The FBI Distributes Child Pornography to Catch People Who Look at It

By its own logic, the government victimized children thousands of times.


As part of a recent child pornography investigation disconcertingly known as Operation Pacifier, the FBI ran a website that distributed photographs and videos of sexual abuse. Last year, the Seattle Times reports, "after arresting the North Carolina administrator of The Playpen, a 'dark web' child-pornography internet bulletin board, agents seized the site's server and moved it to an FBI warehouse in Virginia." The FBI used the website to run "a sting and computer-hacking operation of unparalleled scope that has thus far led to criminal charges against 186 people," mostly for receiving or possessing child pornography. In other words, the FBI became a major distributor of child pornography to catch people who look at it, thereby committing a more serious crime than the people it arrested.

Operation Pacifier is reminiscent of reverse drug stings in which cops pose as dealers to catch retail buyers, except that in this case the FBI actually disseminated contraband. It did not merely pose as a distributor of child pornography; it was a distributor of child pornography. During the two weeks the FBI was running The Playpen, about 100,000 people visited the site, accessing at least 48,000 photos, 200 videos, and 13,000 links. In fact, the FBI seems to have made The Playpen a lot more popular by making it faster and more accessible. The FBI's version attracted some 50,000 visitors per week, up from 11,000 before the government takeover.

As attorneys representing the people busted by the FBI have pointed out, those actions are deeply problematic in light of the government's position that children are revictimized every time images of their sexual abuse are viewed or transferred. That argument is one of the main rationales for punishing mere possession of child pornography, which under federal law and the laws of some states can be treated more harshly than violent crimes—more harshly even than actual abuse of children. That penalty structure is obviously irrational unless you believe that serious harm is inflicted every time someone looks at the image of a child's sexual abuse. In that case, a large enough collection of images could equal or even surpass the harm done by a single child rape, so that it could make sense to impose a life sentence on someone who has done nothing but look at pictures.

Yeah, I don't buy that either. But federal prosecutors supposedly do, and here they are bringing cases that, by their own lights, required the FBI to victimize children thousands of times. Each time the FBI "distributed" an image, it committed a federal crime that is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of 20 years. So did the person who "received" the image, which in the Internet context is the same as looking at it. If such actions merit criminal punishment because they are inherently harmful, there is no logical reason why the agents who ran The Playpen should escape the penalties they want to impose on the people who visited the site.

In a 2002 New York University Law Review article, Howard Anglin argued that victims of child pornographers have legal grounds to sue FBI agents who mail images of them to targets of undercover investigations. "If, as courts have held, the children depicted in child pornography are victimized anew each time it changes hands, this practice inflicts further injuries on the children portrayed in the images," Anglin wrote. "The practice of distributing child pornography in undercover operations exposes federal agents to potential civil liability and undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system."

NEXT: Mom Briefly Left Kids Alone While She Grabbed Starbucks. Cop Accused Her of Child Abuse.

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  1. Isn’t this the same thing as: putting drugs in someone’s pocket, then arrest the guy for possession?

    I’d have no control if a random person emails me stuff

    1. This is like buying drugs form the cartels then having your agents sell them on the street then arrest the buyers. Or,have a agent pose as a hit man,kill the target then arrest the person hiring them for murder for higher. All for the ‘greater good’.

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      1. Is your friend in the FBI?

        1. It’s nice to have friends in the FBI, especially for NYU faculty members, because if we are ever inappropriately mocked through electronic means, all we have to do is give them a call and they make sure we get special treatment from the right New York City prosecutors. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

          While I’m at it, let me also briefly rubbish, refute and excoriate the argument of this article. Sure, is some sense the FBI is doing the same thing as the criminals they’re after, but they’re not doing it with the same intent, and intent is what matters. If you send an email in someone else’s name to portray him as a good fellow, that’s okay; if you do it to portray him as a plagiarist, your intent is to damage his reputation (however truthfully) and you have committed a crime. It’s like saying prosecutors would somehow be committing a crime by damaging the reputation of a criminal “satirist.” It doesn’t add up. Prosecutors can (and should) appropriately do many things that would be crimes if ordinary people did them.

