Home News Testimony FBI's Role in Combating the Sexual Exploitation of Children via the Internet
  • Chris Swecker
  • Acting Executive Assistant Director, Law Enforcement Services
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
  • Washington, DC
  • April 06, 2006

Good morning Chairman Whitfield, Ranking Member Stupak, and other members of the Subcommittee. On behalf of the FBI, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address the FBI’s role in combating the sexual exploitation of children through the use of the Internet.

As the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has reported, one in five children will be solicited while online. Unfortunately, only 10 percent of these children will report it. In its eight years of operation, the Cyber tipline has generated over 385,000 leads, and reports of online enticement have increased by 400 percent.

The FBI's Innocent Images National Initiative is comprised of 36 under-cover operations nationwide. These operations involve FBI agents working online in an undercover capacity to seek child predators and individuals responsible for the production, dissemination, and possession of child abuse images. This is accomplished by using a variety of techniques, including purchasing child abuse images from commercial web sites, creating on-line personas to chat in predicated chat rooms, and co-opting predators’ e-mail accounts.

Our primary focus is addressing commercial child abuse image websites where predators are featured abusing children and which profit from their terrible crimes. These investigations always span multiple jurisdictions and usually expand beyond the borders of the United States.

The FBI has taken a global approach in addressing this problem by closely partnering with several countries who work side by side with FBI agents in a task-force setting. As I sit before the subcommittee today, officers from Norway, Thailand, the Philippines, and Belarus are working with our agents just a few miles from here. Additionally, task force membership includes officers from 11 other countries and Europol.

Other priorities include persons or groups who engage in the production of child abuse images, as the production of this material signifies the violent rape or sexual abuse of a child.

We also investigate sexual predators who travel from one jurisdiction to another to engage in sex with minors. These persons are particularly dangerous as they have gone beyond merely looking at images and have now engaged in activity to make contact with a child. However, these predators often find a cadre of FBI agents and task force officers on the other end of their travel.

Persons with large collections of child abuse images also represent a danger as we find a large percentage of those we arrest for possession are also committing contact offenses with minors.

Over the past 10 years, the Innocent Images program has grown exponentially. Between fiscal years 1996 and 2005, there has been a 2,050 percent increase in cases opened (113 to 2,500). During this 10-year period, the program has recorded over 15,556 cases opened; 4,784 criminals being charged; 6,145 subjects being arrested; and 4,822 convictions obtained.

The cases which led to these statistics were multi-jurisdictional with no geographical boundaries and both national and international in scope.

We have come a long way from the early electronic bulletin boards that pre-dated the Internet. Today an estimated 21 million teenagers use the Internet, with 51 percent online daily. As children use computers more and more, online child predators take advantage of emerging technologies to facilitate their unimaginable criminal activities.

Today, this program is an intelligence-driven, proactive, multi-agency investigative effort that pursues offenders who utilize websites, chat rooms, peer-to-peer networks, instant messaging programs, eGroups, newsgroups, file servers, and other online services to sexually exploit children. To address all of our priorities, this program readily draws on the resources of its federal, state, local, and now international law enforcement partners.

While conducting these investigations, FBI agents have found child sexual abuse images to be readily available using the most basic of search terms. As an example, child abuse images were easily available when innocuous search terms were used, such as "Britney Spears" or the word "young."

Through the use of covert investigative techniques and administrative subpoenas, FBI agents can determine which individual users possess and distribute child abuse images over the Internet. Furthermore, utilizing search warrants, interviews, and computer forensic tools, our agents can strengthen their cases to eventually arrest and prosecute these dangerous criminals.

As you may have noticed throughout my presentation, I have not used the phrase "child pornography," because it does not adequately describe the type of crime we are talking about today. To some people, pornography may imply adult models posing for the camera. Child pornography does not describe the reality of the crime problem we are facing today. This crime deals with the violent rape and sexual exploitation of young children, some as young as a few months old. Therefore, each image represents evidence of the criminal reality of a violent rape or sexual abuse of a child.

The FBI has partnered with NCMEC in a significant and meaningful way. Currently there are two FBI special agents and four FBI support personnel assigned full time at the center. Further, in March of 2005, the FBI merged its Child Victim Identification Program (CVIP) database with that housed at the National Center. This merger has drastically increased the number of known victims in the CVIP database and has made FBI data available to all other law enforcement agencies that investigate these violations. Ultimately this partnership benefits both the FBI and the National Center, but more importantly it benefits the children we serve.

In June of 2003, the FBI, along with our partners in the Department of Justice, Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and NCMEC implemented the “Innocence Lost National Initiative” to address the growing problem of child prostitution. Initially, the FBI identified 14 field offices with a high incidence of child prostitution. In FY 2005 and through the first quarter of FY 2006, an additional 10 field offices were identified as areas in which these criminal enterprises were operating.

These criminal enterprises use the Internet to advertise the children they have forced or tricked into prostitution, often masquerading as escort services, which leads to further victimization of the children.

These investigations are manpower intensive, intelligence driven and make use of sophisticated investigative techniques such as Title III wiretaps. To date, five FBI field offices have utilized Title III wiretaps in these investigations. As a result, since FY 2004, 166 cases were opened, 28 criminal enterprises disrupted, 16 enterprises dismantled, 101 individuals indicted, 75 subjects convicted and 80 seizures claimed. Since the inception of Innocence Lost, over 300 children have been recovered.

According to NCMEC, in FY 2005 there were 7,000 reports of endangered runaways and 774 reports of children involved in or suspected of being involved in child prostitution. FBI personnel assigned to the NCMEC review these intake reports daily and disseminate the information to the appropriate FBI field office for investigation.

Conclusion

In closing, the FBI looks forward to working with other law enforcement agencies, private industry, and the Department of Justice’s prosecutors in continuing to combat this heinous crime problem. The protection of our children requires the combined efforts of all sectors of our society.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Subcommittee for addressing this very serious problem, and I would also like to thank Chairman Whitfield, Ranking Member Stupak, and the Subcommittee for the privilege of appearing before you today.

 
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