Several years ago we posted a piece about the FBI seizing and continuing to run a child pornography website between November 16, 2012 and December 2, 2012. The site, which had 5000 customers, was seized as part of a large scale investigation designed to ensnare users of the site sharing images depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
FBI Allows Websites to Remain Online to Ensnare Offenders
An FBI agent stated at the time that the site had 24,000 posts by 5,600 users who shared 10,000 photos of “children being posed nude, raped, or otherwise abused.”
That the FBI would allow child pornographers to share images of children being sexually exploited for 16 days seemed incongruous to us. As we pointed out in our 2013 post, federal prosecutors routinely tell juries and judges that each time the image of child being sexually abused is viewed that person is re-victimized, suffering real emotional damage.
Can’t Have it Both Ways
One of those prosecutors is Seattle-based Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Marci Ellsworth who says that child pornography is not a “victimless” crime:
“Distributing of child pornography – images and videos of a real child experiencing the worst moments of their young lives – is not a ‘victimless’ crime, and the heinous nature of this offense should never be diminished by referring to it as ‘just pictures,’ she said. “The children portrayed … suffer real and permanent damage, for the rest of their lives, each and every time their exploitation is shared over the Internet.”
For sixteen days in 2012, the FBI was in the business of doing “permanent damage” to the lives of young children as the agency shared their images of children being sexually abused with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people over the Internet.
Another Site Allowed to Run for Two Weeks
Apparently the FBI believes it is worth the damage in order to apprehend a handful of child pornographers. This was evidenced by a January 21, 2016 piece in USAToday that revealed the agency ran yet another child porn site that shared thousands of images of children being sexually exploited.
Specifically, the newspaper revealed that for two weeks last year the agency “operated what is described as one of the Internet’s largest child pornography websites, allowing users to download thousands of illicit images and videos from a government site in the Washington suburbs.”
The newspaper reported that this is the “third time in recent years” that the FBI has seized and taken control of a child pornography site in order to ensnare individuals who would, the agency says, “otherwise [have] remain[ed] hidden behind an encrypted and anonymous computer network.”
Should FBI be Allowed to Run Child Pornography Sites to Catch Users?
The question then is whether the nation’s top law enforcement agency should be involved in a sordid business that sexually exploits young children?
No Lessons Learned from Fast and Furious
The nation was shocked several years ago when it learned about the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation that allowed U.S. guns to be walked into Mexico where they were used by drug cartels to ply their murderous trade. The purpose of the operation was to establish surveillance of the guns, through phone and financial records, in hopes of connecting guns and money to Mexican drug lords.
But a 2012 report by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Justice Department found that the ATF lost track of the weapons, but nonetheless allowed “the purchasing activity by Operation Fast and Furious subjects [to continue] unabated [by] individuals who had engaged in serious and dangerous criminal conduct remained at large, and the public was put in harm’s way.”
In fact, one of the Fast and Furious weapons was used in 2010 to kill a Border Patrol agent.
How Many Children Re-Victimized by FBI Conduct
This unfortunate tragedy raises the question about how many of the 23,000 explicit images of children being sexually abused, shared with more than 215,000 users, involved children actually being raped or otherwise abused by one of those users while the FBI controlled the site.
A senior FBI official named Ron Hosko, who was involved in the FBI decision to take control of the child porn site, tried to justify the decision by telling USAToday: “We had a window of opportunity to get into one of the darkest places on earth, and not a lot of other options except not to do it. There was no other way we could identify that many players.”
We’re not buying that lame excuse. Just as the ATF, the agency whose purpose is to identify and apprehend illegal weapons traffickers, should not be in the business of trafficking guns to violent criminals, the FBI, which has a law enforcement responsibility to not only apprehend but prevent child pornographers, should not be in the business of allowing child pornographers, and thousands of likely child pedophiles, to view explicit images of helpless children being sexually abused.
We cannot accept that allowing thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of individuals to view 23,000 explicit images of children being sexually exploited is worth the apprehension of dozens of child pornographers.
An attorney representing one of the child pornographers apprehended—a middle school teacher—is asking a federal court to throw out the indictment against his client, charging that “what the government did in this case is comparable to flooding a neighborhood with heroin in the hope of snatching an assortment of low-level users.”
One section of the child porn site controlled by the FBI was labeled “toddlers” and revealed a “prepubescent female” having sexual intercourse with an adult male.
The FBI peddled this image, and thousands more like it, in order to charge 137 individuals with a crime, most of whom have not been identified.
Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, said “the decision of whether to shut down a website or to allow it to continue operating for a brief period for a law enforcement purpose is a difficult one.”
Shut Them Down, Arrest Who You Can
We don’t think it is a difficult decision. The federal government, through its law enforcement agencies, should not be in the business of peddling illegal weapons, drugs, or child porn. When these dark site are detected, they should be immediately shut down and destroyed. The FBI should investigate and arrest anyone they can track to these websites who has intentionally accessed, possessed, produced or traded this vile material. They should not allow images of child brutality to exist for a moment more than necessary to unplug the site.
That, to us, seems to be a very simple decision.