Wednesday, July 9, 2003

The Department of Homeland Security yesterday announced a law enforcement initiative known as Operation Predator, aimed at protecting children from pornographers, child prostitution rings, Internet predators and human traffickers.

The program, coordinated through the department’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), uses the Internet to more effectively identify child predators, prosecute them and force them out of the country if they are foreigners subject to deportation.

“Operation Predator integrates the department’s authorities to target those who exploit children,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said. “The Department of Homeland Security is coordinating the department’s once-fragmented investigative and intelligence resources into a united campaign against child predators.”

As part of the program, ICE officials will partner with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to facilitate the exchange of information on missing children, as well as investigative intelligence leads.

For the first time, bureau officials said, an ICE senior special agent has been assigned to the center to coordinate those leads requiring law enforcement attention.

ICE officials also will work with the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service and the Justice Department to develop a National Child Victim Identification Program.

The secure system will be the nation’s first comprehensive program of child pornography images designed to help police around the world identify and rescue children featured in the images and crack down on those who make and distribute the material.

Operation Predator will be run out of ICE headquarters in Washington, which will coordinate all field enforcement actions from the ICE cyber-smuggling center in Fairfax.

The operation will draw on the full spectrum of cyberspace, intelligence, investigative, and detention and removal functions of ICE to target those who exploit children.

“There is nothing more important than protecting our children — the future of our nation,” said ICE boss Michael J. Garcia. “Through Operation Predator, ICE is in a unique position to carry out this critical responsibility.”

Mr. Garcia said that investigations by ICE into the sexual abuse of children already have yielded “dramatic results,” including the apprehension during a weeklong enforcement action ending June 30 of 89 foreign nationals convicted of sex offenses.

Although they stood convicted, he said, the foreign nationals, including 37 in Chicago alone, had evaded law enforcement efforts to remove them from the country.

He said that since March 1, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, ongoing ICE investigations of people suspected of child sex offenses have resulted in 88 arrests, 56 indictments, 77 convictions and 134 seizures.

ICE special agents also have opened 192 investigations of people suspected of child sex offenses during the same period, he said.

Mr. Garcia also noted that the National Child Victim Identification Program already has positively identified exploited children featured in about 300 child pornography images.

He said ICE has since given the information to several law enforcement agencies around the nation for investigative follow-up and judicial action.

“In one example, the New York State Police sent ICE several child pornography images. Using the new National Child Victim Identification System, ICE agents were able to positively match five of the images to actual children,” Mr. Garcia said. “The New York State Police used this information to prosecute a child pornography defendant who was claiming that the images were ‘virtual’ or ‘morphed’ images — not actual images of real children.”

In that case, he said, the jury found the defendant guilty based on ICE evidence proving that the images depicted real children.

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