MR. ERNIE ALLEN: Mr. Attorney General, welcome to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. We're proud of our 22-year partnership with the Justice Department. But there has never been a time that we have done more together to do more to protect America's children or to target those who prey upon children than right now. And that's because of your leadership and your commitment.
With your National Resource Center for Missing and Exploited Children and partnership with the Office of Justice programs and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, we're supporting the efforts of Assistant Attorney General Regina Schofield as the National Amber Coordinator. We're working closely with the FBI, which has seven agents and analysts here and working out of the Center. We've launched an extraordinary partnership with the FBI and you called Innocence Lost, targeting child trafficking and prostitution. We're working with the U.S. Marshals Service targeting fugitives who victimize children. The Marshal Service also assigns an investigator here. We're proud of our non-Justice Department detailees who you just met from ICE and the Postal Inspection Service who are doing extraordinary work. We're working hand-in-hand with your Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, targeting adult offenders who prey upon children. We're operating the National Missing Children's Hotline and the 911 for the Internet, the Cyber Tip Line, and as you know, there's a lot more.
Mr. Attorney General, we are deeply grateful for your leadership and your commitment to children. Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present a great friend, ally and champion for America's children, the Attorney General of the United States, the Honorable Alberto Gonzales.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES: Good morning. Thank you, Ernie. I want to thank all of you for having me here at the National Center to talk with you and with the American people. I want to have a dialogue with the American people about the protection of our kids from exploitation over the Internet.
My wife, Rebecca, and I toured this facility and met with many of you last July. We were inspired by all that the people of the National Center do to protect children. Your unyielding efforts are critical to law enforcement, and they are a lifeline to parents. And I am deeply grateful for the relationship we have with the Center.
What struck Rebecca and me the most during our visit, and I see it again today in your eyes, is the level of dedication you show to the National Center's cause and its work. I know it's not easy. To all of striving to safeguard our children, I want to give you my personal thanks. No cause could be more courageous or more noble.
As you know, there has been a great deal of attention focused child exploitation issues lately in the press and by Congress. That is a good thing. The welfare of our children is worthy of debate and examination.
Most of you here, of course, are painfully aware of how widespread the threat is of pedophiles preying on children online, or abusing kids and sending images of the abuse around the world through the Internet. The threat is frighteningly real. It is growing rapidly, and it must be stopped.
The National Center has done a remarkable job in raising our awareness about the dangers of child sexual abuse, enticement and pornography. Yet I think many people still don't appreciate the scope, the nature and the import of this criminal activity, and the threat that it poses to our kids.
To educate people about this threat, I'm going to describe some of the criminal evidence that we have seized. It is graphic. But if we do not talk candidly, then it is easy for people to turn away and worry about other matters. And I think it's time to deliver a wake-up call about the true nature and the scope of this criminal activity, the depth of the depravity, and the harm being inflicted upon innocent children.
I've seen pictures of older men forcing naked young girls to have anal sex. There are videos on the Internet of very young daughters forced to have intercourse and oral sex with their fathers. Viewing this was beyond shocking, and it makes my stomach turn. But while these descriptions may make some uncomfortable, we will not defeat this threat unless we all really understand the nature of the child pornography that is now prevalent on the Internet.
As the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, my job is to investigate and prosecute crimes against our children. Changes in technology have made that much more difficult.
And of course, privacy rights must always be accommodated and protected as we conduct our investigations. But I fear that if we do not do more, if parents, community, business, civic, industry and political leaders do not work better together, then we will lose this fight on behalf of our children.
And so today my message to the American people focuses on two categories of cases; sexual enticement of minors, and child pornography. As you know, enticement cases are those where predators contact kids in chat rooms or through networking sites and arrange to meet in person with the purpose of making sexual contact.
We've watched as investigative journalists have posed as teens in chat rooms. With great ease, they have lured priests and teachers, doctors and lawyers, all of whom thought they were going to have sexual contact with children. And we've seen news coverage of high profile arrest and sting operations. And, of course, the National Center and law enforcement have been focused on identifying, investigating and prosecuting these offenders for some time.
But I welcome the media's recent focus. It's important that the public learns how serious and widespread this threat actually is in America today because of the ease and anonymity of communication over the Internet.
According to one study, one child in every five is solicited online. The television program Dateline estimated that at any given time, 50,000 predators are on the Internet prowling for children. It is simply astonishing how many predators there are, and how aggressive they act.
Educating the public about the enticement threat is especially critical because of the role that parents can play in making sure their children use the Internet safely. It may sound trite, but parents have to be the first line of defense. And I know the National Center works hard to inform parents and kids about online dangers.
