- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

The U.S. Customs Service, along with law enforcement officials in 10 countries, executed search warrants yesterday on members of a private Internet group that exchanged and downloaded child pornography over the Internet.
Eight persons in the United States and more than 30 others in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Japan, Finland, Austria and Sweden were targeted in an international investigation that began last November.
One arrest was made in the United States, although additional charges are expected as the investigation develops. The probe focused on suspected child pornographers in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Nevada, Oregon and Alaska.
Customs Service spokesman Kevin Bell said the U.S. targets included a military pilot, a network administrator for a publishing firm, a registered nurse, an artist and several others. He said agents seized 12 computers, 600 compact and floppy disks, 200 videos, one digital camcorder and a book on how to seduce children.
Three of those targeted in the investigation were identified as previously unknown members of the notorious "Wonderland Club" child pornography ring dismantled in 1998, Mr. Bell said.
"While stopping terrorists and their tools from entering the country is now our top priority, the U.S. Customs Service continues to aggressively pursue those who would exploit children through Internet-based child pornography," said Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.
"This investigation is yet another example of how important international cooperation is to solving these types of cases," he said.
The investigation, known as "Operation Artus," began in November 2001 when agents of the German National Police, assisted by local police in Muenster, Germany, executed a search warrant on a German citizen suspected of distributing child pornography.
Mr. Bell said German authorities later discovered the man had been exchanging child pornography over the Internet through a private Internet relay chat channel.
He said with the man's consent and cooperation, German National Police were provided the nicknames of some of the members of the group.
German National Police and U.S. Customs agents determined that a common aim of the members was to find and exchange child pornography in DVD quality movie files, Mr. Bell said, adding that as a requirement, members had to offer new child pornography from time to time to remain part of the group.
This, he said, raised concerns among law enforcement that members were involved in the actual production of child pornography.
As a result of the German investigation, Mr. Bell said law enforcement from 10 countries identified 46 targets including eight in the United States. The U.S. Customs Cyber Smuggling Center in Fairfax identified the names and addresses of the U.S. targets and coordinated the U.S. enforcement actions with the Justice Department's Child Exploitation Section.
The search warrants were issued but remain sealed pending the conclusion of all domestic leads.
The Customs Service search warrants were served just days after the FBI announced that it had charged 86 persons in 26 states in a separate Internet child-pornography ring that included eight members of the clergy.
The FBI probe, known as "Operation Candyman," uncovered an estimated 7,000 members who were using e-mail and a Web site through Yahoo to post, download and share pornographic images of children.
The Customs Service Wonderland Club investigation in 1998 saw the arrest of 53 people in 14 countries in what authorities said at the time was the largest ever worldwide sweep of suspected pedophiles using the Internet.
Dozens of addresses were raided, including 32 in the United States alone, resulting in the seizure of computers holding more than 1 million photos.


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