US dismantles huge child abuse website

Wednesday 19 March 2014 13.17
Authorities said they arrested and charged 14 suspects in the secret, members-only online network
Authorities said they arrested and charged 14 suspects in the secret, members-only online network

The United States has announced it has dismantled a massive international child abuse online ring, one of the largest such operations ever uncovered.

Authorities said they arrested and charged 14 suspects in the secret, members-only online network, which had more than 27,000 subscribers.

The website's juvenile victims, who numbered more than 250, reside in five foreign countries and 39 US states, officials said.

Authorities said the victims were, for the most part, boys between the ages of 10 and 17.

Among the countries where victims were found are Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Belgium.

The organisation is "one of the largest known online child exploitation operations in history," Department of Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson said.

Among the suspects taken into custody was Jonathan Johnson, 27, the administrator of the website, which operated out of the southern US state of Louisiana.

If convicted, Mr Johnson faces 20 years to life in prison, said Kenneth Allen Polite, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

"These indictments represent a strong coordinated strike... against child pornography and those who allegedly seek to harm our most vulnerable citizens, our young children," Mr Polite said.

The illicit website operated on a hidden service board on the Tor network from about June 2012 until June 2013, when Mr Johnson was arrested.

The Tor network is set up to conceal user's location, making it possible to maintain online anonymity.

Authorities said at the time it was dismantled, the illegal website contained more than 2,000 shared webcam-captured videos of mostly juvenile boys enticed by the website's operators to produce sexually explicit material.

The investigation, which officials said is continuing, was carried out by DHS and the cybercrime unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the US Postal Inspection Services.