detective superintendent Greg Williams said 35 people had been arrested across the country. Police in New Zealand seized methamphetamine, firearms, and millions of dollars in cash and assets during the operation.

ANOM’s website — which once offered “military grade” encryption services and devices with special features like “light and dark” display themes — was unavailable Tuesday, with a message from authorities that the “domain has been seized.”


Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India
Updated 9 sec ago

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: At least 25 people have died in landslides and floods triggered by heavy rains in southwestern India, officials said Sunday, as rescuers scoured for survivors in muddy debris and the military flew in emergency supplies.
Residents were cut off in parts of the coastal state of Kerala as the rains, which started to intensify from late Friday, swelled rivers and flooded roads.
Some 11 bodies have been found so far in Idukki district and another 14 in Kottayam district, officials told AFP, after the areas were hit by landslides and flash floods.
Thousands of people have been evacuated and at least 100 relief camps have been set up, Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Sunday.
The army, navy and airforce are assisting with flood relief and rescue operations. Officials could not say how many people were missing.
“It was my livelihood. Everything is gone,” a distraught man told Kerala news channel Manorama TV in Koottickal town in Kottayam, which was hit by a landslide.
“The hill broke off near us. There has been a lot of damage and loss. The house has gone. Children have gone,” a woman from Koottickal added.
Video shared on social media showed buses and cars submerged in floodwaters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences and said authorities were working to help those who were affected or hit by the deluge.
The India Meteorological Department said the heavy rains, caused by a low pressure area over the southeastern Arabian Sea and Kerala, were expected to ease on Monday.
In northern India, some states including the Himalayan regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are forecast to experience “heavy to very heavy rainfall” in the next two to three days, the weather bureau said.
The northern weather system would be caused by a low pressure area over Afghanistan and its surroundings interacting with strong winds from the Bay of Bengal, it added.
In 2018, nearly 500 people were killed in Kerala when it was ravaged by the worst floods to hit the state in almost a century.

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed
Updated 17 October 2021

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed
  • The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami
  • The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades
TOKYO: Japan’s new prime minister on Sunday said the planned mass disposal of wastewater stored at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cannot be delayed, despite concerns from local residents.
Speaking at his first visit to the facility since taking office, Fumio Kishida said his government would work to reassure residents nearby the plant about the technical safety of the wastewater disposal project.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Kishida’s brief tour of the facility by its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, focused on the ongoing decommissioning of the plant, and the massive amount of treated but still radioactive water stored there.
“I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back,” Kishida told reporters after the tour.
The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades.
The plan has been fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and Japan’s neighbors, including including China and South Korea.
Contaminated cooling water has continued to leak from the damaged reactors since the disaster. The water has been pumped up from basements and stored in about 1,000 tanks which the operator says will reach their capacity late next year.
Japanese officials say disposal of the water is indispensable for the plant cleanup, and that its release into the ocean is the most realistic option.
Kishida said the government will do its utmost to address concerns the water disposal will hurt local fishing and other industries.
“We will provide explanation about the safety (of the disposal) from a scientific viewpoint and transparency in order to dispel various concerns,” Kishida said.
Japan has requested assistance by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the discharge meets global safety standards.

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
Updated 17 October 2021

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
  • China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory
  • China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1

TAIPEI: A US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait late last week, the American military said on Sunday, at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and Taipei that has sparked concern internationally.
China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year or more, provoking anger in Taipei.
China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1.
The US military said the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed through the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbor China along with the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday.
“Dewey’s and Winnipeg’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it added.
American Navy ships have been transiting the strait roughly monthly, to the anger of Beijing, which has accused Washington of stoking regional tensions. US allies occasionally also send ships through the strait, including a British warship last month.
While tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen, there has been no shooting and Chinese aircraft have not entered Taiwanese air space, concentrating their activity in the southwestern part of the ADIZ.
While including Taiwanese territorial air space, the ADIZ encompasses a broader area that Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Sunday that three Chinese aircraft — two J-16 fighters and an anti-submarine aircraft — flew into the ADIZ again.


