Inside the Bitcoin Statue That Downed the Web’s Largest Child Abuse Site

As responses from the exchanges with these users’ identity information began pouring in, the team began the process of compiling more complete profiles of their targets. They began collecting the names, faces, and pictures of hundreds of men – almost all of them were men – from all walks of life, everywhere in the world. Their descriptions crossed the boundaries of race, age, class, and nationality. All of these individuals seem to share their gender and financial relationship with a global hidden haven for child abuse.

By this time, the team felt they had installed the Korean site manager with confidence. They obtained a search warrant for Son Jong-woo’s Gmail accounts and several of his exchange records, and they could see that he alone appeared to receive the proceeds disbursed from the site – not his father, who increasingly appeared to investigators as an unintended participant, a kidnapped man. Son his identity to create accounts in cryptocurrency. In Son Jong-woo’s emails, they found pictures of the younger man for the first time — selfies he took to show his friends where he broke his tooth in a car accident, for example. He was a thin, unremarkable-looking young man with wide eyes and a mop of black hair that resembled the Beatles.

But as their profile of this official crystallized, so did the profiles of hundreds of other men who used the site. Security colleagues, he was an HSI client in Texas. Another, they saw with a different kind of awe, was the assistant principal of a Georgia high school. The principal posted videos of himself on social media singing two-way, karaoke-style, with tweens from his school. Otherwise, the videos could have been viewed as innocent. But given what they know about the man’s bitcoin payments, agents with more experience abusing Janczewski’s children have warned that they may reflect some form of personal care.

These were men in privileged positions of power, with access to victims. Investigators could immediately see, as they suspected, that they would need to arrest some of the Welcome to Video users as quickly as possible, before they could even arrange for the site to be taken down. Child exploitation experts have warned them that some criminals have systems in place to warn others if they have been arrested or abused by law enforcement — codewords or dead man keys that send alerts if they have been away from their computers for a certain period of time. However, the investigative team at Welcome to the Video felt they had no choice but to move quickly and take risks.

Another suspect, around the same time, came to radar for a different reason: He lived in Washington, DC. In fact, the man’s house was down the street from the American Bar’s office, near the capital’s Gallery Place neighborhood. He happened to live in the same apartment building that one of the plaintiffs had recently left.

They realized that this site might be useful to them. Janczewski and Gambaryan could easily search the man’s home and computers as a test case. If this proves that the man was one of the clients of Welcome to Video, they will be able to indict the entire case in the capital’s judicial district, overcoming a major legal hurdle.

As they delved into the matter, they found that the man was a former congressional employee who had held a high-profile job at a prestigious environmental organization. Would an arrest or home search of a target with this kind of profile spark a public outcry and drown out their case?

Just as they trained their sights on this suspect in their midst, they found that he was strangely quiet on social media. Someone on the team had the idea of ​​pulling his travel records. They discovered that he had traveled to the Philippines and was about to return to the capital via Detroit.

This discovery led agents and prosecutors to two ideas: First, the Philippines was a notorious destination for sex tourism, often of the kind that preyed on children — the HSI office in Manila was always rife with child exploitation cases. Second, when the man returns to the United States, Customs and Border Protection can legally detain him and demand access to his machines to search for evidence—a strange and controversial cut in Americans’ constitutional protections that, in this case, might come in handy.

Will the US capital-based suspect sound the alarm and rip the lid off their investigation, just as it was at the beginning?

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