The Spanish government last week reminded us how easy it is to catch large groups of online perverts who enjoy downloading child pornography. Last week in Spain, Manuel Vasquez, the chief of the national police's "Brigada de Investigación Tecnológica", announced the detention of 121 people, and brought charges against 96 of them. 800 police officials performed 210 searches in 42 Spanish provinces, leading to the seizure of 347 hard drives, 1,186 CDs and DVDs, and 36 laptop computers. Among those charged was a member of the CNI (Centro Nacional de Inteligencia) and an agent of the National Police who worked in Spain. Four underaged students were also detained.
(watch the video in Spanish)
"Operation Carrousel" is the largest coordinated effort in the history of la Policía Nacional. The investigation began in July of 2007 when the Federal Police of Brasil (la Policía Federal de Brasil) shared log files from a major child pornography distribution network with the government of 75 countries. The archives which they shared identified 18,000 IP addresses from which child pornography had been accessed, including 1,600 connections that had originated in Spain. Those IP addresses were turned over to the Brigade of Technological Research (BIT), who used them to identify 250 homes from a great deal of the activity had occurred.
Those investigated were all "distributers" -- those who could be shown to have ACCESSED the Brazilian stash and also to have SHARED at least three files via Peer to Peer (P2P) networks that made clear reference to underaged pornography in their file names. Terms such as "preteen" or "pcth" (which in Spanish is an abbreviation for "preteen hard core") were suspected, and contents were checked to determine whether the files were in fact what they were labelled.
The Spanish article describing these events, at rtve.es, closes by pointing out how the criminals in these situations are from all walks of life . . . taxi drivers, bank employees, police, commercial pilots, concierges, and teachers, . . . from all ages . . . 4 minors, 5 over the age of 60, 60 between the ages of 18 and 30, 74 from 31 to 40, 52 from 41 to 50, and 22 more between 51 and 60 . . .and from all parts of the country. 49 were arrested in Catalonia, 37 in Andalusia, 29 in Madrid, 22 in Valencia, 15 in Basque country, 13 in Castilla y Leon, 11 in Galicia, 8 in Castilla La Mancha, 7 in Canarias, 6 in Murcia, 5 in Aragón, 5 in Cantabria, 5 in Baleares, 4 in Extramadura, and 1 in La Rioja.
The crime is the same in most every country. We saw similar results in Australia this summer with Operation Centurion, which began when German authorities shared lists of IP addresses of those who visited a child porn website in Germany with other countries. In that case 1,500 Australian IP addresses were investigated -- so far as we can tell the ONLY country of the 170 with whom the Germans shared the information that did anything useful with it. In the opening raid in May, more than 70 Australians were arrested, and more than one million child exploitation images and videos were seized. Arrests in Australia now exceed one hundred people, with the most recent happening last week with the arrest of Robert Andrusiow in Wollongong.
The USA has not had a similar operations since the March 2002 Operation Candyman, which netted 89 offenders in 20 states after 266 searches were conducted. 27 of those arrested plead guilty to molesting more than 36 children.
In Operation Candyman, the Houston FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force set up a Yahoo "eGroup" at www.egroups.com/groups/thecandyman, and monitored the activities of visitors for nearly a year before the raids.
Like its predecessor, Operation Avalanche, which lead to 100 arrests in 37 states, there were some rather strong challenges and accusations of entrapment. The problems generated from CandyMan and Avalanche need to be studied, and compared with the results of Spain's Operación Carrusel and Australia's Operation Centurion.
The lesson we should be learning from the successes in Australia and Spain is that its not necessary to conduct undercover operations that may lead to charges of entrapment. We have technology on our side. Monitoring the highly trafficked child pornography websites of the world and determining where the visitors come from is a perfectly adequate way in which to scoop up large collections of online perverts. To be sure, some of those IP addresses will lead to open WiFi points, libraries, hotels, etc. But as we learned in Spain, many of the perverts are operating from their own homes, and using those same home addresses to do Peer to Peer "distribution". Searching their homes will certainly put officials on the trail to more badness, and will send an important message that is in need of an update: Child Pornography Is Not Tolerated in the United States of America.