    3. Separate issue – although it is clear that the authorities have done so in some instances, as it is such an easy way to frame someone. It’s especially a good method for making political opponents or critics of the state disappear.

      This is more like offering to sell someone marijuana, and then arresting them when they accept the offer.

    4. The same stupid logic we use to catch backpage hookers.

  2. …the government’s position that children are revictimized every time images of their sexual abuse are viewed or transferred.

    Federal authorities don’t really believe this. I don’t think they’ve even bothered to consider the justification. Child porn is universally thought of as sufficiently despicable that they don’t have to. That makes padding conviction resumes by distributing the pornography an easy tactic to rationalize. What they perhaps did struggle with was the fact of the federal government distributing child pornography for any reason was not something everyone outside their circles was going to be on board with.

    1. This is leaving out the systemic problem of child-porn sharing/distribution within the agencies themselves. Do a search for ‘gov’t computers child porn audit’.

    2. Of course the Feds don’t believe it. Nonetheless, the courts have upheld these laws that overthrow freedom of speech and freedom of thought on the premise of voodoo harm.

      There’s a lot of money in the Child Abuse Industry – the law enforcement agents, the prosecutors, the?rapists, psychologists and the like who make billions of dollars every year by convincing healthy kids that they have been scarred for life, and setting up expensive “treatments” that will continue forever.

      It’s questionable how universal the disapproval of child pornography is – witness recent efforts to rename it “child abuse imagery”, despite the fact that images of child abuse are perfectly legal to possess and distribute so long as the children are fully clothed.

    3. Also, take a look at this article, about some of the reasons why child pornography should be re-legalized:…

  3. Thing The Gummint Can Do That’s A Terrible Crime For Anyone Else no. 2,187,376

    1. Government is just another name for the distribution of kiddie pr0n we do together.

      1. We Are PedoGov

        1. [Great Seal of the United States & pedobear jpg]

      2. See also: murder, extortion, robbery, kidnapping, etc. etc. etc.

    2. In Soviet America, government commits crime against you.

  4. Yeah, well at least they don’t leave their kids broiling in the car while they selfishly go to get a manicure at Starbucks.

    1. Helpful parenting tip:

      Need to run an errand? Ask a pedophile to watch your children! They may even be willing to pay!

      1. Well, at least you’d KNOW they were watching your kids.

  5. See the government is good at something!

  6. The creepiest part about this is that it’s named “Operation Pacifier”

    1. Creepier than the fact that the federal government was using your tax dollars to distribute kiddie porn?

      Keep in mind, according to a popular interpretation of the social contract, this makes every American liable for pedophilia.

      1. That’s why I’m adamant about my motto: “Ain’t my fucking government….”

        Allows me some sort of fickle intellectual distance from the scum and sleaze slithering around DC.

        1. Keep telling yourself that- but it is your government if you’re paying taxes.

          1. Not if you are paying them involuntarily under threat of prosecution and/or wealth confiscation.

    2. Makes you wonder about the agents involved in the op…

    3. Code for “Operation [Suck on This]”

  7. There’s a reason that OMWC has been in hiding.

    1. I didn’t think the “Free Candy” van had wifi?

      1. How else to download the Good Stuff?

    2. “In hiding” better not be a euphemism.

  8. I have a particular interest in this subject because my ex-wife’s uncle was busted for CP possession; we wound up being mentioned in a NYT story even. His estate wound up shelling out almost a one and a quarter million dollars in restitution to the victims. Apparently a significant minority of the 600 images he possessed he’d gotten from various law enforcement agencies conducting stings.

    1. Something similar happened to a friend of mine, except in his case he was contacted by someone wanting to exchange pics who then offered to set up a meeting with an underage girl. FBI agent posing undercover. On the one hand, he was definitely looking at pics of underage girls, but on the other hand he never went any further than that until the feds contacted him.

