A huge three-year sting operation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) called Operation Ironside resulted in 383 suspected criminals being charged with 2,340 offenses. In the process a clear picture emerged of the power that the Calabrian mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta, has amassed in Australia.
During this operation, the AFP and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation tricked the organized crime gangs to communicate using an encrypted software ANoM.
The FBI and the Australian Federal Police started the operation in 2019, developing the app and enlisting police departments from 20 different countries to disseminate it through informants. In order to ensure that the operation was restricted to targets or suspected criminals, the app was set up in such a way that it could only be accessed after receiving special invite codes.
The ANoM app was installed on specialized smartphones that couldn’t make calls or send emails. The claim was that ANoM was end-to-end encrypted, allowing only the sender and recipient to see messages. In truth, however, the police received every single message and used them to build iron clad cases on which to base their arrests.
The ‘Ndrangheta in Australia
“We have identified 14 confirmed ‘Ndrangheta clans across Australia, involving thousands of members.
The ‘Ndrangheta are not just an Australian problem – they are a global problem and they are responsible for trafficking 70 percent of the world’s cocaine. In Australia, they are also responsible for cannabis and methamphetamine trafficking.”Nigel Ryan, assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police (AFP)
More than 1800 drug-related deaths were reported in Australia in 2020, the highest yearly total since 1997, according to information from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, according to a statement from AFP.
Although the AFP acknowledges that dismantling the criminal organization remains a difficult task, the intelligence obtained through the ANoM sting was helping to lift the cover of secrecy that has allowed members of the ‘Ndrangheta to operate in Australia with impunity.
“During Operation Ironside, law enforcement charged a number of ‘Ndrangheta members, some who were taking their orders from bosses in Calabria. They have been able to stay under the radar by living modest lives, in modest homes. They mix their illegitimate money with money from their legitimate construction, agricultural or catering businesses, and all of this makes it more difficult to not only identify criminality but to prove it.”Nigel Ryan, assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police (AFP)
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