British authorities have arrested 746 suspects, seized tens of millions in cash, dozens of firearms and high-value cars, 2 tonnes of drugs, and even grenades in the country's "biggest ever law enforcement operation".
The operation followed the infiltration of a the EncroChat encrypted communications network used by organised criminals to arrange drugs deals and lethal "hits" on criminal rivals and others, connected to an illegal trade reaching across Britain and Continental Europe to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
EncroChat, according to the Motherboard team at Vice News, had been used gangsters to conduct their illicit business "in granular detail, with price lists, names of customers, and explicit references to the large quantities of drugs they sold" - believing that the fact their communications were "encrypted on the devices themselves" meant they were immune to interception by the authorities.
Ultimately, their faith in the technology proved to be misplaced. Law enforcement in France and the Netherlands "penetrated the EncroChat network, leveraged that access to install a technical tool in what appears to be a mass hacking operation, and had been quietly reading the users' communications for months" - and passed that information to the authorities in the United Kingdom in a breakthrough Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) compared to the cracking of Germany's Enigma code by British and Polish cryptographers during the Second World War.
The NCA, which "created the technology and specialist data exploitation capabilities required to process the EncroChat data", according to an official press release, had supported regional police forces and other agencies including the Border Force, Her Majesty's Prison Service, and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to conduct investigations for a period of around two months.
The mass raids appeared to follow EncroChat realising they had been compromised on June 15th and sending a message to users "urging them to throw away their handsets" - just days after Scottish police had used EncroChat intel to shut down an illegal drugs laboratory in Rochester, England, and seize 28 million tablets of so-called "street valium" implicated in hundreds of deaths in Scotland.
Announcing the bust on social media, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the authorities had seized:
1,800 rounds of ammunition
55 high value cars
2 tonnes of drugs
According to The Guardian, the seized firearms included "an AK-47 assault rifle, submachine guns, handguns" - which had evidently been criminally obtained despite Britain's draconian gun control legislation.
Moreover, the NCA - which is roughly equivalent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States - believes the busts have prevented a number of mob hits, included but not limited to gangland "executions".
"This was criminals talking about how they were going to see off their competition", explained NCA director Nikki Holland
"They range from the removal of limbs through to acid attacks and shootings," she explained.
"It wasn't a case of going and shooting someone, some of them wanted to do really incredible things to them before getting to that point."
Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery