Murder of two FBI agents helped police to crack Aussie-linked child network

The Australian arm of an elaborate online child abuse network has been uncovered after the murder of two FBI agents prompted an international investigation targeting child abuse material on the dark web.

Aug 08, 2023, updated Aug 08, 2023
 An alleged user of a dark web paedophile network during his arrest in South Australia. (AAP Image/Supplied by AFP)

An alleged user of a dark web paedophile network during his arrest in South Australia. (AAP Image/Supplied by AFP)

FBI agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were fatally shot by a pedophile computer programmer while they served a search warrant on his Florida home in 2021.

The reclusive IT worker, 55-year-old David Lee Huber, was part of a sophisticated global child abuse network, but killed himself before charges were able to be laid.

An FBI-led international operation was later set up to target offenders on the platform, including Australian members sharing and creating child abuse videos and files on the dark web network.

Operation Bakis, led by the Australian Federal Police’s anti-child exploitation centre, took charge of the Australian operation.

“To date, 19 Australian men have been charged with a total of 138 offences, and 13 children have been removed from further harm,” AFP Commander Helen Schneider told reporters on Tuesday.

She said some of the children were known to the offenders, and the force does not rule out more arrests.

Two Australian offenders from NSW and the ACT have since been sentenced to a combined 20 years in jail, while others remain before the courts.

The 19 men, aged between 32 and 81, were operating across all Australian states and territories, with some found to have been committing offences for more than 10 years.

Most were employed in occupations that required a “high degree” of knowledge about information and communications technology, Ms Schneider said.

“The majority of these individuals were experienced in ICT or in current ICT roles, so they had a higher level of technical competency,” she said.

The force said the men used sophisticated software to anonymously share files, chat on message boards and access websites within the peer-to-peer network.

“Members were able to search for and distribute images and videos of child abuse material and allegedly used encryption and other methods to avoid law enforcement detection,” the AFP said in a statement on Tuesday.

Ms Schneider said criminals using encryption and the dark web are a challenge for law enforcement.

“The lengths that these alleged offenders went to in order to avoid detection makes them especially dangerous – the longer they avoid detection the longer they can perpetuate the cycle of abuse,” she said.

The related FBI investigation has led to 79 people being arrested for their alleged involvement in the network and 43 convictions.

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