The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) on Thursday said it infiltrated an encrypted communication service that was being used by criminals, arresting hundreds of suspects and seizing tens of millions of cash as well as weapons and drugs.
EncroChat was one of the largest providers of encrypted communications and offered a secure mobile phone instant messaging service, but an worldwide law enforcement team cracked the company's encryption.
The NCA said it had been working with global partners since 2016 to crack EncroChat, which has 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 in the United Kingdom.
The NCA says that their specialist officers, working closely with various partners, have been able to prevent some 200 gang-related kidnappings and murders as the result of intercepting messages ahead of the execution of these criminal plots.
In what has been described as the UK's biggest ever law enforcement operation, the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (WMROCU) has arrested 43 people and charged 11 in the last few months.
Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Freeburn said the operation targeted organised crime groups using encrypted technology in a bid to evade law enforcement.More news: Jackson County Health Department says COVID-19 cases are on the rise
More than £7 million in cash and firearms, ammunition, explosives and industrial pill presses were also seized, while six stolen cars and a motorcycle have been recovered.
On 13 June EncroChat realised the platform had been penetrated and sent a message to its users urging them to throw away their handsets.
Dutch police used a staggering trove of criminal communications - some 20 million messages - to launch a wave of drug raids and arrests in recent months, said Andy Kraag, head of the Dutch national police's central investigation division.
In Northern Ireland, 15 "encro phones" were seized, as well as suspected Class A and B drugs, including 2.5kg of suspected cannabis and cocaine.
The NCA's director of investigations Nikki Holland said: "The infiltration of this command and control communication platform for the UK's criminal marketplace is like having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country".
"An estimated 60,000 people, among them up to 10,000 in Britain, subscribed to France-based EncroChat, which has now been taken down."More news: Cam Newton says his contract with Patriots is about respect, not money
The investigation was set up in 2017 with French police when it came across an increasing number of EncroChat phones, and assisted by European crime fighting agencies Europol and Eurojust.
The UK's National Police Chiefs' Council lead for serious organized crime, Chief Constable Steve Jupp, said the "unique operation" was focused on those believed to be at the highest level of organized crime.
"We have dismantled well-established organised crime groups and have already secured evidence to prosecute a significant number of known criminals that have previously remained beyond our reach".
Steve Jupp, chief constable for the National Police Chief's Council, further said that "by dismantling these groups, we have saved countless lives and protected communities across the United Kingdom".
"The wealth of intelligence we have received means that investigations will be continuing into organised crime groups regionally and there will be many more warrants, arrests and prosecutions over the coming months as a result of this". "I'd say to any criminal who uses an encrypted phone, you should be very, very anxious".More news: Redskins unlikely to get approval for new stadium without changing nickname?