Stalking child molesters
on the Net
Using a range of tactics, police battle online
criminals around the world
Police in Stuttgart, Germany, display
illegal CDs, containing pornographic
images of children, recovered during
a Sept. 2 raid on an Internet-based
International law enforcement agencies showed they're finally
catching up with criminals on the Internet. Using sting operations,
forensic analysis, decryption and other techniques, investigators
are infiltrating online crime rings and assembling a steady
stockpile of arrests in the process.
MARCUS LAWSON, a special investigator for the U.S. Customs
Child Pornography Program, has spent much of his life
undercover. Originally a Secret Service agent for President Ronald
Reagan, Lawson conducted sting operations for the DEA in Los
Angeles before joining U.S. Customs in 1988.
Lawson, easily slipping in and out of undercover identities,
spends hours a day hunting pedophiles and child pornography
traffickers on the Internet.
"For the last nine years, I've been interviewing pedophiles and I
have a pretty good idea of how their minds work," said Lawson. "I
pretty much know how they think and what things are going to
make my undercover role attractive to them."
The Internet has opened up a new medium for pedophiles and child pornographers. Pornographic
photos and video clips can be uploaded and downloaded anonymously, while the interactive quality of
the Internet allows for the real-time exchange of images.
The most common method used by agents to snare child pornographers and other Internet criminals
is to set up an old-fashioned sting operation. Agents create an online persona, such as a child or an
adult with access to children, enter a chat room and engage the targets in a pseudo-relationship that
will eventually produce evidence against them.
In one investigation, Lawson posed as a father of an 8-year-old girl who had been having sado-
masochistic fantasies about his daughter and wanted advice on whether or not he should act on
them. Lawson received a number of replies ranging from advice on how to sexually torture the girl to
how to use a "date rape drug," to sedate her. The investigation culminated in the arrest of a Florida
man who had sent Lawson hundreds of pictures of young children being raped and tortured.
"We have lots of roles and we switch up regularly," said Lawson. "We'll work a particular area for two
or three months. We'll make two, three, four arrests, then we move everything. We switch addresses,
servers and move on to another chat room."
In 1995, the FBI started the Innocent Images program, a national initiative to coordinate investigations
into Internet child pornography and child sexual exploitation. Based in Baltimore, Md., the program
maintains a database of suspects, confiscated photos and other data. It also organizes
investigations in order to prevent overlapping work by various law enforcement agencies. FBI
assistant director Tom Pickard describes a typical child pornography
Undercover FBI agents spend most of their time in chat rooms, newsgroups, Internet relay chat (IRC)
channels and file servers. They usually don't surf the Net hunting targets but instead, enter an online
area following a tip from a user, service provider, or because of a group's title.
The two main crimes agents arrest suspects for in child sexual exploitation cases are trading
pornographic images of children or traveling to meet a child for the purposes of sex.
One of the FBI's recent cases involved the arrest of a man outside the Smithsonian Institution in
According to Tom Pickard, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Division, the man had been surfing
the Internet looking for children and stumbled upon an undercover agent posing as a 14-year-old girl.
"He was trying to have a young girl, or what he thought was a young girl, travel across state lines for
the purposes of having sex with him," said Pickard. "He followed up his suggestions with a bus ticket
and agreed to meet this alleged young girl on the mall of the Smithsonian. He met two 200-pound FBI
Investigators say there is no single profile that characterizes sex crime suspects.
According to Don Huyche, program manager for the U.S. Customs Service Child Pornography
Program, Customs agents recently arrested a pediatrician on an Indian reservation whose job it was
to examine abused children. The physician had sent over 400 pornographic images of children to an
online undercover agent and arranged to meet the agent's 8-year-old "daughter" for sex. "So he came
here, and we arrested him," said Huyche.
While child pornography is certainly one of the more egregious offenses carried out on the Internet,
investigators also pursue a range of other cyber crimes. To complicate enforcement efforts, the
crimes are often international in scope, requiring collaboration among a range of agencies.
"We've dealt with everything from extremists to murderers, fraud, illegal gambling, child pornography,
enticing children, sexual exploitation, black marketing of babies and prostitution." said Bruce
Headridge, detective constable in charge of Internet investigations for police in Vancouver, British
In recent years, law enforcement agencies worldwide have witnessed a disturbing trend — child
pornographers and pedophiles are moving to developing countries to find children to exploit.
According to U.S. Customs, 70 to 75 percent of the new child pornography on the Internet are photos
of children from impoverished regions.
"Almost every investigation now involves pictures of obviously Third World kids with obviously white
Anglo males," said Lawson. "It's a product of the sex tourism industry."
Although the Internet is an international entity that abides by few state boundaries, law enforcement
agencies must adhere to procedures and laws peculiar to their own country. What may be illegal in
one country could be perfectly legal elsewhere.
Even in nations with similar laws, such as Canada and the U.S., there are important differences. For
instance, in Canada, it's illegal to post written depictions of sex with a minor online while in the U.S.,
because of strict laws protecting free speech, such writing is not illegal.
Still, by joining their expertise in different areas, law enforcement agents are able to double their
efforts in combating online crime.
Wednesday's raid on over 100 suspects in the "Wonderland Club," a worldwide Internet child
pornography ring, was the work of British agents, Interpol, the U.S. Customs Service and local police
in 14 countries. 'If you check some of the chatrooms, people definitely know that law enforcement is
out there. But that hasn't stopped them.'
— SGT. BILL CODY
San Mateo County Sheriff's Office Following the 1996 arrests in the "Orchid Club," a child pornography
ring based in San Jose, Calif., British investigators performed a forensic analysis on computers
confiscated in the raid. With the help of an international group of experts, they were able to crack the
club's computer coding, some of which had been originally developed by the KGB, and uncovered a
list of members in the "Wonderland Club."
Although some would argue the Internet has made it easier for child pornographers and other
criminals to operate, many in law enforcement contend it's made their jobs easier.
"The good news for investigators is that you know where to find them. You know where they are," said
Lawson. "They're all right in one place."
As undercover agents infiltrate online chat rooms, criminals such as child pornographers and active
pedophiles are becoming increasingly skittish. Yet the number of arrests continues to climb.
"If you check some of the chatrooms, people definitely know that law enforcement is out there," said
Sargent Bill Cody with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office in Redwood City, Calif. "But that hasn't
stopped them. These guys find it hard to control their sexual urges."
If you know of a Child Pornography Site... REPORT THEM
You can also contact the Web Host's Company..Its usually
part of the sites URL. For more info see below.
If you are familiar with a computer. You can go to Network
Solutions or search engine and look up the owner of most dot
coms and internet site URL's.
If you don't know how or would like to simply report the site
email us and we will forward the information and or report the site