Innocent Images International Task Force
Looking Back Over the Years...And Overseas
|(From left) Ernie Allen, president and
CEO of the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children,
appears at FBI Headquarters
on February 24 with the following
members of the Innocent Images
International Task Force: Federal
Agent Michael Hawkins, Australian
Federal Police; Supervising Agent
Ronald Aguto, National Bureau of
Investigation, the Philippines; and
Constable Judy Foy, Royal
Canadian Mounted Police
Nearly 13 years ago, two special agents working a missing child case out of our Baltimore field office discovered something startling: pedophiles were using computers to transmit sexually explicit images of minors on a primitive form of the Internet.
The agents quickly learned the suspects were also using electronic bulletin boards to lure minors into engaging in illicit sexual activity.
In May 1995 we launched the “Innocent Images National Initiative,” an undercover operation to catch those who would prey on our children using the Internet. We started with a handful of agents.
In the 10 years since we officially launched the program and established the Innocent Images Unit, we and our law enforcement partners-many of whom we’ve trained-have opened more than 15,500 cases; charged more than 4,700 criminals; and arrested more than 6,100 subjects.
Our work has led to more than 4,800 convictions and pre-trial diversions.
Now hundreds of agents are working undercover at more than 30 operations nationwide. They plumb the depths of the Internet to root out child pornography and to pose as minors to snare adults who want to sexually exploit children.
The unit works with our partners at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which helps us identify victims through our Child Victim Identification Program.
Innocent Images is a component of our Cyber Division, and is funded by an annual $10 million dedicated earmark from Congress.
“Our top investigative priority is the disruption and dismantling of online groups, organizations, and for-profit enterprises which seek to exploit children,” Louis M. Reigel III, assistant director of the Cyber Division, said in delivered at an event February 24 marking the 10th anniversary of the program.
“It is impossible for you to appreciate the impact Innocent Images has had, without knowing the horribly dark and depraved world that exists out there.” said Andrew G. Oosterbaan, chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section at the Department of Justice.
Reigel also announced that since September 2004 we have been running the Innocent Images International Task Force, made up of international investigators who work side-by-side with FBI agents to combat global child exploitation.
The international task force started as a six-month project targeting websites that distribute child pornography, but now pursues other child exploitation investigations as well. Law enforcement officials from foreign countries travel to our Innocent Images Unit in Calverton, Maryland, where they can share tactics and information with each other and with us, and to cooperate in international investigations.
The task force has helped the Innocent Images Unit tackle the increasingly complex child exploitation cases, Reigel said. The task force has generated more than 3,000 leads in the United States and 2,000 in other nations.
“Online child predators and child exploitation are not just an American problem. They are worldwide problems,” FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said. “We have committed ourselves to working with our partners around the world to combat these problems.”
So far, we have hosted investigators from 12 countries, with more to come. Task force partners from Australia, Belarus, Canada, the Philippines, Thailand and the United Kingdom appeared at the press conference with Mueller and Reigel.
“The ability to share information and technical expertise and engage in international covert investigations is crucial to making the Internet a safer place for everyone worldwide,” said Lewis Hunt, a team leader of the Paedophile On-Line Investigation Team at the National Crime Squad based in London. “That fight does not belong to one law enforcement agency or one country.”