G. Hays & N.R. Jenzen-Jones
More than 800 suspected criminals in at least 18 countries have been arrested after unwittingly making use of an encrypted chat application known as AN0M, which was administered by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies around the world, the FBI and AFP were able to leverage an encrypted app-and-phone combination to penetrate the criminal underworld in a number of countries. This encrypted platform was run by law enforcement since 2018, and successfully distributed throughout a variety of criminal networks, including outlaw motorcycle gangs and Asian crime syndicates.
In the wake of global arrests, the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (Keskusrikospoliisi; KRP) revealed that a 3D-printed firearms ‘factory’ was uncovered during raids conducted on Monday 7 June 2021, which collectively resulted in the arrests of more than 100 individuals around the country. The production facility, located in a warehouse in Tampere (southwestern Finland), contained manufacturing equipment, partially completed firearms, and even a firing range for testing the weapons. Two completed FGC-9 MKII 9 × 19 mm self-loading rifles (‘pistol-calibre carbines’), a quantity of components, and six Creality Ender 3 3D printers were seized (see Figure 1.1), suggesting significant manufacturing capability.
The discovery in Finland follows the seizure of four FGC-9 carbines during two separate raids in Australia in late May and early June, following similar investigations into international crime syndicates (see Figure 1.2). The increasing numbers of this model of craft-produced firearm being discovered in the hands of organised criminal groups suggests that the design is becoming increasingly popular. The total number in the possession of criminal elements is likely higher than the number thus far uncovered.
The FGC-9 MKII was released on 16 April 2021 by the online firearms design collective known as Deterrence Dispensed. The initial (‘MKI’) release was the subject of an ARES report—Desktop Firearms: Emergent Small Arms Craft Production Technologies—published in March 2020. Desktop Firearms also discusses the history of 3D-printed firearms and examines the established and emergent technologies underpinning modern designs. The FGC-9 MKII uses no original-purpose firearms components and can be manufactured from components produced using a commercial 3D printer (costing approximately $170 USD or less), combined with commercially available metal components such as steel tubing for the barrel and round bar for the bolt and firing pin. Even the magazine—an exact copy of the Glock pistol magazine design—and the trigger mechanism or (or ‘fire control group’)—based on the one used by the AR15 rifle—can be produced using a 3D printer, and are reasonably durable. The barrel can be rifled in a low-tech manner by the use of electrochemical machining (ECM), simple techniques for which are included in the design instructions for the FGC-9.
Large quantities of uniformly produced, relatively modular semi-automatic firearms can now be produced in almost any location, and workshops for such firearms can be made highly portable. In addition to not requiring the typical machine tools used in making craft-produced firearms by conventional means, the FGC-9 design also outperforms legacy designs in terms of accuracy and replicability. The investment in this Finnish case—around $1,000 USD for six printers, and perhaps half as much again for the various other required tools and materials—would allow the printing of parts for 12 FGC-9 firearms in only two weeks. With each being reportedly sold via telegram groups for around 2,500 EUR (approximately $3,030 USD) each, the manufacture and supply obviously presents a highly attractive criminal venture considering the low risk and minimal cost compared to trafficking or manufacturing conventional firearms.
As these authors and their co-author wrote in Desktop Firearms, more than a year ago:
The advent of these increasingly capable, digitised technologies is rapidly turning the layperson into a de facto gunsmith or gunmaker. It is highly likely that the FGC-9 is simply the first of a new wave of cheap, nearly-entirely-homemade 3D-printable firearm designs which solve material limitations by incorporating readily available metal components and unregulated firearms parts. This new breed of hybrid design offers adopters a cheap and effective firearm that is very difficult to trace, and may have the potential to rival or outstrip previous trends in the acquisition of illegal firearms modified from replica and deactivated firearms—themselves subject to increasing legislation. There are very limited control options for restricting access to the materials or design files used in craft-producing such weapons, and progressively more affordable machines and tools—as well as ongoing refinement of techniques—are likely to make their continued development and acquisition increasingly commonplace.
Australian Federal Police. 2021. ‘LIVE: Operation Ironside announcement’. YouTube video: 7 June. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIUOoXIWlr0>.
Australian Federal Police. 2021. ‘Special Operation Ironside – explainer animation’. YouTube video: 7 June. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qq9wnMXvgOc>.
BBC. 2021. ‘ANOM: Hundreds arrested in massive global crime sting using messaging app’. Digital edition: 8 June. <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-57394831>.
EUROPOL. 2021. ‘800 Criminals Arrested in Biggest Ever Law Enforcement Operation Against Encrypted Communication’. Press release. <https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/800-criminals-arrested-in-biggest-ever-law-enforcement-operation-against-encrypted-communication>.
Gray, Patrick & Adam Boileau. 2021. ‘USG claws back Colonial pipeline ransom money’. Risky Business. Podcast: episode 627, 9 June. <https://risky.biz/RB627/>.
Hays, G., Ivan T. & N.R. Jenzen-Jones. 2020. Desktop Firearms: Emergent Small Arms Craft Production Technologies. Research Report 8. Perth: Armament Research Services (ARES). <https://armamentresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/ARES-Research-Report-8-Desktop-Firearms.pdf>.
Hays, G. & N.R. Jenzen-Jones. 2018. Beyond State Control: Improvised and Craft-produced Small Arms and Light Weapons. Geneva: Small Arms Survey. <http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/U-Reports/SAS-improvised-craft-weapons-report.pdf>.
Hunt, Nigel. 2021. ‘Seized: Deadly guns made out of plastic with a 3D printer’. The Advertiser. Digital edition: 28 May. <https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/truecrimeaustralia/firearms-seized-by-organised-crime-detectives-in-sa-include-a-deadly-machine-gun-and-plastic-handguns-made-with-a-3d-printer/news-story/27e3365e18b61c3dfd6e0360b43ba02e>.
IS (Ilta-Sanomat). 2021. ‘KRP: Suomessa otettu kiinni sata AN0M-operaatioon liittyen’. Digital edition: 8 June. <https://www.is.fi/kotimaa/art-2000008036975.html>.
Noble, Freya. 2021. ‘3D submachine guns, luxury cars, and expensive jewellery seized as police smash alleged smuggling syndicate’. 9 News. Digital edition: 2 June. <https://www.9news.com.au/national/3d-guns-cars-watches-jewellery-cash-seized-by-police-in-raids/74b37fde-58b8-42e8-8f4f-e49a6437c3fa>.
Remember, all arms and munitions are dangerous. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded, and all munitions as if they are live, until you have personally confirmed otherwise. If you do not have specialist knowledge, never assume that arms or munitions are safe to handle until they have been inspected by a subject matter specialist. You should not approach, handle, move, operate, or modify arms and munitions unless explicitly trained to do so. If you encounter any unexploded ordnance (UXO) or explosive remnants of war (ERW), always remember the ‘ARMS’ acronym:
AVOID the area
RECORD all relevant information
MARK the area from a safe distance to warn others
SEEK assistance from the relevant authorities