"The organised crime groups thought that by using encrypted technology they could fly below the radar of law enforcement, however this operation should send a clear message that the combined strength of PSNI working in partnership with our law enforcement partners that no-one is beyond the reach of the law".
But the NCA says the messaging system has been used as a "criminal marketplace" to co-ordinate the supply of Class A drugs across the world, and import weapons including assault rifles, sub-machine guns, shotguns, pistols and hand grenades.
An encrypted messaging service used exclusively by criminals has been infiltrated by police in a major operation, leading to hundreds of arrests and the seizure of firearms, drugs and millions of dollars in cash.
EncroChat had promised its users anonymity by never storing decryption keys on its servers.
The operation came to an abrupt end two weeks ago when EncroChat became aware of the software used by police to infiltrate the site.
In the Netherlands, "t$3 he investigation has so far led to the arrest of 60 suspects, the seizure of drugs (more than 10 000 kilo cocaine, 70 kilo heroin, 12 000 kilo cannabis, 1 500 kilo crystal meth and 160 000 liter of a substance used to produce synthetic drugs), the dismantling of 19 synthetic drugs labs, the seizure of dozens of (automatic) fire weapons, expensive watches and 25 cars, including vehicles with hidden compartments, and nearly Euro 20 million in cash". "A large number of suspects have also been arrested in several countries which were not participating in the JIT (joint investigation team) but particularly affected by the illegal use of these phones by individuals active in organized crime, including in the UK, Sweden, and Norway", Europol said. Because of the trusted nature of the app, people would openly discuss drug deals, murders, and other crimes, making them sitting ducks for law enforcement.
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The handset and its services, which cost around £1,500 for a six-month subscription, had 60,000 users worldwide and approximately 10,000 users in the United Kingdom.
French and Dutch police said they hacked into the EncroChat network so they could read millions of messages "over the shoulders" of suspects as they communicated with custom-made devices.
"They range from the removal of limbs through to acid attacks and shootings", she explained.
"Together we've protected the public by arresting middle-tier criminals and the kingpins, the so-called iconic untouchables who have evaded law enforcement for years, and now we have the evidence to prosecute them", NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said in a statement.
Police said because the criminals were unaware they were being spied on, the quality of information and intelligence they were able to gather was unprecedented.
Detective Superintendent Katy Barrow-Grint, head of specialist operations for Thames Valley Police, said: "Thames Valley Police is committed to tackling serious and organised crime and will disrupt it wherever we can. We are continuing to work with our partners in other forces and agencies to make sure we take a joined-up approach and pursue them wherever they may be hiding". Holland said criminals with encrypted devices "should be very, very anxious".