Technology makes it easier for all of us to communicate and learn; it also makes it easier for child pornographers and molesters to commit their crimes and move furtively in the electronic shadows of the modern age. United States Customs Service (USCS) officials call it the Undernet, and they are striving to learn how to peer into the shadows and pull out the crooks that prey on children throughout the world.
USCS' first major success in battling Internet traffic in child pornography began in 1992 when a Denmark-based porn operation that was distributing and soliciting child pornography was discovered. USCS aptly named the sting Operation Longarm, which resulted in a refining of investigation techniques for officers dealing with electronic crimes and evidence, a heightening of international awareness about the consequences of child pornography, and 35 stateside arrests and convictions.
USCS has always been the front line of defense against illegal trafficking and distribution of child pornography in America. Before 1977, officials did the job under obscenity statutes and seized hard-copy video and printed pornography. In 1977, Congress enacted the first child-pornography-specific statutes, strengthened them with the Child Protection Act of 1984 and expanded the act to include the trafficking of child pornography with the assistance of a computer in 1988.
Only a decade ago, no one could have imagined the doors the computer was about to open to international pedophiles.
Back then, USCS thought that the computer was mainly a tool for ordering hard-copy pornography. One of its most successful techniques was to set up shop as a purveyor of the material, take an order from a user, and have a customs agent -- dressed up in a DHL uniform -- deliver the magazine or video tape to the perpetrator's door.
"We let the bad guy get his prints on it, then served our search warrant and busted him. In late 1992, we did one of these controlled deliveries and found even more child porn on the guy's computer -- stuff we had never seen, all stored electronically," said Don Huycke, USCS supervising special agent. "That was the birth of Longarm. This first guy told us about a Europe-based bulletin board he had accessed to get the pictures, and when we went looking, we found this BBS in Denmark called Bamse. On it we found every type of sex act you can perceive of -- animal, homosexual, urination, defecation and child porn. There were three separate child-porn rooms connected to this bulletin board."
While investigating, they found two other Denmark-based bulletin boards using child-porn images from the Bamse site. In each case, users were asked to pay a subscription fee or supply child-porn images of their own in exchange. Huycke and his team downloaded some of the material they found and sent it to the U.S. attach