Operation Achilles

May 28, 2010

Child pornography is an unfortunate reality in today’s world, and it’s a crime that knows no borders, as one of our biggest cases in the area of child exploitation illustrates.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Friedland: Hello. I’m Bruce Friedland, and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. Child pornography is an unfortunate reality in today’s world, and it’s a crime that knows no borders, as one of our biggest cases in the area of child exploitation illustrates.

Mr. Wilder: Operation Achilles involved a large and very sophisticated group of online individuals trading in child pornography material. There were approximately 60 members that were loosely identified, and from the 60, approximately 20 were positively identified in this group. The group was spread out throughout the world and engaged in not only the distribution of child pornography, but in several rare occasions, they were specifically ordering material to be produced for their benefit.

Mr. Friedland: That’s Special Agent Chuck Wilder, a member of our Innocent Images Operations Unit, part of the FBI’s Cyber Crimes Program. Agent Wilder and others on the Innocent Images team were recently honored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for their work on Operation Achilles—a global takedown that required a global response from law enforcement.

Mr. Wilder: Child exploitation absolutely is a global problem, and it’s a problem that all of our law enforcement partners throughout the world need to engage and work smarter and collectively together. Obviously, with the advent of the Internet, the world has shrunk, and like-minded individuals are now able to—very quickly, at the touch of a keyboard—find each other and ultimately engage in the distribution and trade and production of child pornography. It’s one of those investigations where it’s paramount that law enforcement work together collectively on a global level to increase our odds and chances of being successful.

Mr. Friedland: Operation Achilles presented many challenges to the Bureau and the international task force that investigated the case. Intelligence Analyst Vicki Pocock, a member of the Innocent Images Operations Unit, says the criminals involved were sophisticated and went to great lengths to hide their activity.

Ms. Pocock: There were numerous challenges presented during Operation Achilles. The group utilized an unprecedented level of organization and sophistication. They had a timed test for prospective new members. They had to use encryption technology and Internet-based anonymizers, re-mailing services. They also intentionally corrupted their own child pornography files and only the new members knew how to reconfigure those files to be able to read the pictures or the video. They also had the uncanny ability to monitor worldwide news pertaining to law enforcement efforts in child pornography matters in order to better educate themselves to avoid law enforcement detection.

Mr. Friedland: Gathering, analyzing, and sharing intelligence was critical to the successful outcome of the 18-month investigation.

Mr. Wilder: The international takedown resulted in 24 search and arrest warrants being executed around the world, a near real-time event. All of the subjects were successfully located and apprehended, to include two in the United Kingdom, four in Germany, two in Australia, and 14 in the United States. Very specifically to the U.S. portion, seven of the U.S. subjects pleaded guilty pre-trial to a 40-count indictment and received federal sentences ranging from 13-30 years in prison. The remaining seven defendants opted for a joint, simultaneous trial. All seven were convicted by a jury and subsequently sentenced to life in prison. Most importantly, 12 child victims were identified and rescued based on the intelligence obtained through this investigation.

Mr. Friedland: Operation Achilles was groundbreaking. It was the first case in U.S. history to successfully charge the new Child Exploitation Enterprise Statute. It represents the Bureau’s largest computer-related seizure to date. It was the first case in which restitution was ordered for a child pornography victim. The investigation also led to more arrests.

Mr. Wilder: Based on the intelligence and the additional evidence obtained during Achilles, a separate joint international investigation involving 28 different countries was launched, titled Operation Koala. Today, Koala has resulted in greater than 850 arrests and the identification or recovery of greater than 20 additional child victims.

Mr. Friedland: The success of a case such as Operation Achilles could only be possible through the highest level of cooperation among law enforcement around the world.

Mr. Wilder: The partnership that was forged through Operation Achilles was outstanding. It gave law enforcement the opportunity to work very successfully together to show how this international cooperation will lead to the successful identification and prosecution of these like-minded individuals who are involved in this horrific and heinous crime. Through Operation Achilles we forged tremendous relationships with the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and other countries that were touched on—France, Canada, I think Sweden, several leads were sent. It was a giant, huge success for us and really highlighted and demonstrated the FBI’s ability using the Innocent Images International Task Force to attack and combat this matter.

Ms. Pocock: I’ve been working as an Intelligence Analyst for Innocent Images for approximately four-and-a-half years. I’ve been in the FBI for about 14 years. This has been the most rewarding violation I’ve worked. I’ve worked a couple of other areas—counterterrorism, counterintelligence—and this is definitely the most rewarding. To ultimately have an effect on rescuing a child or putting some of these perpetrators away for life is the most satisfying and rewarding feeling I’ve ever experienced in my career.

Mr. Friedland: In observance of National Missing Children’s Day on May 25, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children earlier this week presented its 2010 Law Enforcement Excellence Award to four members of the Innocent Images Operations Unit.

Mr. Wilder: I was very proud and happy with the accomplishments that our team was able to achieve here at the FBI through the Innocent Images Operations Unit regarding Operation Achilles. I think like most people, and most human beings, I was very honored and thrilled with the recognition we have received as we have gone down this path, that being from the Department of Justice, through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other outlets. There’s just great pride and great sense of accomplishment with working these types of matters. I’ve worked criminal matters my entire career, mostly violent crime matters, all of which have been phenomenal experiences. But working with the Crimes Against Children and the Innocent Images programs I have definitely pulled more feeling and self-satisfaction from these investigations probably more than anything I’ve ever worked.

Mr. Friedland: That’s our show for this week, thanks for listening. I’m Bruce Friedland of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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