Inside the Biggest FBI Sting Operation in History

Two days later, Microsoft managed to send Yann a lousy 8,500 euros. “What is this a joke??” Yann snapped back. Microsoft’s partnership with Yann wasn’t the only relationship falling apart. His other contacts didn’t want to sell his drugs anymore. Something about this speed was cursed.

“Bro I don’t want any more tjack,” one wrote.
“Please bro,” Microsoft replied.
“Bro the arrangement is not good,” the associate continued.

Inside the Swedish intelligence unit, Microsoft’s steady fall from grace was a source of great entertainment. When the smuggler admitted in Anøm messages that he had never heard of a drug trafficker losing multiple shipments in such quick succession, smiles broke out all around the office. Analysts gossiped among themselves: “Have you seen this? Have you seen what Rivkin sent?”

On April 13, about four days after the TJACK seizure, Microsoft was in his office with the blinds drawn, his laptop placed on a blue sofa. It was just after 11 pm. He rapidly flicked through different spreadsheets that tracked his drug income and costs. His situation had been bad when he scribbled figures onto his notepad in March. Now it was terrible.

What’s more, other gangs were growing suspicious of Anøm. As soon as one of them started using it, police seized a drug shipment. Anøm was jinxed, one customer said.

An anonymous tipster created a website called “Anøm Exposed” that claimed Anøm was funneling user data to law enforcement in the US. Arbiv, the associate who’d helped brainstorm the assassination, asked Microsoft the question on more and more people’s lips: Was Anøm compromised? The next day, another associate raised the same concern: Maybe the police had found a way to read Anøm’s messages? Then some more people Arbiv knew were caught in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. They were using only Anøm to communicate.

Microsoft dismissed each warning. If Anøm really was compromised, wouldn’t everyone be behind bars by now? Instead of the phones, Microsoft fixated on his couriers and stash handlers. A member of the crew must have screwed up. To try to assuage users’ growing fears, Microsoft provided Arbiv with boilerplate text for the trickle of criminals now suspicious of Anøm.

“Cybersecurity is an arms race. Anøm is constantly developing the platform to stay ahead of current threats. Any vendor that can guarantee that their system cannot be broken into is selling snake oil,” the message read. As a final reassurance, Microsoft stressed that Anøm was run by criminals. Why would a company run by criminals, designed to protect criminals, let the police read its users’ messages?

When his most trusted advisers brought up Anøm again and again, Microsoft did not listen. To his mind, Anøm was never the problem. Everyone knew something was wrong except him. Microsoft, like the monkeys tattooed on his arm, had his hands covering his eyes and ears.

This article has been adapted from Dark Wire: The Incredible True Story of the Largest Sting Operation Ever, by Joseph Cox. Copyright © 2024 by Joseph Cox. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Book LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc., New York, NY, USA. All rights reserved.

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