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Attorney General Announces Huge Kiddie Porn Bust

Aired August 8, 2001 - 11:30   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Federal authorities are expected to announce that they have put the lid on one of the largest child porn operations ever.

Let's go to the Justice Department -- Kelli Arena standing by there, in Washington -- Kelli.


Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to detail the continued crackdown of this what they are describing as the largest child pornography outfit ever uncovered. The subscribers are the ones that will be indicted today. The operators of this Web site, a Texas couple, had already been convicted and sentenced, sentenced just Monday -- the husband getting a life-in-prison sentence, and his wife getting a 14-year sentence. But today, we are expecting the attorney general to announce that there are indictments that will go out for people who subscribe to this Web site.

This Web site, for $29.95, subscribers could give their credit card information to this Texas couple who operated a company called Landslide Incorporated, out of Texas. They would verify the credit card information; basically, as when you walk into a store, you swipe your credit card through. They provided that service and gave you a password; then you were able to get into these Web sites that offer child pornography -- not only stills, but videos, as well, of children engaging in sex with other children, children engaging in sex with adults.

So this is quite an accomplishment. It was a joint effort by not only the postal inspection service, but the U.S. Customs, FBI, and the Dallas Police -- Leon.

HARRIS: Kelli, do we know how many states they may be covering in this investigation?

ARENA: Obviously, this is an Internet operation, so it goes across the United States. There are supposedly 250,000 subscribers, and quite a lucrative business: Between 1997 and 1999, the government says that this Landslide Incorporated netted -- that's netted -- more $1 million.

Leon, the press conference with the attorney general, I am told, is just starting. Why don't we listen in? (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me thank all of you for coming today, and good morning.

As we speak here together, more than 125,000 Department of Justice employees are working to provide a safe, free, just America. In neighborhoods and communities across the country, the men and women of the Justice Department are securing our borders, investigating and prosecuting offenders who violate our laws, and ensuring that all our citizens can participate in the full measure of our nation's opportunities.

All of this work is important, but none is more important than the effort we undertake to provide a safe America for our children. Today, we are announcing the results of Operation Avalanche, a major initiative that combines the investigative resources of the Department of Justice, the Dallas Police Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

More than merely another successfully prosecuted case, Operation Avalanche stands as a model of federal, state and local cooperation in the investigation, prosecution, and perhaps most importantly, prevention of the sexual exploitation of children.

Regrettably, the work of the Department of Justice to provide a safe America for children now extends well beyond the physical world into the electronic universe of cyberspace. Few would disagree that the World Wide Web offers unparalleled educational and recreational opportunities for our young people; but there are back alleys and dark corners of the Internet where children can be exposed to inappropriate material or even become susceptible to offenders who view them as sexual objects.

These offenders leverage the technology and anonymity of the Internet to trade and produce child pornography, explore their sexual interest in children and to identity youth susceptible to manipulation and exploitation.

Large numbers of young people are encountering sexual solicitations they did not want. They encounter sexual material they did not seek. And in the most serious cases, are targeted by offenders seeking children for sex.

Today's Internet has also become the new marketplace for child pornography. In their efforts to stop the electronic proliferation of these obscene materials, our law enforcement officers are often out- gunned and out-teched by the profit-driver purveyors of child pornography. To help make the Internet a safe place for children to play and learn, the Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has been working to build a national network of state and local law enforcement agencies to respond to child pornography and cyber-enticement offenses.

The cornerstone of our efforts is the National Center Cyber-Tip Line which encourages citizens to report suspicious on line activity to law enforcement. Under the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program, we are providing training, equipment and funding to nearly 60 city, county and state law enforcement agencies. These agencies coordinate the efforts of more than 140 law enforcement agencies in 35 different states. In just over two years, they have arrested more than 500 offenders, seized more than 900 computers and reached thousands of children, teenagers and parents with information about safe Internet practices.

This successful coordination of all levels of law enforcement builds on the ongoing work of the Department of Justice, in addition to other federal agencies, in battling child pornography. The Federal Bureau of Investigations' innocent images national initiative is a nationwide effort to investigate those who traffic in child pornography and those who travel to commit sexual offenses against children.

The United States Customs Service battles international child pornography, much of which originates in the United States. In addition, the legal experts in the department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section provide innovative, technology-based training for investigators on the federal, state and local levels.

Today we are announcing the results of Operation Avalanche, a first-of-its-kind initiative involving unprecedented cooperation between local, state and federal law enforcement. Operation Avalanche combined the investigative resources of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Co-managed by the Dallas Police Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and coordinated through the ICAC Task Force program, this operation offers a blueprint of how federal, state and local law enforcement agencies can work together to protect children in cyberspace.

In a few minutes, Chief Inspector Ken Weaver will provide you with some specific details of this initiative. But before he does, I would like to recognize the co-managers of this investigation, Lieutenant Bill Walsh of the Dallas Police Department, Postal Inspector Ray Smith, and to thank them for their hard work and their leadership.

In addition, investigators worked closely with attorneys from the Department of Justice's Criminal Division Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. They provided critical legal guidance at the undercover design stage and throughout the operation of this particular effort. We thank them as well for their dedication and their expertise.

Understandably, today's announcement may alarm some parents. But I want to caution those with children who use the Internet not to immediately yank the cord from the family computer. The Department of Justice is not saying that you should deprive your children of the educational and recreational opportunities of the Internet.

In this, as in so many other areas, exercising caution is the best course. Parents may want to talk with their children about possible dangers online, set out rules for their online activities and encourage the children to tell parents when they become alarmed or disturbed by something that is seen online which is inappropriate.

Today's announcement emphasizes the resolve of the Department of Justice to make sure that cyberspace does not become a fire-free or a free-fire zone to target children. It notices that there are no free rides on the information highway for traffickers or child pornography.

To those in the sex industry who illegally prey on America's innocence, the Department of Justice will use every reason available to identify, investigate and prosecute those who violate the law to the fullest extent of the law. With the help and cooperation of parents, we will not only identify and prosecute those who seek to victimize children in cyperspace, but we will prevent future children from becoming victims as well.

It's now my pleasure to introduce Chief Postal Inspector Kenneth Weaver to provide the details on Operation Avalanche. I want to thank all of you for your concern and your participation...

ARENA: We've been listening to the attorney general, who has been trumpeting the success of the Operation Avalanche, a two-year investigation and crackdown of what has been called one of the largest commercial child porn enterprises yet uncovered. The attorney general advised parents not necessarily to pull the plug and disconnect them from the Internet, but rather to stay involved and alert children to the dangers that do exist on the Internet. This is stemming from the sentencing Monday of a Texas couple who allegedly were providing a gatekeeping service into child porn sites, netting more than $1 million over two years.

Back to you, Leon and Daryn.

HARRIS: Thanks, Kelli, we appreciate that.



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