FBI agents are turning into to hacker spies to capture pedophiles who hide anonymously on the Internet.
CNN reports that the Justice Department launched a massive investigation called Operation Torpedo, which began in 2011 and recently came to a close with the arrests of people downloading child pornography.
The case started when Netherlands police gained access to a large child pornography site whose web hosting service was located in Bellevue, Nebraska.
The FBI raided the home of the man who ran the site, PedoBook, where users could download photos of child pornography.
To break through Tor, which hides users’ location, the FBI was given a search warrant for a “network investigative technique” that allowed agents to use computer codes to track down people who downloaded photos and videos.
FBI Agent Jeffrey Tarpinian describes this hack as “the only available investigative technique with a reasonable likelihood of securing the evidence necessary to prove… the actual location and identity of those users” in court documents from 2012.
What the FBI found was more disturbing than they had realized: Some images were being viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
“They’re hiding in plain sight… we remain powerless to some extent,” said one senior Justice Department official who was authorized to speak without being named. “That’s what creates this sense of urgency.”