The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Efforts to Combat Crimes Against Children

Audit Report 09-08
January 2009
Office of the Inspector General

Chapter 1: Introduction

Each year thousands of children are subjected to violent crimes such as sexual abuse and kidnappings. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ or Department) primary component responsible for investigating crimes against children.24 The DOJ has made protecting children from victimization a priority as reflected in its Strategic Plan, which includes an objective to prevent, suppress, and intervene in crimes against children and describes its strategies for achieving this goal.25 Additionally, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made protecting children from crimes facilitated by computers a top priority when he announced the Project Safe Childhood (PSC) initiative on February 15, 2006. The goal of PSC is “to enhance the national response to this growing threat to America’s youth” through the collaboration of law enforcement agencies at all levels as well as non-profit organizations. The FBI is a critical link in the Department’s efforts to combat crimes against children, and it is therefore crucial for the FBI to have a well-organized, aggressive, and effective investigative approach to help protect children and expeditiously bring criminal charges against violators.

In general, the federal criminal code defines a “child” as someone under the age of 18.26 The federal statute on international parental kidnapping of children defines a “child” as a person under 16 years of age.27

FBI Crimes Against Children Programs

The FBI does not investigate all crimes against children. Its primary responsibilities in this area relate to the three major types of crimes against children contained in the U.S. Code: child pornography, child abduction, and the prostitution of children.28 In fiscal year (FY) 2007, the FBI employed the equivalent of 326 full‑time Special Agents to address crimes against children, an increase of approximately 52 percent from FY 2001. It initiated 2,891 cases in FY 2007, an increase of approximately 23 percent from FY 2001, to address these types of crimes against children.

To fulfill its responsibilities in this area, the FBI primarily utilizes two investigative units and five support components. The two investigative units are the Innocent Images National Initiative (IINI) Unit that investigates crimes against children that contain a cyber element and the Crimes Against Children Unit (CACU) that investigates all non-cyber related crimes against children. The five support components are a 24‑hour command center that ensures timely dissemination of missing children’s reports, a support and research center, a victim assistance office, a digital evidence analysis section that analyzes evidence seized from computers and other electronic devices, and a unit for psychological assessment of FBI Special Agents who perform undercover activities in investigating cyber crimes against children. These investigative units and support components can be found throughout the FBI, as demonstrated in the following FBI organization chart.


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Source: OIG composite of the FBI organization chart

The IINI Unit

The IINI Unit is a component of the Cyber Crime Section within the Cyber Division.29 This unit investigates crimes against children facilitated through the use of computers and other technologies, such as cell phones. These investigations are categorized into the following types:

The IINI Unit provides administrative oversight for a nationwide program. The IINI Unit also conducts investigations on a broad and often a global scale through its two investigative teams, an analytical team and an international task force. At FBI field offices, Special Agents assigned to cyber crimes squads also may handle IINI investigations. As of July 2007, the FBI had assigned 329 combined Special Agents and supervisors to work on cyber-related cases of crimes against children. All of these Special Agents and supervisors did not work 100 percent of their time on cyber-related crimes against children cases. Other crimes on which they worked included Internet fraud, online identity theft, and e-mail scams.

In FY 2007, 250 Special Agent full-time equivalents worked specifically on cyber-related crimes against children, which represents a 62 percent increase since FY 2001.


The CACU, a component of the Violent Crimes Section within the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, investigates child abductions and other non-cyber crimes against children, including:30

At FBI Headquarters, the CACU performs managerial and administrative functions and is composed of a Unit Chief, four Supervisory Special Agents, three Intelligence Analysts, and an Administrative Support Assistant. At the FBI’s field office level, crimes overseen by the CACU are addressed by squads investigating violent crimes.31

In May 1997, the FBI began requiring each of its 56 field offices to appoint at least two Special Agents to serve as Crimes Against Children Coordinators (CAC Coordinator).32 As the primary “go-to” persons within each FBI field office, the CAC Coordinators are responsible for establishing liaison with local law enforcement and social service agencies to help coordinate crimes against children investigations occurring in their jurisdiction. As of July 2007, there were 102 CAC Coordinators in FBI field offices throughout the country. However, these coordinating functions are considered collateral duties for CAC Coordinators, who are also responsible for investigating a variety of violent crimes, including crimes against children. In addition, other Special Agents may be assigned to violent crime squads also investigating non-cyber crimes against children. Altogether, in FY 2007, 76 Special Agent full-time equivalents worked specifically on non-cyber crimes against children, which represents a 26 percent increase in full-time equivalents since FY 2001.

FROM FYs 2001 THROUGH 2007

AOB FY 2001 FY 2002 FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006 FY 2007
IINI 154 173 205 236 235 227 250
CACU 60 52 43 52 61 73 76
Total 214 225 248 288 296 300 326
Source: The FBI

Support Components

The IINI Unit and the CACU receive technical support for their investigations of crimes against children primarily from the following four FBI components:

FBI’s Coordination Efforts

The FBI’s efforts to combat crimes against children include coordination with other law enforcement agencies and with non‑profit organizations. The FBI considers its relationships with these partners critical to the effective investigation of crimes against children. These partnerships include:

Prior Reports

We reviewed reports that were issued by the OIG and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), as well as other research products related to crimes against children.

