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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw during a news conference in Sydney on Tuesday. Photo: Mark Evans/Getty Images

An FBI-led sting using an encrypted messaging app has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of suspected organized crime figures around the world, authorities in Australia announced Tuesday.

Driving the news: Authorities decided to use the AN0M messaging app to track suspects globally in an investigation after Aussie police officers and FBI agents came up with the idea to run the platform while having some after-work beers in 2018, according to Australian police.

  • Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw said at a briefing Tuesday that suspected "Australian mafia, Asian crime syndicates," drug traffickers and members of outlawed motorcycle gangs, were among 224 people arrested in the country.
  • Hundreds other suspects were arrested in raids in places including the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East and New Zealand — 18 countries in all, and more arrests were expected.

What they did: In the sting, called Operation Ironside in Australia and Trojan Shield in the U.S., authorities decrypted and tracked some 25 million messages in real-time — monitoring discussions on planned executions, massive drug importations and money laundering.

  • Authorities said Australian fugitive Hakan Ayik, a suspected major drug trafficker, unknowingly helped the sting by recommending the app to associates after being given a device pre-loaded with AN0M, which was sold on the black market.
  • The encryption resulted in criminals being "very brazen," with "no attempt to hide behind any kind of codified kind of conversation," according to Kershaw.
  • "Essentially, they have handcuffed each other by endorsing and trusting AN0M and openly communicating on it — not knowing we were watching the entire time," he added.

By the numbers: Authorities said they prevented one planned mass shooting by an organized crime syndicate in an Australian suburb and 21 murder plots, as they seized over 3 tons of drugs and A$45 million ($35 million) in cash and assets.

  • The sting was the largest operation of its kind in Australia, involving some 4,000 Australian officers, with about 9,000 law enforcement involved globally.

What they're saying: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the briefing the operation "has struck a heavy blow against organized crime ... one that will echo around organized crime around the world."

  • Kershaw said the FBI "had the lead on this," while Aussie police "provided the technical capability to decrypt those messages."
  • "Some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers," he added.

What to watch: The FBI and its European counterpart Europol will announce their own findings later Tuesday, said Anthony Russo, FBI legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Australia.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.

2 hours ago - World

U.S. fears Iran won’t scale back to 2015 nuclear deal

Officials gather in Vienna on Sept. 29 for the first day of renewed nuclear talks with Iran. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. officials have extremely low expectations as world powers resume negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, believing the Iranians aren't yet ready to negotiate seriously, Axios is told.

Driving the news: Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have assessed the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, thinks of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, as a weak accommodationist who negotiated a bad deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.

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