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UAE resident sought for supplying drug cartels with secure phones

Younes Nasri and others allegedly sold encrypted mobile phones to drug lords, operating under Canada-based Phantom Secure

Phantom Secure modified BlackBerry phones making them untraceable by police.
Phantom Secure modified BlackBerry phones making them untraceable by police.

UAE resident Younes Nasri is one of four fugitives being sought by US authorities for selling encrypted mobile phones to drug lords.

Together with Kim Augustus Rodd, Michael Gamboa and Christopher Poquiz, Nasri has being indicted by a federal grand jury in the US for supplying drug cartels with modified BlackBerry and Samsung phones that made them harder to trace by authorities.  

Vincent Ramos, the CEO of their Canadian-based company, Phantom Secure, is already in US custody after being arrested in Washington State on 7th of March.

The US has charged the quintet for “knowingly and intentionally participating in a criminal enterprise that facilitated the international importation and distribution of narcotics through the sale and service of encrypted communications.”

Authorities have seized Phantom Secure’s property, including more than 150 domains and licenses which were being used by transnational criminal organisations to send and receive encrypted messages. Authorities also seized bank accounts and property in Los Angeles, California and Las Vegas, Nevada, according to the US Department of Justice (DoJ).  

Authorities learnt of the company after an investigation in California of a Phantom Secure client who used Phantom devices to coordinate shipments of thousands of kilograms of cocaine and other drugs throughout the globe, the DoJ said.  According to court documents, there were an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Phantom devices in use worldwide before the authorities dismantled the company. This coordinated action means Phantom Secure’s clients can no longer use these devices to commit crimes.

According to the DoJ, this is the first time the U.S. government has targeted a company for providing criminal organisations with technological tools to evade law enforcement and obstruct justice while committing transnational drug trafficking.

“The indictment of Vincent Ramos and his associates is a milestone against transnational crime,” said FBI director Christopher Wray.  “Phantom Secure allegedly provided a service designed to allow criminals the world over to evade law enforcement to traffic drugs and commit acts of violent crime without detection. Ramos and his company made millions off this criminal activity, and our takedown sends a serious message to those who exploit encryption to go dark on law enforcement.”

According to court documents, Phantom Secure advertised its products as impervious to decryption, wiretapping or legal third-party records requests. Phantom Secure also guaranteed the destruction of evidence contained within a device if it was compromised, either by an informant or because it fell into the hands of law enforcement.  

The indictment alleges that as a result of its efforts to facilitate international crime, Phantom Secure has generated approximately $80 million in annual revenue since 2008 and facilitated drug trafficking, obstruction of justice, and violent crime around the world.