OIG Audit Reports

The OIG has not conducted any prior audits specifically examining the FBI’s efforts to address crimes against children. However, the OIG included a short discussion on the FBI’s crimes against children investigations in its September 2005 audit report on the effect of the FBI’s reprioritization of investigative programs following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.41 According to this audit report, the FBI’s field offices in Chicago, Miami, and New York City did not coordinate their investigations of child pornography with other federal agencies. Additionally, this audit report analyzed survey responses from 1,225 state and local law enforcement agencies on whether the FBI’s shift in priorities had affected their investigations of crimes against children.42 Of the agencies that responded to the inquiry, 69 percent stated that there was “no impact.” Only 3 percent reported a negative impact resulting from the FBI’s reprioritization, and 7 percent reported a positive impact.43

U.S. Government Accountability Office Reports

Between July 2006 and July 2007, the GAO issued three reports that examined the U.S. international efforts to combat human trafficking. The July 2007 report stated that the FBI collaborated with CEOS and NCMEC in its efforts to combat domestic trafficking of minors for prostitution through the Innocence Lost National Initiative.44

In February 2003, the GAO released a report on file-sharing programs that provide easy access to child pornography.45 The report stated that peer-to-peer networks simplify access to child pornography by eliminating the need for a central server or website. In addition, GAO found a significant risk of inadvertent exposure to pornography, including child pornography, for juveniles who use peer-to-peer networks.

In November 2002, the GAO released a report examining coordinated efforts to combat child pornography by federal law enforcement agencies.46 The report did not find specific issues needing improvement in the FBI’s efforts to address crimes against children.

In March 2000, the GAO issued a report on international parental child abductions, which concluded that improvements were needed for coordination of efforts among the affected agencies.47 The report cited an instance where the State Department made inquiries on a case of a missing child only to find that the FBI had located the child and closed its case a month earlier. The report recommended that an integrated database be maintained by the State Department, FBI, and NCMEC to facilitate the exchange of information and to avoid duplicative efforts.48

Audit Approach

The objective of our audit was to examine whether the FBI has effectively established a nationwide investigative response to address the sexual exploitation, abduction, and abuse of children.49 To accomplish this objective, we interviewed over 200 individuals from various agencies and reviewed thousands of pages of documentation. Specifically, we interviewed officials at FBI headquarters in charge of crimes against children programs and reviewed relevant FBI policies. We also interviewed the Director of the CEOS, NCMEC officials, and the FBI, USMS, ICE, and USPIS federal liaisons stationed at NCMEC headquarters.

Further, we visited five FBI field offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; and St. Louis, Missouri. At these locations, we reviewed recently closed investigations of crimes against children and interviewed FBI Special Agents, Intelligence Analysts, victim specialists, and forensic examiners involved in crimes against children cases. Additionally, we interviewed representatives from the local U.S. Attorney’s Office, USMS, ICE, USPIS, and state and local law enforcement agencies.

Besides visiting the five FBI field offices, we disseminated questionnaires to eight FBI Legal Attachés (Legat) stationed in foreign countries on international parental abduction and to two Legats on child sex tourism. We also interviewed certain state and local law enforcement agencies that had received assistance from the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment teams.

We discuss our findings in the following three chapters of this report. In Chapter 2, we report on the FBI’s efforts to combat the online sexual exploitation of children through its IINI program. Our review of IINI evaluated the FBI’s prioritization of the various types of online sexual exploitation of children, the degrees of interagency cooperation, the analysis of digital evidence, and psychological assessments of employees who examine exploitive images of children as a part of their employment. We also discuss IINI’s research and outreach activities.

In Chapter 3, we discuss the FBI’s efforts to investigate reports of missing children. We analyze internal policies and procedures to ensure that the FBI responds to these crimes in a timely manner and with adequate coordination. This review also examined the adequacy and role of CAC Coordinators in missing children investigations. Furthermore, we present our review of the FBI’s efforts in investigating international parental kidnapping of children through a review of recently closed case files and the deployment of a survey to eight FBI Legats.

Lastly, in Chapter 4 of this report we discuss the FBI’s strategy for combating the sexual exploitation of minors without a cyber nexus, such as the prostitution of children and child sex tourism. In addition, we assess the strengths and weaknesses of the FBI’s initiative for investigating cases of domestic trafficking of children for sexual exploitation, known as the Innocence Lost National Initiative.


  1. While the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is also significantly involved in programs designed to address crimes against children at the local and national levels, our review was focused primarily on the FBI’s efforts. Appendix I contains a more detailed discussion of our audit scope.

  2. DOJ Strategic Plan, 2007 to 2012, Strategic Goal 2: “Prevent Crime, Enforce Federal Laws, and Represent the Rights and Interests of the American People.” Appendix III discusses the DOJ’s Strategic Plan in more detail.