      As the father of a young daughter I have a certain conflicted perspective here as to whether or not I would break his shins with a piece of rebar, but I absolutely do not believe that there is now less child pornography happening as a result of his being in prison so I’m not convinced that the FBI didn’t just make him more of a criminal on their own.

  9. This clusterfuck makes Operation Fast and Furious look tame. The numbers are unbelievable.

    The Federal Government distributed kiddie porn to over 100,000 users, and has prosecuted south of 200 people for receiving that porn? So the government INCREASED distribution from this server by around 350% in return for getting less than .2% of the users they distributed to. Forget the moral case against this, the people behind this should be fired simply for rank incompetence.

    As a side note, this indicates to me that the bulk of people were using properly designed TOR browsers with Javascript disabled, and the few people caught had enabled JS, which has several known vulnerabilities. There are a lot of people who say the federal government “owns” the TOR network now, but this low charge rate indicates to me that in fact the network remains relatively anonymous as long as you don’t do anything stupid.

    1. I’m confident that if it weren’t for government, we’d have significantly fewer crimes. Not just because there’d be fewer ridiculous laws, but also because there would no longer be the fishing expeditions to find create criminals.

      1. +1 Dr. Ferris

      2. Fast and Furious

    2. this low charge rate indicates to me that in fact the network remains relatively anonymous as long as you don’t do anything stupid.

      Or the majority of the offenders were government officials and their friends and family, for whom there is an additional mens rea requirement for prosecution.

      1. Well, there’s the entire FBI to start with… They’re all apparently exempt.

    3. Or perhaps child porn viewers are just more knowledgeable about cybersecurity than average.

  10. the government’s position that children are revictimized every time images of their sexual abuse are viewed or transferred.

    That argument is very iffy.

    The original reason for the harsh possession laws and SCOTUS’ refusal to apply 1st amendment rights to such things was that the laws are intended to prevent child sexual abuse by destroying the market for kiddie porn.

    1. To continue:

      The FBI’s actions here are consistent with trying to disrupt the market for kiddie porn, because it makes potential “customers” more distrustful of a site promising those images. That is the mechanism of action of any buyer-side sting operation actually… disrupt the market by making buyers distrust potential sellers.

    2. It is not just “iffy” it defies logic and science explicitly.

      Hang on, I need to go call my mom, she just looked at an unflattering picture of me from the early seventies and I need to tell her to stop. Oh man, now she has shown it to someone else, and damnit! They have given a copy to someone I don’t even know and mom does not know. I am feeling sick to my stomach.

      I gotta go.

  11. and what did the fbi do with all that child porn when no one was watching?

    1. you guessed it. there is news out there regarding special agents from ice etc who have and are being caught with personal copies or actual evidence for their own personal enjoyment. you are correct.

      as a matter of fact, hsi was slapped by congress years back as they were resistant to do trafficking investigations due to being overly focused on cp cases.

      the sure seem to enjoy those cases don’t they.

  12. Unchecked government doing some extremely government shit

  13. It takes a criminal to catch a criminal. Or something.

  14. The purpose of government is to commit crimes, theoretically for the greater good, but in practice usually not. Needless war is murder, arrests are kidnapping, taxes are theft, cavity checks are digital rape, central banking policy is counterfeiting.

    1. You’re thinking of “Libertinism”.

      1. Yet again I cannot remotely comprehend how what you wrote constitutes a response.

  15. Now see, this is why we need Trump to restore some ‘law and order’ around these parts.

  16. sounds like the info that came out regarding the dennis hastert investigation. keep in mind the sting targeted the end users instead of the suppliers. issues of blackmail/political manipulation and other fun topics abound.

    i wonder if out of the over 100,000 visitors that were “vetted” by the fbi, how many were political or official in any capacity? how did the fbi choose who to refer for prosecution?

    just something fun to think about it. oh, and by the way. judge/jury/prosecutors/federal agents/
    etc all get to commit felonies under the guise of viewing the images. just like the visitors to the website.

    i don’t condone cp in any way. i just think its ridiculous that in this day and age law enforcement still targets “end users” in these types of investigations.