Another major topic of sexual exploitation case involves the production, distribution or possession of child pornography. And this is the area where I am most concerned; that people fail to recognize the magnitude of the problem and its impact on children in our society.
Too many people, when you mention the term "child pornography," they think of distasteful but somewhat benign pictures. Maybe a photograph of a partially nude teenager in a suggestive pose. To them, child pornography is different from the adult pornography, that the Supreme Court has said gets First Amendment protection, but only by degree. And they might even add the well worn notion that child pornography is a victimless crime.
For starters, let's be very clear. It is not a victimless crime. Most images today of child pornography depict actual sexual abuse of real children. Each image literally documents a crime scene. There is nothing mild or benign about child pornography. That was true decades ago when the Supreme Court ruled that child pornography is not entitled to any protection under the First Amendment, and it is certainly true today where the vast majority of images being produced are far more sinister.
Now I've already talked about some of the images I have seen at the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section at the Department of Justice, that there are even more shocking and vulgar images that we've uncovered. We're talking about a young toddler tied up with towels, desperately crying in pain, while she is being brutally raped and sodomized by an adult man. Another was of a mere infant being savagely penetrated.
In Operation Hamlet, a case principally investigated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we dismantled an international ring of people who are molesting their own children and each other's children. They captured it all on camera, and they shared the images. They even did it on webcams sometimes so that other molesters could watch it live.
These are not just pornographic pictures or videos. They are images of graphic sexual and physical abuse of innocent children and even babies.
We need to get the public, as well as government officials, to start thinking about it in the right terms. It is brutal. It is heinous, and it is criminal. But understanding the problem goes beyond getting the terminology right. It used to be that child porn was tightly contained by law enforcement, with isolated pornographers relegated to small black markets in underground book stores or secret mailings. Today, though, pedophiles can download or trade images on the web through e-mail, in chat rooms or news groups or over peer-to-peer networks or file servers. Sadly, the Internet age has created a vicious cycle in which child pornography continually becomes more widespread, more graphic, more sadistic, using younger and younger children. Those in this room understand this cycle.
But let me explain a bit, because having the public understand it is critical to appreciating the present state of the problem. At the most basic level, the Internet is used as a tool for sending and receiving large amounts of child pornography on a relatively anonymous basis. But the Internet has become more than just an expanding supply of images for pedophiles to gratify their urges.
Before the Internet, these pedophiles were isolated, unwelcome even in most adult book stores. Through the Internet, they have found a community. Offenders can bond with each other, and the Internet acts as a tool for legitimizing and validating their behavior in their minds. It emboldens them.
And this is where the Internet's vicious cycle leads the trends that I mentioned above. The pedophiles seek to build larger collections of photographs and videos as a license into their community. As they become desensitized to the images they have, they seek more graphic, more heinous, and more disturbing material.
At some point, the pedophiles meet strong incentives, not just to collect images, but to produce new ones themselves. Part of it is the desire to see novel and more graphic images with younger and younger children. And today's technology makes it easier and less costly for anyone to produce these images and distribute them widely.
The other incentive is that trading rules in parts of this community require that participants offer new pornographic images in order to get images from fellow users. Images of sexual abuse of children becomes something of a currency, a way to get more pictures. Collectors become producers, and to be in the club, they have to find a child to abuse. And they are driven by the desire for increasingly graphic images.
And so the Internet just feeds a vicious cycle. It makes child pornography more accessible and validates the pedophile's behavior in their minds, driving them to molest even more children and to make new and increasingly vulgar material.
The Internet has also fundamentally changed the type of victimization that children endure. Imagine a ten-year-old boy who was sexually abused by a family member. He will always wear the scars of that tragic time. And stopping the abuse means uprooting the family, which further affects children. And because of the Internet and the trends it has caused, he will continue to be victimized in other ways.
Pedophiles will often use the images of children as a tool to silence them or to blackmail them into more molestation or pornography, or worse yet, into the horrific trades of child trafficking and prostitution. And the boy will always know that the pictures of his very personal abuse are out there on the Internet, which leads to feelings of embarrassment and helplessness, that cause an ongoing and cruel victimization.
Another trend we are seeing is the so-called molestation-on-demand, where a pedophile molests a child and others watch live through streaming video. We saw that in a case I mentioned before, Operation Hamlet.
A variation was in United States versus Mariscal, a case. We found that Mariscal had been traveling to Cuba and Ecuador over a seven-year period, taking orders from customers to produce child porn to the customer's liking.
He would allow customers to write fantasy scripts, and then he would find poverty-stricken families and pay them to allow them to sexually abuse their children, some under the age of 12. And Mariscal would make between $600 and $1,000 per order.
