The FBI had a problem. In 2019 the agency was secretly running an encrypted phone company called Anom. Serious organized criminals were using the phones and Anom was gaining popularity. But even though Anom contained a backdoor—a chunk of code that silently copied every message sent—the FBI was unable to actually read Anom’s messages.
The FBI had not obtained legal approval to rummage through that treasure trove of intelligence. As legal experts have argued, the FBI may have technically had the authority to do so, but might need to get an order for every single phone user, a cumbersome process when Anom eventually grew to around 12,000 total devices. The FBI needed another solution.
So the agency turned to what court records have described as a “third country,” the first country being America and the second being Australia, which ran a beta test of the Anom surveillance operation. The third country allowed the FBI to overcome this legal hurdle. The country hosted the Anom interception server for the FBI, and then provided Anom’s messages to American authorities every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
That country “requested its participation be kept confidential,” according to a document I previously obtained. The document said the third country was a European Union member but did not name the country itself. “The FBI is neither now nor in the future in a position to release the identity of the aforementioned third country,” the document added.
That country was Lithuania, 404 Media has learned from a source briefed on the operation but who did not work on it on the U.S. side.
The revelation provides important clarity on the complex technological and legal arrangements that facilitated the largest law enforcement sting operation in history, where more than 9,000 law enforcement officers sprung into action on June 7, 2021 as part of the globally coordinated arrests of many of Anom’s criminal users. Recently, defense lawyers in the U.S. have argued that they need to know the identity of the third country in order to scrutinize the legality of evidence collected against their clients. The government has so far not provided that information to defense teams.
“The bottom line is that our government knew its mass surveillance program was unconstitutional so it secretly co-opted a country in Europe in an attempt to circumvent our privacy laws. The government is now refusing to reveal even the identity of the third country,” Patrick Griffin, one of the defense attorneys who has tried to learn the identity of the third country, previously told me.