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Pentagon reopens investigation into child-porn purchases among ranks

Over 250 military personnel, civilian employees and contractors had been linked to potential child-porn purchases

September 15, 2010 08:09 PM ET

Computerworld - The Pentagon has reopened an investigation involving more than 250 Department of Defense (DoD) employees who are alleged to have subscribed to child pornography sites using their government e-mail IDs and physical military addresses.

The military's Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) first launched an investigation into the issue in 2007 after being alerted to the problem by officials at the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Bureau. However, it quietly dropped the investigations in early 2008, citing resource constraints.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, James Burch, deputy Inspector General for Investigations at the DoD, said he has asked the DCIS to once again review each case, and to ensure that proper action is taken against individuals if the circumstances warrant it.

In situations where criminal charges will not be pursued, relevant information will be referred to the leadership at the relevant DoD organizations for appropriate administrative action, he said.

Gary Comerford, chief of public affairs at the DoD Office of the Inspector General, said that Wednesday's decision stems from persistent calls the Pentagon has received to reopen the investigations, but he did not elaborate.

The ICE operation that triggered the whole DCIS investigation was called Project Flicker. The operation was launched in 2006 and probed an overseas criminal organization that operated 18, commercial child pornography Web sites.

As part of the investigation, ICE had compiled a list of more than 5,000 U.S. residents who had subscribed with the Web sites being investigated. Several in that list had used .mil email IDs and Army Post Office addresses to register on such sites.

An inquiry by the DCIS subsequently identified 264 DoD affiliated individuals who had registered on child porn sites under investigation. Of those, 9 individuals had the highest-level security clearances giving them access to some of the nation's most sensitive secrets according to documents on the investigation that are available on the DoD inspector general's site.

In addition, 13 had Top Secret clearance, 8 had NATO Secret Security clearance, and 42 possessed a Secret Security clearance, according to the documents.

The Upshot, a Yahoo news blog which first broke the story, reported that among those in the list was a contractor for the National Security Agency, a staffer in Defense Secretary Robert Gates' office, and a manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The DCIS conducted follow-up investigations on 52 individuals, several of whom pleaded guilty on child-porn related charges and received varying prison sentences. However, it dropped the investigations into the rest of the individuals on the list in January 2008.

"Due to the short-term nature of this project and the need to focus more resources on other DCIS investigative priorities this project is closed as 'finished'," the DCIS had said.

The Upshot's story, which quotes an unnamed source, said the DCIS focused its initial investigations on people with Top Secret clearances and those working at military installations apparently because of concerns over the vulnerability to blackmail.

But it dropped the investigations citing resource constraints even before it had completed looking at all those in the list with Secret and Top Secret clearances.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed Vijayan RSS. His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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