    1. Why would they target producers? Those people might be dangerous, and that would interfere with officer safety.

      1. lol…that and eradicate their own supply of stroke material 🙂

  17. FBI: Fucks Bunches of Infants

  18. Is the child revictimized if they’ve aged three dozen years since the picture was taken?

    1. Under the theories advocated by the DOJ, yes. Even if the victim is now 100 years old, they are still victimized by looking at a pornographic picture of them taken before they turned 18.

    2. Even if it was a picture they took of themselves, didn’t feel victimized at the time, and consistently maintained they weren’t victimized over the next three dozen years… they’re still being revictimized.

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  20. At the risk of floating ideas for which I could be roped into some “conspiracy” charge, I’m surprised some Justice Oriented Hacker/Spoofer hasn’t generated a virus/program which basically would email/download some sort of child porn onto everyone’s computer basically making everyone and no one a criminal. If everyone is marked the same, then a new platform of guilt has to be established.

    1. And I won’t let my paranoia run away with me that the turnaround time on posting my comment took about three times longer than it normally does. Probably just sheer coincidence.

  21. Is this part of that “adult conversation” FBI Director James Comey wants us to have?

  22. This author has fallen for the oft made mistake of thinking that laws apply equally to all people.

  23. We’re from the government. How much for the little girl?

  24. What’s even more bizarre is the age for sexual consent in many states is 16. Someone can legally have intercourse with a 16 year-old. Yet, they would be guilty of felony, punishable by many years in prison, if they were to photograph their sexual partner, or themselves if they too are under 18.

  25. Without government, who will distribute kiddie porn?

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  29. Next FBI sting: FBI takes over child sex slave ring, sells 1000 child sex slaves, then 2 years later arrests 10 of the buyers. Huge success as these horrible criminals are thrown in jail; anyone saying anything against whether this operation’s tactics were justified, ethical, or an effective way at addressing the issue is arrested on hate crime charges for defending child sex traffickers.

  30. Not to worry…it’s okay when they do it.

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  32. “Undermines the criminal justice system”? YA THINK? The mere possession is a felony, except when it’s the FBI in possession? Seriously? It’s like Nazi Germany all over again.

  33. The way I understand it, is that it’s nearly impossible for the FBI to prove “intent”, unless you make a prior public proclamation of the crime you “intend” to commit.

  34. I’m sure they were all jacking off in there black sunglasses while “distributing”

  35. Nothing new here, unfortunately.
    This is how they run prostitution stings in St. Tammny parish new orleans. Decoy calls girl from backpage. Decoy gets girl to room. Decoy says something sexual, backpage girls says something sexual back. Bam! She’s arrested. If she has lube or condoms which you can get from the state health dept, that’s more evidence against her.
    It’s supposedly illegal to see a prostitute, but the state can. The state can then hold a hooker against her will and take her money, vehicle, etc, which if an ordinary man did that it would be illegal.Laws aren’t for lawmakers and their minions.

    In Jefferson parish cops used to have sex with girls then bust, so I heard.

    Child porn is terrible, but the state or in this case FBI will go at almost any length to ensnare sex offenders. Nothing new. People who arrest drug users or sex offenders are often not much better than the perp. I’m disgusted that child porn exists and that the Fbi would distribute child porn.

  36. Just think what a president like Hillary and her husband, Cigar Bill, could do with a government agency like this.

  37. what the FBI did is the same thing Satan did to Adam and Eve. I have to say for those people who are spiritually weak do fall into the trap that FBI made. However if they are strong enough, they won’t make these kinds of mistake. I believe the FBI is more evil , they really have nothing better to do but trying to lead some people to the wrong direction and ruin their life too. If FBI has something better to do,then they need to catch those who is a danger in our life. How may terrorists can they catch? It all depends on what moral standard is. It is OK for president Clinton to have sex in white house but for those who watch child porn they have to face 10-15 years sentence? Does it make sense? I do not mean it is OK for people to watch child porn, what I mean there is no justice. The government is the biggest demon on earth.

  38. No one is above the law. The F.B.I. must answer for their crimes.

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