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(Australian Associated Press)
Access to an encrypted online communication platform used by Australian organised crime figures was “like peering through a crystal ball” into their mindset and activities, according to NSW Police.
More than 30 search warrants have been carried out in NSW over recent days linked to an international law enforcement operation in which the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation commandeered the ‘ANoM’ platform.
The Australian Federal Police then helped decrypt and read the communications of ANoM’s users in real time. This information was subsequently passed on to state-based police forces.
NSW Police on Tuesday said it had executed 33 search warrants connected to AFP’s ‘Operation Ironside’, arresting 35 people and seizing cash, luxury cars, large quantities of drugs and 27 firearms including a sniper rifle.
The vehicles included a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and a McLaren.
Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith told reporters authorities’ access to ANoM brought a goldmine of information and investigation leads.
NSW Police has had a team of 12 people embedded with the AFP to help transfer Operation Ironside information to local investigators.
“Having access to this system is like peering through a crystal ball and seeing the mindset of organised crime in NSW,” Mr Smith said.
“(We) anticipate groups will change systems now.”
Mr Smith also said police would be ready for any fallout from the operation, including reprisal attacks and attempts to assert dominance.
Nationally, offenders were linked to the Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organised crime.
The raids come after NSW Police in February split the strike force targeting organised crime in NSW – Strike Force Raptor – into its own squad, known as the Raptor Squad. That team will soon contain 115 staff.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson said access to ANoM and the criminal plans therein was akin to an earlier, pre-encryption era.
“This takes us back 20 years, when we were monitoring telephones, when people spoke without reason to think they were being monitored. This is the system they’ve been engaging in,” Mr Hudson told reporters.
“They believed they were going undetected.”
More than 220 Australian organised crime figures have since 2018 been arrested in relation to the operation, with more than 100 charged to date.
Mass arrests have taken place in 18 countries.