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Friday, 13 September, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Operation Candyman: Investigating child porn
Computer screen, keyboard and mouse
Users are traced via credit card details and e-mail
Two Cambridgeshire police officers involved in the Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman murder investigation have been arrested on suspicion of inciting others to distribute indecent photographs of children.

The arrests are part of Operation Ore - the UK wing of a huge American inquiry codenamed Candyman.

The message could be ambiguous to the innocent outsider but to FBI agents targeting people allegedly accessing online child pornography the meaning was all too clear: "This group is for people who love kids."

"You can post any type of messages you like too or any type of pics and vids you like too. PS. IF WE ALL WORK TOGETHER WE WILL HAVE THE BEST GROUP ON THE NET."


It is clear that a new marketplace for child pornography has emerged from the dark corners of cyberspace

John Ashcroft
US Attorney General
It was the trigger for an investigation that was to spread around the world.

The first public knowledge of it came in March with the announcement of the FBI's Operation Candyman.

Its scale and importance was underlined by the presence at that announcement of America's most senior law enforcement official, Attorney General John Ashcroft.

He said the inquiry "should serve as a warning to others that we will find and prosecute those who target and endanger our children."

Those targeted, he went on, had the sole aim of wanting "to exploit and degrade children".

But Mr Ashcroft warned: "There will be no free ride on the internet for traffickers of child pornography."

The roots of Operation Candyman stretch back to February 2001 when an FBI undercover agent reported on three online communities known as e-groups.

One had the sinister welcome message included above.

E-groups are designed as forums where like-minded net users can discuss anything from sport to politics, hobbies, computer games and business.

They take advantage of e-mail, chatrooms, bulletin boards and file transfers.

But the e-groups identified by the undercover agent were used to upload, download and exchange images of children being abused.

Emails traced

The material was also traded using credit card pay-per-view technology.

Unwitting host Yahoo! provided the FBI with 7,000 unique email addresses, of which 4,600 were located within the US and 2,400 outside.

Over the course of the following 14 months all 56 FBI field offices, almost every US Attorney General's office across the country plus the Department of Justice were brought into the investigation.

It was not just about trading or exchanging images - of the more than 80 people arrested in the US alone by March, 27 had admitted to abusing 36 children.

Details of 2,000 credit cards and e-mails traced back to Britain were passed across the Atlantic last year, which led to the setting up of Operation Ore.

See also:

13 Sep 02 | England
12 Sep 02 | England
19 Mar 02 | Americas
02 Aug 02 | England
02 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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