Operation Spyglass targets top traffickers in images of child abuse
Twenty four of the state’s worst child exploiters have been arrested as part of an ongoing push to use new technology to target top traffickers in images of child sexual abuse, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced recently.
Joining Cooper to make the announcement were U.S. Attorneys Anne Tompkins, Ripley Rand and Thomas Walker and State Bureau of Investigation Director Greg McLeod.
SBI agents working with the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force made the arrests in recent weeks as part of Operation Spyglass. Investigators also served 27 search warrants to seize computers containing hundreds of thousands of illegal photos and videos of abused children, some as young as age 3. Several other investigations are under way, with more searches and arrests expected.
“These criminals are exploiting innocent children and contributing to their continuing misery and abuse,” Cooper said. “Crackdowns like this send a strong message that trading images of child sexual abuse is a crime and will not be tolerated in North Carolina.”
Operation Spyglass brought together dozens of law enforcement agencies from across the state and is expected to yield charges that will be prosecuted by federal prosecutors and local district attorneys. The SBI partners with 135 different law enforcement agencies as part of North Carolina’s ICAC Task Force and has trained hundreds of local officers to investigate online child predators.
Undercover investigators can identify suspects who download and share files that contain illegal child pornography, even when the suspects try to remain anonymous. While the trade in images of child abuse is a national and international problem, technology helps law enforcement in North Carolina focus their efforts on criminals operating in our state. Other cases start with tips reported through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cybertipline.
To verify the information gathered online or reported as tips, investigators examine records from Internet service providers and seize and search suspects’ computers and other electronic devices. When the evidence warrants, investigators can move quickly to make arrests, especially when the suspect has frequent access to children.
Among those arrested during Operation Spyglass are an active duty Marine Captain in Pender County, a teacher in Sampson County, a firefighter in Robeson County, a television editor in Wake County, and a British man arrested for sending child pornography and suggestive gifts to a Catawba County girl he met online.
Studies have shown that people who view and share images of child sexual abuse are highly likely to commit abuse. One study of convicted offenders serving time at a federal prison in North Carolina for downloading child pornography found that a majority of the offenders admitted that they had physically molested children.
“Criminals use technology to spread these horrible images and prey on kids, and we’re using advanced technology to catch suspects across North Carolina,” Cooper said. “Law enforcement needs tough laws and the latest tools to stop the criminals.”
Over the past few years, Cooper and the SBI have worked to win more help for the fight against child predators and child pornographers, including stricter laws, more SBI Computer Crimes Agents, and more computer forensics experts to analyze evidence at the State Crime Lab.
North Carolina’s ICAC Task Force is part of a nationwide ICAC network of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors dedicated to protecting children from online dangers. The United States Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention founded ICAC and provides funding for it. The SBI has been a member of ICAC since 2000.