New Scotland Yard
A Metropolitan Police Operation led to over 400 criminals being arrested. Daniel Leal/AFP

A Metropolitan Police Operation, known as Operation Eternal, that began in March 2020, has seized three tonnes of class A and B drugs and 49 guns.

The operation was led by The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) and its own operation Venetic using EncroChat encrypted messaging platform in order to solve homicides and address the drug trade by identifying and trapping drug lords.

Over 400 criminals, including "kingpins", involved in organised crimes have been imprisoned for a total of 3,722 years.

The Met's head of specialist crime, Commander Paul Brogden, stated that it was "the most significant operation targeting organised crime figures in the Met's history".

EncroChat was a mobile phone company that provided modified mobile phones that had their microphones, cameras and GPS systems removed. The handsets use a special operating system and have messaging software installed, which sends and receives encrypted messages.
Some of the devices only allow communication with other phones on the network and require a code to be entered in order to erase the encrypted chats.

The encrypted communication that is scrambled when sent can only be unscrambled when it is received. WhatsApp uses encryption as such. The encrypted communication is intended not to be intercepted by hackers or law enforcement agencies.

The NCA gained access to the EncroChat network of encrypted phones after reports that a piece of malware was found on one user's EncroChat phone and as the malware was in place it allowed the NCA and other European law enforcement agencies to access the information of millions of messages between a vast number of suspects.

Subsequently, the NCA claims that this led to the arrests of many of the UK's most senior organised criminals in the UK.

EncroChat messaged its users warning them to destroy their handsets after realising that law enforcement had compromised it in June 2020, and it was closed down soon after.

EncroChat reportedly had 60,000 users globally with handsets being sold as specially customised Android phones for 1,000 Euros per device, and each with a six-month contract costing 1,500 Euros.

Criminals were therefore able to communicate freely about their illegal activities on the subscription-only service, in the belief that the system could not be hacked.

Additionally, Commander Brogden said: "These criminals were using what we call a 'hard and secure' communication device, so effectively it's like a social media platform that the criminals believed that we couldn't access.

"They were playing out their lifestyles [on EncroChat], trading drugs, ordering violence and murder here on the streets of London, and we could see that play out in a way we've never seen before. It was a significant leap forward."

Furthermore, Commander Brogden stated that many of those found in the operation were considered to be "the kingpins" of organised crime networks in London.

Brogden further said: "They were sitting in their leafy enclaves and didn't expect police to knock on their door and we did and brought them to justice, so I'm incredibly pleased about that."

Moreover, Craig Turner, NCA's deputy director for investigations, expressed that the operation resulted in "one of the most stunning results" on EncroChat, and said EncroChat gave them "an absolute gold mine of intelligence".

The UK-wide Operation Venetic led to the arrests of 3,100 suspects of which 1,867 were charged, with also 7,000 mobile devices seized and around 18 million messages recorded.

Finally, Commander Brogden said the Met in conjunction with the Home Office would consider whether a new legislative system was required for encrypted platforms in the future.