The FBI ran a large child pornography service for two weeks late last year in hopes of nabbing some of its 5,000 users that shared thousands of images showing children being raped, displayed and abused.
According the Seattle FBI, after agents raided a Nebraska child pornography service in November, the site continued to distribute child pornography online while under FBI control. A Seattle-based special agent, a specialist in online crimes against children, detailed the investigation earlier this month in a statement to the court.
One report said the FBI operated the bulletin board-type site from Nov. 16 until it was shut down on Dec. 2 last year.
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The investigation appears to mark a departure for the bureau and other federal law enforcement agencies aiming to root out child porn purveyors.
Historically, child pornography investigations stem from tips made to law enforcement, interactions with undercover officers posing as customers or reviews of documentation seized during searches of child porn clearinghouses like the one recently raided in Nebraska. While investigators are known to have posed as child porn dealers, it is not apparent that the FBI previously dealt child porn as part of a sting.
The Nebraska investigation is still in its early stages, and, while charges appear to be forthcoming, no one being prosecuted has been publicly tied to the site thus far. Information obtained during the investigation resulted in a search of one Western Washington home, and investigators are presently reviewing computers seized during that April search.
The FBI has declined requests to discuss the investigation or investigators’ motivations to continue operating the site. Court records indicate investigators hoped to trace customers and were unable to do so through traditional means.
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Named only as “Website A” in an April 10 search warrant affidavit filed by the Seattle-based agent, the child pornography service advertised and shared child pornography. The affidavit was obtained by Seattlepi.com earlier in May through a publicly accessible court records system. It has since been sealed.
It was reported at the time the service was shuttered it had more than 5,600 users and 24,000 posts, nearly all of which related to child pornography. At least 10,000 photos of children being posed nude, raped or otherwise abused were broadcast through the site.
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