British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
Updated 17 October 2021

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
  • Ali’s father, a former adviser to the PM of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody
  • Residents, including members of the Muslim community, heaped bouquets next to the police tape

LEIGH-ON-SEA: The attacker who fatally stabbed British lawmaker David Amess was referred to an official counter-terrorist scheme for those thought to be at risk of radicalization, according to media reports.
Police said late Saturday that detectives had until Friday, October 22, to question the suspect after he was detained under the Terrorism Act, which allowed them to extend his detention.
Veteran Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with voters at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea east of London when he was stabbed to death on Friday.
Police have said they are investigating “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” The investigation is being led by Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command.
The BBC said it had received confirmation from Whitehall officials that the man’s name is Ali Harbi Ali.
Ali, a British citizen of Somali heritage, had been referred to Prevent, the UK’s scheme for those thought at risk of radicalization a few years ago, the BBC reported.
Ali is believed not have spent long on the program, which is voluntary, and was never formally a “subject of interest” to MI5, the domestic security agency, said the BBC.
Police and security services believe the attacker acted alone and was “self-radicalized,” The Sunday Times reported, while he may have been inspired by Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Somalia.
Ali’s father Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody, adding: “I’m feeling very traumatized.”
Police said they have been carrying out searches at three addresses in the London area in a “fast-paced investigation.”
The Sun tabloid reported that the attacker stabbed Amess multiple times in the presence of two women staff, before sitting down and waiting for police to arrive.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that he had booked an appointment a week ahead.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of mourners attended a candle-lit vigil at a sports field near the scene of the crime, holding a minute’s silence in the MP’s memory.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier visited the crime scene to pay his respects on Saturday, laying floral wreaths outside the church with the leader of the opposition, Labour leader Keir Starmer in a rare show of unity.
Residents, including members of the Muslim community, also heaped bouquets next to the police tape.
Britain’s politicians were stunned by the highly public attack, which recalled the murder of a pro-EU lawmaker ahead of the Brexit referendum.
In June 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, prompting demands for action against what lawmakers said was “a rising tide” of public abuse and threats against elected representatives.
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday ordered police to review security arrangements for all 650 MPs and The Sunday Times reported that every MP could be granted security protection when meeting the public.
“We will carry on... We live in an open society, a democracy. We cannot be cowed by any individual,” Patel told journalists after laying a wreath for her fellow Essex MP.
Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP who tried to save a stabbed police officer during a 2017 terror attack near the Houses of Parliament, on Twitter urged a temporary pause in surgeries, or face-to-face meetings with constituents, until the security review is complete.
House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle in The Observer wrote that “we need to take stock” and review whether security measures introduced after Cox’s murder are “adequate to safeguard members, staff and constituents, especially during surgeries.”
MPs and their staff have been attacked before, although it is rare.
But their safety was thrown into sharp focus by Brexit, which stoked deep political divisions and has led to outburts of angry, partisan rhetoric.
Cox’s killer repeatedly shouted “Britain first” before shooting and stabbing the 41-year-old MP outside her constituency meeting near Leeds, northern England.
A specialist police unit set up to investigate threats against MPs in the aftermath of Cox’s murder said 678 crimes against lawmakers were reported between 2016 and 2020.
Amess, a Brexit backer, had written about public harassment and online abuse in his book “Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster,” published last year.
“These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians,” he said.
MPs have had to install security cameras and only meet constituents by appointment, he added.
Unlike some MPs, Amess publicized meeting times for constituents on Twitter and held them in public places, while asking people to book ahead.


Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England
Updated 17 October 2021

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England
  • ‘I implore you, please, to abandon the path of violence, which is always a losing one’
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday decried recent deadly attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and Britain, expressing closeness to the families of victims and calling violence “a defeat for everyone.”
“Last week various attacks were carried out, for example in Norway, Afghanistan, England, which caused many deaths and injuries,” the pope said, after greeting the public in St. Peter’s Square for his customary Sunday remarks and blessings delivered from a window of the Apostolic Palace.
“I express my closeness to the families of the victims,” Francis said.
In Norway, a bow-and-arrow attack claimed five lives and left three persons wounded.
In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bombing at a mosque killed 47 people and wounded scores more. The Daesh group claimed responsibility.
In England, a British lawmaker who was meeting at a church with some of his constituents was fatally stabbed, and police are investigating the slaying as a terrorist act.
“I implore you, please, to abandon the path of violence, which is always a losing one, is a defeat for all,” Francis said. ”Let’s remember that violence generates violence.”
Norwegian police have been criticized for reacting too slowly to contain the massacre in the town of Kongsberg, acknowledging that the five deaths occurred after police first encountered the attacker, a 37-year-old local resident whom authorities say has admitted to the slayings and is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
In Afghanistan, relatives of those killed by the bombing at a Shiite mosque in the Kandahar province in the south of the country called on the ruling Taliban to protect them.
British authorities haven’t publicly identified the suspect in the slaying of Conservative lawmaker David Amess in the town of Leigh-On-Sea.