- Robert S. Mueller, III
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Crimes Against Children Conference
- Dallas, Texas
- August 11, 2008
Thank you, Rick, for that introduction. It is great to be here today.
In June of 2002, Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home in the dead of night. For nine months, she was held captive, chained to a tree, threatened with physical violence, and, according to prosecutors, assaulted.
She lived through horrors most of us can only imagine, and yet she is just one child of many to experience such a nightmare.
Elizabeth Smart was fortunate—she was spotted on the street with her abductors and was rescued. But there are thousands of others who will not be so fortunate—children who are abducted, abused, trafficked, and exploited.
Recently, Ms. Smart and four other young adults worked with the Department of Justice to create a pamphlet for children who have survived abductions. In it, she writes, “You and I faced a very difficult challenge, and you, like me, have triumphed over this trial. You have a new and different life now—a new normal...You are still entitled to every possible happiness.”
All of us here today believe that children—at home and around the world—are entitled to every possible happiness. They are entitled to every possible hope for a new and different life.
We, too, cling to that sense of hope, with every case we work, with every predator we put away, and with every child we rescue.
* * *
It has been said that we are living in exponential times. Everything around us is moving and changing so quickly, it is often difficult to stay ahead of the curve.
In just the past decade, we have moved from lone predators with limited reach to global communities of pedophiles on the Internet. We have moved from back-alley bookstores to criminal enterprises that treat children as merely another commodity for sale in the global marketplace. We have moved from videos in plain brown packages to encrypted websites, flash drives, and cell phones capable of storing thousands of images.
In short, child exploitation has become a growth industry. But we are working every day to find and stop those who prey on our children.
The FBI’s Innocence Lost program identifies and disrupts child prostitution rings. A recent five-day sweep—spanning 16 cities and more than 50 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies—resulted in the arrests of 389 people, and the recovery of 21 children.
In the past five years alone, together with our law enforcement partners, we have convicted 308 criminals. We have recovered 433 children. And we have dismantled 32 criminal organizations.
These numbers may seem minimal in comparison to the scope of the problem. But our success in these investigations is measured by different metrics.
Today, there are 433 children who have a second chance to be a child. A second chance to find a “new normal,” in Elizabeth Smart’s words.
We are using new tools, new technology, and new partnerships to provide more children with that second chance. Our work in this area is truly a team effort, from investigators and prosecutors to child advocates and victim specialists, with the training and skills to interview and counsel these young victims.
For example, child abuse and exploitation pose a significant threat to those in Indian Country. Two years ago, we opened a Child Advocacy Center in Pierre, South Dakota, with the Department of Justice and our tribal partners.
This facility—centrally located between seven Indian reservations—provides a safe and neutral environment for interviewing child victims, and collecting the evidence we need to find those responsible.
The FBI’s Innocence Lost Child Prostitution Database puts more than 17,000 records of children and predators at the fingertips of investigators. You can see firsthand how this database works at the FBI’s lab out front.
And our Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Teams move quickly when a child is critically missing. In the past two years, these teams have been deployed 33 times to assist state and local law enforcement, with 15 children safely recovered. Fifteen children brought back home; 15 families made whole again.
But child abductions and prostitution are only part of the problem. The Internet has become a world market for child pornography. These are not mere pictures or posed shots, but live acts of molestation and made-to-order requests for increasingly sadistic images.
The FBI’s Innocent Images National Initiative targets predators that use the Internet to exploit children. Investigators may pose as children to lure predators into the open. They may pose as collectors seeking to share images through peer-to-peer networks.
They may coordinate with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify children and adults featured in child pornography. Or they may train police officers to investigate cases in their own jurisdictions.
As you know, there is no shortage of crime in cyber space. Our case load has spiked more than 2,000 percent since 1996. And we have convicted more than 7,500 child predators.
Global partnerships are particularly important in these investigations.
We are working with the Cambodian National Police and the Royal Thai Police to identify and prosecute individuals who travel overseas to exploit children.
