‘Every message was copied to the police’: the inside story of the most daring surveillance sting in history

Billed as the most secure phone on the planet, An0m became a viral sensation in the underworld. There was just one problem for anyone using it for criminal means: it was run by the police

The rain pattered lightly on the harbour of the Belgian port city of Ghent when, on 21 June 2021, a team of professional divers slipped below the surface into the emerald murk. The Brazilian tanker, heavy with fruit juice bound for Australia, had already crossed the Atlantic Ocean, but its journey wasn’t halfway done as the divers felt their way along the barnacled serration of its hull. They were looking for the sea chest, a metallic inlet below the water line, through which the ship draws seawater to cool its engines. Tucked inside, they found what they were looking for: three long sacks, each wrapped in a thick black plastic bag and trussed with black and white striped nautical rope.

The sacks were heavy. Each one weighed as much as a sheep and, shaped like a body bag, could feasibly have contained one. As the Belgian police opened the first bag, a stack of crimson bricks slid out. Had this cargo reached Australia, where high demand and meagre supply has pushed the price of a kilo of cocaine to eight times its equivalent cost in North America, the haul would have been worth more than A$64m (£34m).

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