|MAJOR CHILD PORN RING BUSTED
And 20 Children Rescued Worldwide
“Mala is to die for in those pigtails,” read one message.
“I have a few 5yo [year old] Taras that you do not have,” read another.
“Just dropping in for a hot minute … to help out the dry spell, and to give everyone something to do for an afternoon,” said still one more.
They’re hard comments to read—when you know that they were posted in a massive secret child pornography newsgroup on the web.
That sordid network was exposed this week, thanks to a global law enforcement operation spanning five countries, three continents, and 11 U.S. states. As part of the continuing investigation, a total of 22 men have been arrested, including 14 in America, four in Germany, and two each in Australia and the U.K.
Even more satisfying: over the course of the international operation, about 20 victims have been rescued. Investigative efforts to identify and rescue more victims are continuing.
The international investigation was groundbreaking in three main ways:
1) It dismantled one of the largest (more than 400,000 images and videos were posted, traded, and trafficked) and most sophisticated child exploitation rings we’ve ever come across. For example, the group used powerful encryption tools to keep the operation secret and a multi-layered system to vet new members. “These people went to a lot of trouble to keep from being discovered,” said Steve Tidwell, the FBI Executive Assistant Director who oversees our national criminal programs. “They had a level of operational security that we’ve not seen before.”
2) It marked the first use in the United States of the “child exploitation enterprise” provisions of the Adam Walsh Act of 2006. The ring, in fact, was run very much like a business, with various players handling different roles, direction coming from the top down, and the sadistic images serving as currency. Again, a sophisticated operation.
3) It involved extensive real-time and high-level global cooperation, with countries sharing not only information and intelligence but actual investigators. The operation began in January 2006 when an officer of the Queensland Police Services in Australia learned about the group. Since a number of the members were living in the U.S., Queensland authorities came to the FBI that June; we launched our investigation two months later, working through our Innocent Images National Initiative. The officer who infiltrated the ring came to U.S. and worked with us directly through our International Innocent Images Task Force in our command center in suburban Maryland. We sent agents to Australia as well. Also participating in the investigation were the BKA Child Pornography Unit in Germany, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in the United Kingdom, and the Toronto Police Department in Canada.
And we, in turn, thank Chief Superintendent Barnett and our other global partners for a truly seamless operation that helped take down, in the words of one of the defendants, “the greatest group of pedos to ever gather in one place.”