  3. The U.S. Code uses the terms “child” and “minor” interchangeably in codifying statutes on various crimes against children. Regardless of the term used, the definition of a “child” or “minor” is essentially the same – a person under the age of 18. See 18 U.S.C. § 1201 (g) (1) (A) for child abductions; 18 U.S.C. § 2256 (1) for sexual exploitation of children; and 18 U.S.C. § 2423 (a) for trafficking of children for illegal sexual activities.

  4. 18 U.S.C. § 1204 (b) (1)

  5. See 18 U.S.C. § 1201, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251 and 2252, and 18 U.S.C. 2421 et seq., respectively.

  6. IINI began as a local initiative in 1993 at the FBI’s field office in Baltimore, Maryland, before becoming a national program as a part of the Criminal Investigative Division (CID) in 1995. In 2002, the FBI created the Cyber Division to address cyber threats in a coordinated manner. In 2003, the IINI Unit officially split from the CID and was moved to the Cyber Division. Appendix IV contains a historical perspective on the FBI’s crimes against children programs.

  7. In addition to these types of crimes against children, the CACU’s oversight had included violations of the Child Support Recovery Act and the National Sex Offender Registry. However, the FBI ceased its efforts in the Child Support Recovery Act in August 2001, citing reduction of resources. In addition, the FBI does not initiate investigations solely for registered offenders violating terms of the registration requirements. Sections 142 and 146 of the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (Adam Walsh Act): (1) conferred on the U.S. Marshals Service investigative responsibilities of sex offenders who violate registration requirements, and (2) created within the DOJ the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART Office). The SMART Office administers the standards for the sex offender registration and notification program set forth in the Adam Walsh Act.

  8. Despite the bifurcation of the FBI’s crimes against children programs, several FBI field offices have adopted a combined approach to address these crimes. For instance, the FBI field office in Miami, Florida, has a hybrid squad that addresses all crimes against children, regardless of whether a cyber nexus exists.

  9. The number of the required CAC Coordinators was reduced from two to one at each FBI field office in February 2004, following the transfer of the IINI from the CID to the Cyber Division and the resulting shift of resources.

  10. Data represented in this table came from the FBI’s Time Utilization and Recordkeeping (TURK) system, which records the percentage of time devoted by Special Agents to various types of investigations. TURK then converts that information into Average On-Board (AOB) data. One AOB is the equivalent of one full-time agent working in a specific investigative area for one year. All percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

  11. The BAU-1 focuses on counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, communicated threats, bombings, arsons, weapons of massive destruction, and critical incident support. The BAU-2 focuses on crimes against adults, such as serial homicide, serial rapes, homicides, sexual assaults, and adult abductions.

  12. One terabyte equals 1,024 gigabytes.

  13. NCMEC operates the Jimmy Ryce Law Enforcement Training Center at its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

  14. NCIC is a computerized index of criminal justice information, including information on fugitives, stolen property, and missing persons that is available to federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies.

  15. Other forms of notification can include local law enforcement agencies contacting the FBI directly, or parents of a missing child contacting the local FBI field office. Reports of missing children that are received at NCMEC through its 24-hour hotline are also forwarded to the FBI.

  16. The Assistant Attorney General for OJP serves as the National Coordinator of the America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert system for notifying media and the public of missing children.

  17. Appendix VI includes a complete list of member agencies on the Federal Agency Task Force on Missing and Exploited Children. The most current version of the Federal Resources on Missing and Exploited Children: A Directory for Law Enforcement and Other Public and Private Agencies, Fifth edition, was issued in 2007.

  18. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, The External Effects of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Reprioritization Efforts, Audit Report 05-37 (September 2005).

  19. This survey was sent to 3,514 state and local law enforcement agencies located in the geographical jurisdictions of the following 12 field offices: Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Detroit, Michigan; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; New York City; Phoenix, Arizona; San Francisco, California; and Washington, D.C.

  20. Of the 1,225 agencies that responded to the survey, 254 (21 percent) indicated that they had no involvement in crimes against children investigations.

  21. U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Human Trafficking: A Strategic Framework Could Help Enhance the Interagency Collaboration Needed to Effectively Combat Trafficking Crimes, GAO-07-915 (July 2007).

  22. GAO, File-Sharing Programs: Users of Peer-to-Peer Networks Can Readily Access Child Pornography, GAO-04-757T (May 2004).

  23. GAO, Combating Child Pornography: Federal Agencies Coordinate Law Enforcement Efforts, But an Opportunity Exists for Further Enhancement, GAO-03-272 (November 2002).

  24. GAO, Foreign Affairs: Specific Action Plan Needed to Improve Response to Parental Child Abductions, GAO/NSIAD-00-10 (March 2000).

  25. We also reviewed research literature on the topic of crimes against children. We consulted the studies most relevant to this review, which are cited where appropriate in this report.

  26. Appendix I contains a more detailed discussion of our audit objectives, scope, and methodology.


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