Through the Innocent Images International Task Force, we are targeting criminal enterprises that produce and distribute child pornography. Our international partners know the customs and the cultures of their home countries. They are the first to see emerging threats. Today, information that once took weeks or even months to relay can be shared in minutes, simply by walking across the room, picking up a phone, or sending an e-mail.
I want to extend a special welcome to several individuals who just reported to this task force, from Austria, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Thailand, and Poland. Welcome aboard.
* * *
You may be familiar with Operation Achilles—an ongoing operation that led to the takedown of a sophisticated child pornography ring. This infamous group had traded more than 400,000 images of children, from infants to adolescents.
They boasted of being “untouchable” by law enforcement. Their security protocol was complex, with numerous passwords, encryption keys, and code-names. Their IP servers were disguised; their shared images were pixilated. They took every precaution to avoid detection.
Yet through the dedication of many investigators and many countries—from New Zealand, Australia, and Canada to Britain, Belgium, and Italy—we identified and arrested the key players. More importantly, we rescued 13 child victims, including one little girl who was central to this sordid group.
For more than two years, investigators around the world watched in horror as this young girl was molested, time and again. Thousands of pictures and images were traded around the world. Indeed, the series became a sort of “collector’s item” known as the “Tara Series.”
Led by Task Force Argos—part of the Queensland, Australia Police Service—investigators around the world searched for clues to her identity. They matched the paint color of a car in one image to a specific model sold in the United States. They traced the sale of a painting and a brand of bed linens to a hotel in the state of Georgia.
These isolated pieces of intelligence led to this girl’s recovery, and her father’s arrest.
This is the new way of doing business. No turf battles, no jurisdictional disputes—but a shared mission and a shared commitment to our most vulnerable victims.
Identifying child predators is only part of the problem. We must also collect and process the evidence necessary to convict them.
Digital forensic examiners—from the FBI’s Computer Analysis Response Teams and Regional Computer Forensic Laboratories—support a wide range of investigations. But crimes against children are the cases for which we receive the most requests.
For Operation Achilles, RCFL and CART teams examined more than 12,000 hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and the like in just 12 weeks—the largest seizure of data in any FBI case.
Unfortunately, such cases are all too common. In fiscal year 2007, examiners handled nearly 8,000 investigations—with a quarter of those cases related to child exploitation. They processed more than 2,500 terabytes of digital evidence, which, by some estimates, is five times the video content on YouTube.
And in the past four years, they have trained more than 10,000 law enforcement officers to identify, isolate, and store images from a suspect’s computer during consent searches. This is a large volume of work for a small but dedicated group of individuals.
* * *
If we have learned anything in recent years, it is that we cannot handle these challenges on our own. There is indeed strength in numbers.
Private sector partnerships are essential to our mission. We have asked Internet service providers and search engine operators to alert us when they discover illegal content on their websites, and to retain the data we need to identify and prosecute these predators. And social networking sites have agreed to help better protect children from inappropriate content and online predators.
These are small but important victories. Each time we find one predator, shut down one website, or rescue one child, it is a small but important victory. Small victories that will one day add up to a battle won.
* * *
There are days when it seems we are losing this battle. Days when it seems there are more predators than police officers, prosecutors, and child advocates combined.
But these predators cannot match our dedication. They cannot match our passion and our hope. Hope for a second chance for these children. Hope for a “new normal.”
With this conference, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable amongst us. We reaffirm our commitment to sweeping sexual predators off the street, off the Internet, and out of our children’s lives.
In closing, I want to say a word about those of you who investigate these cases. You spend your days exploring the darkest side of humanity, the most depraved individuals, and the most helpless victims.
This is perhaps the most difficult and emotional work we do. But it is some of the most important work we do. And you have our respect, our admiration, and our gratitude.
My sincere thanks to all of you...to the law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and social services personnel here today, including Ernie Allen and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
My thanks also to Lynn Davis, Rick Johnson, and the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. And my congratulations on the 20th anniversary of this important conference.
You all truly define diligence and devotion. Thank you and God bless.