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Pentagon declined to investigate hundreds of purchases of child pornography

John Cook
The Upshot
Monday, September 6, 2010

A 2006 Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation into the purchase of child pornography online turned up more than 250 civilian and military employees of the Defense Department — including some with the highest available security clearance — who  used credit cards or PayPal to purchase images of children in sexual situations. But the Pentagon investigated only a handful of the cases, Defense Department records show.

The cases turned up during a 2006 ICE inquiry, called Project Flicker, which targeted overseas processing of child-porn payments. As part of the probe, ICE investigators gained access to the names and credit card information of more than 5,000 Americans who had subscribed to websites offering images of child pornography. Many of those individuals provided military email addresses or physical addresses with Army or fleet ZIP codes when they purchased the subscriptions.

In a related inquiry, the Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) cross-checked the ICE list against military databases to come up with a list of Defense employees and contractors who appeared to be guilty of purchasing child  pornography. The names included staffers for the secretary of defense, contractors for the ultra-secretive National Security Agency, and a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But the DCIS opened investigations into only 20 percent of the individuals identified, and succeeded in prosecuting just a handful.

The Boston Globe first reported the Pentagon’s role in Project Flicker in July, citing DCIS investigative reports (PDF) showing that at least 30 Defense Department employees were investigated.

But new Project Flicker investigative reports obtained by The Upshot through the Freedom of Information Act, which you can read here, show that DCIS investigators identified 264 Defense employees or contractors who had purchased child pornography online. Astonishingly, nine of those had “Top Secret Sensitive Compartmentalized Information” security clearances, meaning they had access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets. All told, 76 of the individuals had Secret or higher clearances. But DCIS investigated only 52 of the suspects, and just 10 were ever charged with viewing or purchasing child pornography. Without greater public disclosure of how these cases wound down, it’s impossible to know how or whether any of the names listed in the Project Flicker papers came in for additional scrutiny. It’s conceivable that some of them were picked up by local law enforcement, but it seems likely that most of the people flagged by the investigation did not have their military careers disrupted in the context of the DCIS inquiry.

Full story here.

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