Today I’m pleased to be joined by several key leaders in the federal government’s fight to protect the most vulnerable among us – our children – from exploitation, violence, and sexual abuse: Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano; Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer; United States Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, Stephanie Finley; and Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton.
We are here to announce the results, to date, of Operation Delego – a critical, and ongoing, investigation that was launched in December of 2009. This operation targeted hundreds of individuals, in countries around the world, for their alleged participation in “Dreamboard” – a private, members-only online bulletin board that was created and operated to promote pedophilia, and to encourage the sexual abuse of very young children.
Utilizing sophisticated techniques in an attempt to avoid law enforcement detection, Dreamboard’s members allegedly traded graphic images and videos of adults molesting young children – often violently; and created a massive private library of images of child sexual abuse.
The rules of Dreamboard were clear – and they encouraged, and incentivized, the creation of child pornography. According to our indictments – in order to become part of the Dreamboard community, prospective members were required to upload pornography portraying children 12 years old or younger; once given access, participants had to continually upload images of child sexual abuse in order to maintain membership; the more content they provided, the more content they could access; and members who created and shared images and videos of themselves molesting children received elevated status – and greater access.
Some of the children featured in these images and videos were just infants. And, in many cases, the children being victimized were in obvious, and intentional, pain – even “in distress and crying,” just as the rules for one area of the bulletin board mandated.
Dreamboard’s creators and members lived all over the world – but they allegedly were united by a disturbing belief that the sexual abuse of children is proper conduct that should not be criminalized; and some even referred to their own creation, dissemination, and collection of child pornography as a “hobby.” To put it simply, we have charged that these individuals shared a dream – to create the preeminent online community for the promotion of child sexual exploitation. But for the children they victimized, this was nothing short of a nightmare.
Needless to say, in the Justice Department’s work to combat child exploitation and abuse, the conduct alleged in the indictments unsealed today is unconscionable. But, as a result of Operation Delego, I’m pleased to announce that 72 defendants have been charged. As of this morning, 52 of them have been arrested. And we are working with our partners and international counterparts to identify and apprehend the defendants who remain at large.
Operation Delego represents the largest prosecution in history of individuals who participated in an online child exploitation enterprise conceived and operated for the sole purpose of promoting child sexual abuse, disseminating child pornography, and evading law enforcement. Already, 13 of those charged have pleaded guilty – and four individuals have received sentences of 20-30 years in prison.
This successful operation marks another step forward in our work to protect children across, and beyond, our country. Not only does it build on the progress that has been made through the Department’s Project Safe Childhood initiative – and the results that we achieved through “Operation Nest Egg,” and “Operation Joint Hammer” in disrupting child pornography trafficking; it also reflects the fact that, exactly one year after the Department unveiled the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, our commitment to safeguarding our children – and to bringing criminals who exploit and abuse our kids to justice – has never been stronger. And our efforts in this area have never been more aggressive, more collaborative, or more effective.
With this latest operation, we are calling on the public to be vigilant in protecting our children – and reporting criminal activity. And – because Dreamboard members have been arrested on 5 continents, in 14 different countries – I believe we’re also sending a strong message to those who are willing to harm and exploit children, and who attempt to hide their activities from law enforcement. We will find you. We will stop you. And we will bring you to justice.
Our nation’s fight to protect the rights, interests, and safety of children goes on, and it will continue to be a top priority. I want to thank everyone involved in this Operation for their great work – and their continuing efforts.
And, now, I’d like to turn things over to Secretary [Janet] Napolitano.