Tulsa Attorney BlogFeds Knowingly Distributed Child Porn in 2015 Sting Operation

Sting Marks New Extreme in Controversial Tactics

Tulsa entrapment attorneyThat hooker hawking casual dates to “generou$” men on Craigslist? She’s a cop.

The guy mailing “medical grade bud” to anywhere in the nation from a Colorado Facebook account? Cop.

That biker-looking guy who showed up after you blurted out at the bar you need a hit man? You guessed it. Undercover cop.

They call them sting operations. Cops set up a criminal enterprise then bust anybody who does business with them.

Isn’t that entrapment, people often ask. That is the question defense attorneys often bring to court when their clients are nabbed in sting operations.

What is Entrapment?

The line between legal stings and illegal entrapment is presumably straightforward. Courts say people who were inclined to commit the crime anyway are fair game for sting operations. When undercover cops encourage people to break laws they would not otherwise break, it is entrapment.

Lately, some sting operations have become so aggressive, so systematic and so much a primary source of criminal charges some media say the line is not blurred – it is gone. In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch said widespread investigative abuses “raise troubling questions about the fairness and effectiveness of many of the policies, practices, and tactics” in federal terror investigations.

Titled Illusions of Justice, the report alleged the feds have been directly involved in most of the terror plots they stopped since September 11, 2001. In many cases, informants dreamed up schemes that targeted suspects for their religious or political views. Targets included those seeking religious guidance, indigents and mentally disabled individuals. Informants sometimes ignored targets’ reluctance toward violence.

But things are different where terrorism is involved, some would say. Whatever it takes to stop terrorists from killing thousands in future attacks is fair play, some argue.

Likewise, some law enforcement officials claimed illegal firearms trade is so rampant along the Mexican border, with such deadly consequences, they need to dirty their hands in deep undercover operations to get the bad guys. They did.

It was called Fast and Furious. Federal agents worked with licensed Phoenix-area firearms dealers to sell large numbers of AK-47 combat-rifle variants and long-range .50 caliber rifles to suspicious buyers. They hoped to collect buyers’ names and addresses. In many cases, agents knew the buyers were straw purchasers – buying weapons solely for resale to criminals.

In 2010, two U.S. Border Patrol agents were killed by gunmen using rifles federal agents had allowed into the market. Federal agents familiar with the “gunwalking” tactics blew the whistle to Congress. The now-infamous scandal tainted reputations across a letter soup of federal agencies – including the ATF, DEA, DHS, FBI and IRS.

Are you sitting down? You’d better for this next part. All of that pales in light of the feds’ latest sting scandal.

Fast and Furious II: Too Fast, Too Furious

For nearly two weeks in 2015, the FBI was one of the world’s largest Internet distributors of child pornography. That’s right. Child pornography is so dangerous to children depicted in prurient materials, the FBI found it proper to distribute prurient depictions of children engaged in God knows what – some barely kindergarten age.

The FBI seized what they called a major child porn site, moved it to a facility in Newington, Va., where the site ran from government computers. Agents did not post any new child porn, they said in court documents, but did allow users to continue uploading and downloading illegal sexually explicit images of children, according to MSN.com.

Here’s how it happened. There is this thing called the dark Web. It is a not so tiny corner of the Internet where users’ activities are nearly impossible to trace. An ad hoc network of volunteers lets their computers serve as nodes for encrypted traffic. By the time a message gets where it is going, nobody knows where it came from.

Called the TOR Project (The Onion Router), the encrypted network has become a thoroughfare for free speech in parts of the world where criticizing the government can be dangerous. The anonymous network has also attracted its share of nefarious users along with well-funded government spooks trying to track them down.

In 2012, feds seized three child porn Websites operating on TOR from Nebraska. Agents moved the servers to an FBI facility in Omaha. The government allowed the sites to continue operation “for a short period of time,” one agent testified.

In 2013, agents took over rented servers in France that hosted Websites accessible only to TOR users. Some of the sites allegedly provided child pornography. Security experts analyzed code hidden in error messages users found after the FBI seized the servers. They discovered an exploit that sent information about users to a Northern Virginia server widely suspected as an FBI asset.

The exploit used a flaw in the Firefox browser, which in turn serves as the basis for the TOR browser. Security experts say that particular hole in Firefox was patched in more recent versions.

News reports say the Playpen site operated by the FBI from Feb. 20 to March 4, 2015 had more than 215,000 registered users. The site included links to more than 23,000 explicit videos and images of children. It was reportedly one of the largest child porn sites worldwide.

Federal prosecutors have long argued – including in cases affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court – that children are exploited by the mere viewing of sexually explicit photographs in which they are depicted. Yet, the government has no way to stop redistribution of images downloaded from servers it operates during investigations.

Until recently federal officials have immediately taken child porn sites off line when they seize servers, at least as far as we know from media reports. A former FBI official involved in the new tactic told journalists that leaving the sites online – and allowing users to continue downloading child porn – is the only way to identify large numbers of participants.

Government officials argue that visitors to child porn sites like Playpen know exactly where they are going and why they are there. An attorney for one man charged in the child porn sting operation likened it to police flooding a neighborhood with drugs in hopes of catching low-level users.

Free Consultation: Tulsa Criminal Attorney

If you have questions about a law enforcement sting operation, or you are facing charges you believe resulted from entrapment, contact the Tulsa criminal attorney at Wirth Law Office for a free consultation. Call (918) 879-1681 or use the email form at the top of this page to send you question.

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