An ultra-secret communications system used by criminals to exchange drugs and firearms has been “successfully penetrated,” according to the National Crime Agency.
Figures for “iconic” crimes were among 746 arrests after messages on EncroChat were intercepted and decoded.
More than two tonnes of drugs, several dozen firearms and £ 54 million in suspicious cash were seized, according to the NCA.
The NCA has worked with forces across Europe on the UK’s “largest and most important” law enforcement operation.
Officers are said to have prevented people from being murdered after secretly monitoring planned attacks and death threats on the encrypted service.
NCA says Europe-wide operation, which lasted more than three months and involved police forces across the UK, had the biggest impact on organized crime gangs it had never seen.
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Metropolitan police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, whose force made 132 arrests and seized £ 13.3 million in cash, described him as a “game changer”.
She said, “This is just the start. We will disrupt organized criminal networks as a result of these operations for weeks, months and perhaps years to come. “
It is estimated that 60,000 people, including 10,000 in Britain, subscribe to Encrochat, which runs on personalized Android phones and, according to its website, provides “worry-free secure communications”.
But the NCA claims that the messaging system has been used as a “criminal market” to coordinate the supply of Class A drugs worldwide and import weapons, including assault rifles, submachine guns, rifles hunting, pistols and hand grenades.
Gangs are also said to be using these wearable devices to trace attacks on rival groups, plan ways to enforce drug debts, and organize money laundering.
Many of those arrested are said to constitute the “middle tier” of criminal gangs while some are described as the “Mr. and Mrs. Bigs” of the underworld.
In London, those targeted by Operation Met, dubbed “Eternal,” are believed to be members of “high-risk” organized crime networks with long-standing ties to violent crime and drug trafficking.
Dame Cressida said: “These people are in business to make a lot of money. Many of them lead very respectable lifestyles – and certainly high-end lifestyles in fancy houses with big cars going to … clubs and restaurants, splashing it in cash sometimes, but sometimes being very discretly. ”
The Met said earlier this month its detectives identified a plot by an international drug and gun gang to kill a member of a rival network.
According to the force, it succeeded in preventing the shots by arresting an individual for conspiracy to assassinate and by seizing a loaded pistol, which would be the intended murder weapon.