Members of the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) today announced the results of Operation Atlas, a global initiative to highlight investigations being conducted by VGT law enforcement members into the sharing and distribution of child exploitation material online.
Operation Atlas was conducted from June 29 to October 23 with the participation of ten VGT members: the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Colombian National Police, Dutch National Police (DNP), Cybercrime Coordination Unit of Switzerland, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Korean National Police Agency (KNPA), New Zealand Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the United Arab Emirates Ministry of the Interior and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
United Arab Emirates police representative and chairman of the VGT Major General/Dr. Nasser Lakhrebani Al Nuaimi, Secretary General of the Office of HH Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior welcomed the announcement of the result of Operation Atlas and added, “Through the cooperative efforts of law enforcement agencies, children can be protected from those seeking to exploit them. Even though no children in the United Arab Emirates were identified as victims, the persons arrested show the priority the Ministry of Interior places on collaboration in the global efforts to protect children and identify offenders.”
“Operation Atlas demonstrates the need for continued international engagement and cooperation to prevent children from becoming victims of online sexual exploitation and the global pursuit of those identified as child sexual exploitation offenders,” said HSI Associate Deputy Assistant Director Michael Prado.
Overall, Operation Atlas resulted in 303 arrests, and the identification of 106 victims.
According to law enforcement officials in the VGT, child exploitation images proliferate on the Internet quickly and last forever, continuing the exploitation of children. Every image posted online is a picture of a crime scene. This can have lasting impacts and sometimes devastating psychological and physical effects.
The global nature of online child sexual exploitation means that no nation can effectively combat it alone. International engagement and cooperation is vital.
“Wherever you are in the world, those involved in the online sexual exploitation of children (or those who travel to offend against children), or those considering accessing, distributing or producing child sexual exploitation material should be warned: you will be detected by law enforcement. No form of online child sexual exploitation or overseas travel to sexually abuse children will be tolerated. The VGT as a collective effort is committed to taking all necessary action to protect children worldwide from any form of sexual exploitation. The VGT aims to actively contribute to the removal of children from online sexual exploitation and to identify and hold to account these perpetrators at a global level,” AFP Victim Based Crime Commander Glen McEwen said.
“Our drive is to closely work together with industry and NGOs to save as many children as possible from these horrendous crimes through efforts like Operation Atlas,” said Peter Reijnders, Chief Superintendent of the DNP’s Program for Vice, Child Sexual Abuse Images and Transnational Child Sex Offenses.
VGT officials say that people should embrace the benefits of the Internet, but also be aware of the risks.
“The online child sexual exploitation of children is a key concern for all Canadian law enforcement. These investigations are technologically complex, multi-jurisdictional in terms of offenders and victims, and often require several police agencies to work together. In Canada, we have a strong collaborative policing response that takes as its focus the investigative expertise from across several police agencies. The VGT Operation for Canada reflects the efforts of multiple Canadian law enforcement agencies, demonstrating our shared commitment to investigating these offences and illustrates some of our successes in terms of our efforts related to online child sexual exploitation.” Supt. Pierre Nezan, Officer in Charge for RCMP’s Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children/Behavioral Sciences.
“Even as a small country, it is crucial to participate in global law enforcement operations like Operation Atlas as to assume responsibility in combatting online child exploitation,” remarked Tobias Bolliger, head of the Cybercrime Coordination Unit of Switzerland.
Head of operations for the European Cybercrime Center, Fernando Ruiz Perez, commented “The success of Operation Atlas further exemplifies the reasons why the European Cybercrime Center continues to be an active participant and supporter of the Virtual Global Taskforce.”
Since its creation in 2003, the VGT has conducted numerous successful investigations around the world, including Operation Endeavor, Operation Rescue and Operation Basket. As the most recent VGT endeavor, Operation Atlas continues to demonstrate that law enforcement’s work to combat child exploitation is never finished.
Andy Brennan of the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command commented, “The NCA CEOP Command have been very keen to support the work of the VGT and other international law enforcement partners. The safeguarding and protection of children is an absolute priority. It is essential that international operations like Operation Atlas continue to arrest those involved in this type of abhorrent crime and to safeguard and protect the most vulnerable.”
“This operation highlights the level of cooperation between international law enforcement to protect our most vulnerable members of society and bring to justice those who seek to exploit and harm them,” said Rodney Drew, National Manager Criminal Investigations Group and Detective Superintendent of the New Zealand Police.
Park Hwa-Jin, Director General of the Cyber Bureau of the KNPA said, “Recognizing the gravity of online child sexual exploitation, the KNPA decided to participate in Operation Atlas for the first time this year. We are glad to contribute to international efforts in combating child exploitation, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure those who abuse children are brought to justice.”