Good afternoon. Joining me on the stage today are Michèle Alliot-Marie, Minister of the Interior for France; Tomas Bocek, Deputy Justice Minister of the Czech Republic; Jacques Barrot, the European Union Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security; Stewart Baker, Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and, Max Peter Ratzel, the Director of Europol.
I'm pleased to be here today, not only to host this important meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs ministers, but also to speak briefly about the value of our law enforcement relationship with the European Union and its member states. The range of topics we discussed today illustrates both the extent and depth of that relationship. These topics include the sharing of information and evidence to help each other in our own domestic prosecutions; our joint counterterrorism efforts around the globe; and, additional ways in which we can cooperate to protect the children of the world from online exploitation and child pornography.
Crime is increasingly a global problem – and our solutions therefore have to be global as well. The kind of international cooperation we have been talking about today, and which has been happening daily, is vital to our success. We have to continue to build upon that success and look for opportunities to coordinate our efforts further.
One such example of this kind of coordination is Operation Joint Hammer, the American component of a global coordinated enforcement effort -- known as "Operation Koala" and led by the EU law enforcement agencies Europol and Eurojust – which targeted a vast network of child sexual exploitation. This joint EU/US coordinated effort began with the discovery in Europe of a father who was sexually abusing his young daughters and producing images of that abuse. That one case led to one of the largest ever transnational enforcement efforts against a web of Internet-based child pornography trading rings.
From that initial, horrible discovery, the investigation grew to reveal connections in nearly 30 countries around the world. In the United States alone, we have so far arrested 61 people and, as we continue to pursue additional leads, I expect there will be more arrests. Even more important, the work of U.S. law enforcement has resulted in the identification of 11 children in the United States who were victims of these terrible crimes, children who have now been given the chance to start their lives over in an environment free from abuse. Our international counterparts have identified many more, and taken the same kinds of action.
The members of this network of predators shared photos and stories of the abuse of innocent children, and exchanged tips on how to evade detection. They tried to hide in what they hoped was the anonymity of the internet.
What allowed this Operation to move from an isolated local case in a town in Europe, to a global investigation, was the cooperation and coordination of law enforcement professionals in many countries. Partners in each country shared their intelligence and their discoveries, and cracked the secrecy upon which the perpetrators depended.
This investigation was the first of its kind involving members of all major American agencies charged with the enforcement of child sexual exploitation laws, along with our partners at Europol, Eurojust and the European Union. I want to thank all of the agents, investigators, attorneys and other staff whose hard work led to the detection of these predators in the United States, including the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department's Criminal Division, and our U.S. Attorneys' Offices.
It should come as news to no one that crimes against children have been an area of special focus for the Department of Justice, and an area of great success. Through initiatives such as Project Safe Childhood, we have increased prosecutions of those who abuse and exploit children by over thirty percent in the last two years. Through a series of national media campaigns, we have made great strides in making parents and young people more aware of the dangers. And most important, through cooperation with other law enforcement agencies such as our partners in the European Union, we have identified – and in many cases, saved – hundreds of children depicted in images and videos of sexual abuse.
I wish that we would never have to start such investigations or bring such prosecutions—that criminals such as these did not exist. But as long as the do, it is imperative that our nations work together to rescue children from their abusers, and to bring to justice those who commit these vile acts.
Now I'll turn the podium over to some of our guests today for their comments and then we’ll be happy to answer some of your questions. First, I’d like to invite Assistant Secretary Baker to add his remarks from the perspective of the Department of Homeland Security.