Criminal gangs across the region have been smashed after police infiltrated their encrypted communication system.
Police were able to read text messages as criminals plotted drugs operations, supply of weapons and even plotted gangland “hits” on rivals.
They have also been able to see images sent between criminals.
Greater Manchester Police join forces with National Crime Agency as part of the UK’s biggest ever law enforcement operation, infiltrating thousands of messages.
Codenamed Operation Venetic it has spanned every force in the country. They have shared expertise to breach a highly sophisticated and global communication service being used by organised crime gangs.
Nationally it has seen entire organised crime groups dismantled as a result of covert analysis with 746 arrests, £54m in cash, 77 guns, and two tonnes of drugs seized.
In Greater Manchester six firearms, including machine guns, and 200 rounds of ammunition were recovered, plus ten encrypted phones.
In addition, in the region, 37 people have been arrested, £1.7m in cash seized, plus 15kg of cocaine, 2kg of heroin, 2kg of cannabis, 70kg of amphetamines, and 500,000 ecstasy tablets.
Encrypted mobile phones allowed criminals to use a form of instant messaging which leaves no trace of the contents of the message as they are not saved on the device’s memory.
The operation was sparked after EncroChat – the secure mobile phone instant messaging service which allowed criminals to communicate with each other freely – was cracked by an international law team two months ago.
This triggered police forces and agencies across the country into targeting suspects and carrying out raids.
The command and control communication system had over 60,000 worldwide users, with 10,000 within the UK – with the purpose of coordinating and planning the illegal disruption of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals.
Since the system was infiltrated, law enforcement agencies, unbeknown to the criminal networks, have been working together and monitoring users’ every move.
Working under the national operation, GMP’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit have continued this work and undertaken a series of their own investigations, focusing on criminals within the Greater Manchester.
This has been launched under GMP’s specialised operation – codenamed Foam.
Detective Superintendent Danny Inglis, head of GMP’s Organised Crime Group, said: “I think you can see the results speak for themselves, This breakthrough has enabled us to tackle some of the most sophisticated criminals in Manchester.
“This has seen real dedication from officers locally and nationally to get these results.
“We know organised crime drives many of the disputes we see on the streets and this will have dealt a real blow to many of those people.
“GMP has also responded to information where people were at risk and taken action on several occasions to ensure people did not come to harm from these criminals.”
In Greater Manchester 37 were arrested with 33 of those people being subsequently charged.
As well as this, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of criminal property has also been seized; from high-powered cars to expensive jewellery, and £60,000 worth of clothing.
The data analysed has enabled detectives to understand the make-up of criminal enterprises, gaining more knowledge around the methods sophisticated groups use to evade the police.
This infiltration has also meant that GMP’s officers have been able to respond to information where people were at risk from exploitation and other risk factors, taking action on several occasions to ensure people did not come to harm from criminal networks.
GMP’s work under Operation Foam will continue throughout the coming weeks and months, working to further disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises across the force area.
Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Creely, head of GMP’s Public Protection and Serious Crime Division, said: “This has been a colossal piece of work that has required dedication from specialist and differing teams across Greater Manchester Police; and I would really like to thank them for their efforts, as they have no doubt been absolutely integral in dismantling the most sophisticated of organised crime operations.
“This has been a unique and complex series of investigations and the level of sophistication exerted by these criminal enterprises should not be overshadowed.
“It is thanks and testament to the huge partnership efforts across the UK, as well as further afield, that we are seeing a major breakthrough in the fight against organised crime.
“The impact that this operation will have on the people of Greater Manchester is hugely significant.
“Organised criminal activity blights communities and ruins people’s lives; and over recent years our communities have felt the full effects of this with violence sometimes erupting over drug and territory disputes.
“Breakthroughs such as this one are catastrophic for many criminal networks and leave them absolutely exposed, making them hugely vulnerable to prosecution.
“A top priority for GMP will always be to make our streets a safer place, protecting our communities and the people we serve.
“We will continue to work with specialist agencies and other forces, both nationally and internationally, and do everything within our power to tackle organised crime.”