Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Slaughter of Innocence

The Battle Rages On

From a law enforcement perspective, the dramatic increase of child porn on the Internet has not gone unnoticed. There are hundreds of police initiatives already in place to combat this new threat to our children. But the pornographers and child predators are clever and the unique mode of the crime poses special problems for police investigation. These cases are essentially technical in nature and require specially trained investigators. Since Internet child porn and abuse are a recent development, there is a lack of case law on the subject and occasionally, some jurisdictional confusion. But rest assured that most police departments have dedicated their resources in the fight against these determined criminals. Many agencies have established special Internet investigation units, like the Internet Crime Against Children Task Force in New York and the Northeast Regional Child Exploitation Task Force in New Jersey, whose sole purpose is to cruise the Web looking for potential molesters and pornographers. In a case that made national headlines, a top executive of Disney was arrested in Los Angeles in 1999 and charged with crossing state lines for the purpose of engaging in sex with a minor. The suspect met the "13-year-old girl" over the Internet. This "girl" turned out to be an FBI agent who was a member of just such a task force who daily searched the highways of cyberspace for sexual marauders.

Despite the unprecedented success of Operation Chesire Cat, which disrupted the Internet world of organized pedophiles, the abuse of children by way of the computer still continues into the 21st century. Outlaw groups like The Wonderland Club continue to fester in cyberspace and it requires a mammoth effort on the part of law enforcement to bring these criminals to justice. Since 1998 when U.S. Customs and the FBI affected hundreds of arrests across the nation on child sexual exploitation charges, there have been several large-scale police operations against child pornographers and pedophiles. However, there has also been a new public awareness concerning Internet crimes and the watchful eyes of parents and other adults have yielded positive results.

Law enforcement has taken a crash course in computer related offenses and many municipalities have initiated training programs and seminars specifically designed to tackle high tech crimes. Information gathered in major sweeps like Operation Chesire Cat and the FBI's Innocent Images have also furnished law enforcement with investigative leads, which generated additional crackdowns. The United States led the way in late 2001 when it informed German National Police that a German citizen was exchanging child pornography over the Internet with customers and friends in America. This case resulted in the arrests of eight additional people and provided investigators with critical intelligence about other child porn rings. As we have seen, computer hard drives are a wealth of information to investigators. As these offenders seek to find ways to encrypt, conceal and delete illegal data and photos, computer technicians work relentlessly to research and overcome those obstacles. Successful prosecution in these type of cases are a priority. "It is clear that a new marketplace for child pornography has emerged from the dark corners of cyberspace," said Attorney General John Ashcroft recently at a press conference. "These offenders have tried to use technology and anonymity of the Internet to trade child pornography, and these individuals must be stopped," he added.

In March 2002, the FBI announced that it had broken a major child porn ring that flourished on the Internet at Yahoo.com. The case began in Houston in May 2000. More than 89 persons in 20 states were arrested in the initial phase of this investigation called Operation Candyman. The suspects have already admitted to molesting at least 36 children. Some of the people arrested represent a cross-section of American society that is truly frightening. The suspects arrested included Little League coaches, a teacher's aide, a school bus driver, at least one former police officer, six members of clergy, a child photographer and two Catholic priests. They ranged in age from 17 to 70. Hundreds of searches were conducted and dozens of computers were seized.

Operation Candyman was named after an Internet group under the same name that provided a location where members could upload and download child porn images. According to the FBI, the group claimed more than 7,000 members, the majority in the United States. Yahoo is aware that some of its customers form outlaw groups using their service but are unable to completely stop the practice because of technological limitations. Yahoo always cooperates fully with FBI requests for subscriber information on pedophile groups. FBI director Robert Mueller recently said to the L.A. Times: "We will diligently shut down any and all Web sites, e-groups, bulletin boards and any other mediums that will foster the continued exploitation of our children."

CANDYMAN described itself online as the place "for people who love kids. You can post any type of messages you like, too, or any type of pics and vids you like too." The images on the site were child porn of the worst kind. Images seized from the confiscated hardware will be dramatic evidence against those arrested. Log-in times, phone records, Internet service provider records, credit card transactions and more add to the mountains of documents that are often necessary to prosecute these cases. Where those records will ultimately take FBI and Houston investigators is anyone's guess. Police told that city's reporters they were hoping for "several hundred arrests." Like the Wonderland Club case, the repercussions of Operation Candyman in 2002 will extend far into the future. Investigative leads and hard data gathered during the prosecution of these defendants will keep cyberspace detectives busy for years.

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