In a sting that was New York’s biggest to-date, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested 71 individuals involved in child sexual exploitation, all of whom stand accused of possessing, distributing and/or producing child abuse imagery. In addition to the 71 arrests, investigators lawfully seized nearly 600 computing devices during the execution of 87 search warrants, including desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and thumb drives containing more than 175 terabytes of data that includes tens of thousands of sexually explicit images and videos of children.
“People children are supposed to trust”
The sting, codenamed “Operation Caireen,” shed light on the type of individuals sexually exploiting children. Many of those arrested held positions of public trust, including a police officer, a paramedic, a registered nurse and an individual who served as both a den master with the Boy Scouts of America and as a little league baseball coach. Speaking on behalf of the joint operation, special agent in charge of HSI’s New York office, James T. Hayes Jr., said, “The sheer volume of confirmed and suspected instances of individuals engaging in the sexual exploitation of children identified through Operation Caireen is shocking and the professional backgrounds of many of the defendants is troubling. We can no longer assume that the only people who would stoop to prey on children are unemployed drifters.”
Using Technology to Fight Child Sexual Exploitation
The sting, which involved U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as New York law enforcement, began as part of an undercover operation into peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. As the agencies surreptitiously infiltrated P2P networks, they were able to identify users in the New York City metropolitan area who sought to acquire or distribute known or suspected images and videos of children engaging in sexually explicit activities. Throughout the course of the operation, investigators identified nearly 150 unique IP addresses registered to users in the NYC metropolitan area, actively sharing explicit images of children. Techniques used by law enforcement agencies in this operation are on the cutting edge of technology in the fight against the sexual exploitation of children in the Deep Web. At Thorn, we have been working with tech companies to implement the use of a shared hash system, which allows companies to share digital fingerprints of abuse images via a cloud-based tool in order to more quickly clear their system of content and report it. We also collaborate with more than twenty technology companies through our Technology Task Force, bringing them together to help put an end to child sexual exploitation.
If You See Something, Say Something
In the wake of “Operation Caireen,” Otis E. Harris Jr., special agent in charge of the Coast Guard Investigative Service, New York Field Office, offered a call to action for all individuals. “The Department of Homeland Security is asking for the public to be watchful, to help identify those individuals responsible for child pornography, and we’re counting on those with information to come forward. No bit of information, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is too small. Each piece moves us forward toward justice and disrupting the crime of child pornography. It is extremely important to contact authorities with any information regarding child pornography.” We applaud HSI for their efforts in disrupting this network of child exploitation. We also urge you to learn more about our work, to educate yourself on the issue and read the facts about child abuse imagery. A better-educated community is the first step in raising awareness about this issue.