Fighting Crime

This is an interesting story on how intelligence agencies created an anonymous phone and got many criminal gangs worldwide to use it through unsuspecting middlemen.

Stories like this are cheering. However, it made me wonder about how agencies decides when enough information has been collected. On one side, the involved police and politicians want recognition, leading to promotions, morale and funding. They need to take actions. Cooperating with many others might be tenuous. On the other side, keeping things going allows more information to be collected. One wonders why they acknowledged they created the device rather than claiming it was infiltrated, rinsing and repeating, doing the same thing again.

Any thoughts?

It’s a similar dilemma to the one the Allies faced, after they cracked the Enigma code in WWII. They were able to read almost all of the Germans’ communications, but if they acted too much on that, the Germans would have been able to figure out that they were doing so, and switch their procedures so we couldn’t. At what point is that a worthwhile tradeoff?

I wonder who makes these decisions and if they define their criteria in advance.

On a related note, the ability to recover Bitcoin is something I also see as encouraging.

I think there’s a point of diminishing returns after they’ve acted on the information obtained through these devices enough times. Eventually, the criminals start to wonder how the authorities always seem to know what they’re up to, and might start to suspect their “anonymous” phones aren’t really as anonymous as they thought, and stop using them.

I believe you nailed it, WildaBeast.

Yeah, but now they are going to stop using them anyway? Sure, one might get less information, but if guaranteed so this project would not have worked. And a little important information may still be pretty relevant.

I assumed that the goal was to act on everything immediately, and make a big show about it, and not expect anyone to actually use the system after the crackdown, which in turn would also mean that lines of communication might be difficult to re-establish, as the crooks were used to using a system that it seemed law enforcement wasn’t monitoring, and they now have to rethink pretty much any system they use and how it might be being monitored. That is, making it public is part of the plan of making the lives of criminals more difficult.

As to what point they decide they’re going in for the big haul, I assume that it’s planned for a very long time, because it takes time to set up to deal with all the cases being processed all at once if they weren’t already being worked on and in process. They probably get as much as they can done until their resources are maxed out in terms of preparation, and then bring down the hammer.

I remember the parable of a hunter who set up a guinea hen trap, simply a box propped up with a stick with some corn spread under it for bait. He hid in the bushes with a string to the stick in his hand and waited.

After a while a flock of half a dozen guinea hens wander into the clearing, one spots the grain, and goes under the box to start pecking at it. Another spots what it’s doing and joins it, then another and another until five are under the trap.

One more and I’ll get 'em all, the hunter thinks but one walks out. Crap! Well, I won’t be greedy. As soon as I’m up to five again I’ll spring the trap, but another walks out. A minute later all the grain is gone so every last hen walks out and leaves the clearing.

Well, next operative who approaches his syndicate head with a 100% secure encrypted messaging devise, even if it was was, might get a frosty reception.
And the transcripts from the sting showing all kinds of backdoor and personal deals may well disrupt the layers of communication needed to conduct business. There will be a whole less trust going round.

Is it possible they want to use the data from this app as evidence, especially against the upper tiers that aren’t touching the drugs themselves, and that it would be really hard to keep it a secret that they could read at least some of the messages at that point?