Inside the FBI cellphone scheme that took down gangs across the globe

A “couple of beers” between U.S. and Australian law enforcement officials morphed into a sprawling, sophisticated international criminal underworld takedown that thwarted dozens of murders, netted a mountain of drugs and led to more than 800 arrests, authorities said.

The operation dubbed “Trojan Shield” in the U.S. duped criminals across the globe into buying cellphones that had pre-loaded FBI software on them — and exposed Asian Triad gangs, Middle Eastern organized crime outfits, Latin American drug cartels and even biker crews to police investigators.

It has netted some 8 tons of cocaine, 2 tons of amphetamine, 55 luxury cars, 250 guns and more than 20 tons of marijuana and hash after raids in countries across the globe, Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy director of operations at Europol, said at a press conference in the Netherlands on Tuesday.

The dragnet, which was hatched by U.S. and Australian law enforcement authorities, employed at least 9,000 law enforcement officials across the globe and captured some 27 million text messages by alleged criminals.

The messages gave investigators in Europe, the U.S. and Australia a behind-the-scenes look as criminals plotted contract killings, drug trafficking and robberies.