To make matters worse, Mariscal was HIV positive. We caught him and his co-conspirators. And in September 2004, he was sentence to a 100-year prison term.
Now I'd like to say that these kind of criminal behaviors are isolated or rare. Sadly, they are not, as you know. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are in the midst of an epidemic in the production and trafficking of movies and images depicting the sexual abuse of children.
Now more than ever, we need to educate the public on the realities of the dangers posed by child sexual predators, abusers and pornographers.
And so the question becomes how we as a society are going to respond. There can be only one answer. We cannot, and we will not tolerate those who seek to abuse or exploit our children. President Bush is absolutely committed to this cause. He has made my mission clear, stating, and I quote: "Anyone who targets a child for harm will be a primary target of law enforcement."
And at the Department, we are working more of these cases than ever before in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, in the FBI's Innocent Images Unit, and in U.S. Attorneys' offices around the country. We are funding the Internet Crimes Against Children program, a successful network of 45 task forces that I know that you all work with closely.
Under President Bush, the funding for the ICAC program has more than doubled to over $14 million in Fiscal Year 2006.
And on February 15th of this year following the President's directive to protect more children, I announced Project Safe Childhood, an initiative aimed and combating the online exploitation and victimization of children.
Through Project Safe Childhood, we will build on our efforts in this area by making law enforcement at all levels more coordinated, better trained and more involved. And we will use our federal resources at the Justice Department to make sure that we find these criminals and that we keep them away from our kids.
We are moving closer to formally implementing Project Safe Childhood, after soliciting support and suggestions from a number of people and organizations, including the National Center, and I intend to announce additional details next month.
It is my hope that this new program will make a real difference in the lives of Americans, and especially our children. But in order for Project Safe Childhood to succeed, we have to make sure law enforcement has all the tools and information it needs to wage this battle.
The investigation and prosecution of child predators depends critically on the availability of evidence that is often in the hands of Internet service providers. This evidence will be available for us to use only if the providers retain the records for a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, the failure of some Internet service providers to keep records has hampered our ability to conduct investigations in this area.
As a result, I have asked the appropriate experts at the Department to examine this issue and provide me with proposed recommendations. And I am going to reach out personally to the CEOs of the leading service providers and to other industry leaders to solicit their input and assistance.
Record retention by Internet service providers consistent with the legitimate privacy rights of Americans, is an issue that must be addressed.
I am also proud to announce today that the Administration will send to Congress a new piece of legislation, the Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006.
This legislation will help ensure that communications providers report the presence of child pornography on their systems by strengthening criminal penalties for failing to report it. It will also prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet. And I hope that Congress will take up this legislation promptly.
I've directed my staff to see what else that we can do. But all of our efforts, including Project Safe Childhood, is built with the recognition that law enforcement cannot do it alone. It has to be a community effort down to every last parent.
I can't overstate how important the National Center will be to making Project Safe Childhood a success. For decades, you all have played a central role in this fight to protect children. We will look to you for your expertise and community leadership.
Before announcing Project Safe Childhood, I spoke with Ernie Allen and asked for his help. And I was pleased that he immediately embraced the initiative whole-heartedly, and I look forward to continuing to work together as full partners.
One of the most critical parts of implementing Project Safe Childhood will be to provide the right training to investigators and prosecutors around the country. As I've discussed today, they need to better understand the scope and nature of this criminal activity. And they need to know how to work computer-based investigations and prosecutions, and how to work cooperatively on leads.
The National Center is experienced in facilitating that kind of training. And Ernie has committed to providing training in the critical early stages of the initiative. And we'll also work with our other partners that you work with and that provide ongoing training programs, like the Department-funded Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces and Fox Five Technical College.
The National Center helps in so many other ways, too. The cyber tip line that we just got a demonstration that you administer plays an essential role for law enforcement centralizing a place for people to report crimes against children.
You are also on the cutting edge of efforts to identity and rescue the kids we see being abused in pornographic images through your Exploited Child Unit and the National Child Victim Identification Program.
Project Safe Childhood will help bring together your critical efforts and the federal, state and local law enforcement officials working in each district around the nation.
With your help, law enforcement is working to stem the surge in child exploitation and pornography. But the scope of the problem is immense, as you all know. I am therefore calling on all responsible Americans and corporate citizens down to every last parent, teacher and minister, to educate themselves about the problem and see how they can help out. Together, we can make our homes and our neighborhoods safer for our sons and for our daughters.
I want to thank you again for what you're doing in this area. It means a lot for our children and for the future of our country. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless and watch over our children.
Thank you very much.