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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 18:12 GMT
Operation Avalanche: Tracking child porn
Operation Avalanche which began in the USA has become the world's largest child porn investigation - posing huge problems for police forces around the world.

On Monday 6 August 2001, Texas computer consultant Thomas Reedy was jailed for 1,335 years for running an internet child porn ring.

The US Department of Justice had codenamed the investigation Operation Avalanche - and with good reason.

By the time the police finally caught Reedy, the size of his paedophile operation - known as Landslide - was more than they had ever suspected.

In effect it was an online child porn empire stretching across three continents, some 250,000 subscribers and a turnover of $1.4m a month.

While the jailing of Reedy was a massive success for the authorities in the United States, it was only the beginning of what has turned into an international criminal investigation.

Today, that investigation is continuing in the UK as officers struggle to work their way through evidence against an estimated 7,000 suspects.

Avalanche: How it worked

Operation Avalanche was a carefully planned investigation which aimed to smash what the US Department of Justice believed was the largest child pornography ring it had ever discovered.

Reedy recognised that he could make money by providing the technical know-how to allow secure access to porn sites while protecting the identity of the user.

He and his accomplices built a sophisticated network of sites and data stores.

Although the ring was technically operating through a "gateway" based in Texas, the material being accessed was sited around the world, principally Russia and Indonesia.

This arrangement made it far harder to crack than standard criminal operations as it was twice as hard for investigators to find out who was behind the websites.

For those who knew how to access Reedy's gateway, Landslide Promotions, there was no hiding what was on offer once they reached the site.

"On the homepage of Landslide, there was a button to press that said 'child porn click here'," said Bob Adams, a US postal inspector involved in the investigation.

"And if you clicked on that button, that's what you got."

Once users reached the other side of the portal, they were able to download and share pornography with users around the world.

The money began to pour in as Reedy and his wife Janice - also jailed - built an expanding network of sites and subscribers.

Detective work

But it was a simple piece of detective work that led officers to the first arrests: credit card numbers.

All the subscribers had to provide a credit card number so that Reedy's gateway could verify who they were before charging them for access to the 5,700 sites within the network.

Once the authorities cracked the code scrambling the credit card numbers, it was a relatively simple job of tracking down the owners of the cards - and the links that took them to Reedy's front door.

Reedy was eventually found guilty in December 2000 of 89 charges including sexual exploitation of minors and distribution of child porn.

In August last year he was sentenced to 180 months for each of the charges - the sentences to run consecutively.

The US also began seeking the extradition of three others, two in Indonesia and another in Russia who operated the major sites providing the pornography to the Reedy network.

Expanding operation

In America, the breakthrough was hailed as a major success in child protection. But the reality is that the scale of the investigation in the US, the UK and elsewhere, is overwhelming officers.

The US told authorities in London that at least 7,000 of the paedophiles linked to Reedy were probably in the UK.

But police officers have already appealed to the government for emergency funding for the case, saying that they face an enormous task bringing even a fraction of the suspects to court.

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