Encrypted Phone ‘Sky’ Linked to Murder-for-Hire Plot in Maryland

Sky was an encrypted phone used by drug traffickers and other criminals. Now, those phones are linked to a murder-for-hire scheme on U.S. soil involving an arm of the Iranian state.
Iranian flag.
Image: Mostafa Meraji/Unsplash.

An infamous drug trafficker who acts as an arm of the Iranian state, and two alleged Canadian hitmen, one being a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, planned a murder-for-hire plot on U.S. soil that targeted two people, including an Iranian defector, according to newly unsealed court records. The group used the encrypted phone network Sky, according to the records.

The case shows state-connected figures allegedly used Sky, which traditionally has been a hotbed for drug traffickers and other top tier organized criminals. Corruption was a common sight on platforms similar to Sky, but it’s rare to see such a clear example of a state-powered criminal network using the platform. This is also one of only a few cases involving Sky messages being brought to prosecution inside the U.S.

Although the new indictment quotes Sky messages allegedly sent between members of the murder-for-hire gang, it does not explicitly say whether these messages were sourced through European authorities’ earlier hacking of Sky or some other method. A spokesperson for the U.S. District of Minnesota, where the case is filed, declined to answer whether this case used messages taken as part of that earlier operation.