After months of eavesdropping, the Dutch and French police have arrested hundreds of suspects, confiscated 10,000 kg of drugs, and prevented murders and kidnappings because they managed to dismantle an encrypted communication channel.
The Dutch police speak of an ‘earthquake for organized crime’. By intercepting messaging on the secret chat service Encrochat for months, they gained access to 20 million messages. For example, on the basis of that information alone, they were able to arrest 60 suspects, dismantle 19 synthetic drug labs, and confiscate considerable amounts of drugs and nearly 20 million euros in cash. Arrests were also made in Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom. “Some of the reports were so disconcerting that they far exceeded our imagination,” Jannine van den Berg, head of the National Unit of the Dutch police, said during a press conference. “It was as if we were sitting at the conference table with the criminals.” According to Van den Berg, almost all reports concerned very serious and violent forms of organized crime.
The French Gendarmerie discovered the chat service as early as 2017 when they found special smartphones, crypto phones, with Encrochat installed, in various investigations into criminal organizations. Criminal organizations have increasingly been using such crypto phones for several years to communicate anonymously.
Read along live
The police were able to intercept the messages before they were encrypted. This allowed her to read along live and prevent dozens of liquidations, kidnappings and shootings. Drug transports were also intercepted, and the reports brought new insights into drug trafficking, murder, money laundering and corruption. “What only seemed to be possible in exciting films has happened before our own eyes in recent weeks,” said Andy Kraag, head of the National Criminal Investigation Department of the Dutch police. “We looked over the shoulders of the criminals for weeks on end, so we could be one step ahead of them several times.” The reports provided a detailed insight into today’s criminal environment. “We now know even better who they are and what they do. This operation was a real game changer for the investigation in the Netherlands, ‘said Kraag.
The wiretapping ended two weeks ago, after EncroChat warned users that a government agency had invaded the network. The company recommended throwing the phones away.