Live acces to criminals in The Netherlands
Since 1 April 2020, the Netherlands Police has had real-time access to more than 20 million chat messages exchanged between criminals. ‘It was like attending the criminals’ meetings’, according to Jeannine van den Berg, Chief of the Netherlands Police’s Central Unit.
Over the past months, the Dutch police managed to seize many thousands of kilos of cocaine and millions of euros. We also dismantled nineteen drugs labs throughout the Netherlands. In addition, we arrested more than a hundred individuals suspected of serious crimes. We were even able to prevent several contract killings and other serious violent crimes. What appears to be a multitude of independent actions, directly stems from an overarching criminal investigation under the name 26Lemont.
This international investigation was enabled by a French-Dutch partnership within a Joint Investigation Team (JIT). Dozens of police and judicial services in the Netherlands and abroad, assisted by Europol and Eurojust, participated in the covert investigative activities.
26Lemont was aimed at Encrochat, a company that has offered crypto-communication services for many years, mainly to criminals. Encrochat was one of the largest providers and Dutch criminals were bulk consumers. ‘This investigation provided us with real-time access to more than 20 million messages exchanged between criminals’, said Jannine van den Berg, Chief of the Netherlands Police’s Central Unit. ‘And then we’re just talking about the messages that are relevant to the Netherlands. Authorization from the Examining Magistrate enabled us to monitor live communication of thousands of serious criminals. Some of these messages were so disconcerting that they were far beyond our imagination. We ran into subjects who are well known to the police and identified new players. It felt like we were attending the criminals’ meetings.’
In the Netherlands, the Central Unit took on a major part of the large-scale criminal investigation, particularly its Criminal Investigations Division, with a key role for the High Tech Crime Team. ‘To achieve their objectives, the experts of the Central Unit closely cooperated with the regional units and other partners’, according to Van den Berg. ‘Hundreds of investigators and analysist from the police, the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service, the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, and the Internal Investigations Department sifted through and unraveled the data flow.’ On 13 June, Encrochat sent a push message to all its users, warning them and advising them to immediately get rid of their phones, which many users did. This put an end to our interception. Encrochat suspected that a government service had penetrated their system.
‘We were able to make good use of the fact that criminals have blind faith in crypto-communication and spoke freely’, according to Andy Kraag, head of the Central Criminal Investigations Division. ‘By applying state-of-the-art cyber technology, we received a host of criminal messages, allowing us to unveil a large part of the Dutch underworld: the leaders, the key figures and their working methods.’
By monitoring the criminals real-time for weeks, we were able to stay one step ahead of them. ‘The messages gave us a detailed view of the underworld’, said Kraag. ‘The ease with which they speak of things like contract killings and torture remains shocking. We now have even better insight into their modi operandi: a real game changer for investigations.’
Taking preliminary stock
By now, the Netherlands Police has made information from the 26Lemont investigation available to about a hundred ongoing investigations. Information about criminal organizations will probably be made available to over 300 investigations. We expect more subsequent arrest.
Below our preliminary results:Arrest of more than 100 suspects for very serious crimesSeizure of nearly 20 million euro in cashSeizure of 8,000 kg of cocaine and over 1,200 kg of crystal methDismantling of 19 synthetic drugs labsSeizure of dozens of firearms
Processing of more than 3,000 indications of life threats in the Netherlands alone. Timely interference allowed the police to prevent dozens of serious violent crimes, including intended kidnappings, extortion, contract killings and torture.