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

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

Executive Summary

Each year thousands of children are subjected to violent crimes such as sexual abuse and kidnappings. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) considers protecting children from victimization a top priority.1 The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the DOJ’s primary component that investigates crimes against children. Along with the FBI, many law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are involved in the investigation and prosecution of crimes against children.


The FBI investigates crimes against children primarily through two major investigative units: the Innocent Images National Initiative (IINI) Unit and the Crimes Against Children Unit (CACU). The IINI Unit is a component of the Cyber Crime Section within the FBI Cyber Division.2 The IINI Unit investigates crimes against children facilitated through computers and other digital technologies (such as digital cameras and MP3 Players) and may be categorized into the following four types of subjects: (1) online groups, organizations, and for-profit enterprises; (2) major distributors, producers, and manufacturers of child pornography; (3) adults who entice minors through online activities; and (4) possessors of child pornography. As of July 2007, the FBI had 329 Special Agents and supervisors assigned to work on cyber‑related cases of crimes against children.3

The CACU is a component of the Violent Crime Section within the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. The CACU has oversight over various crimes against children, including: (1) child abduction without ransom, (2) international parental abduction of children, (3) sexual exploitation, (4) trafficking of children, (5) domestic parental kidnapping, and (6) interstate transportation of obscene matter involving children.4 As of July 2007, the FBI had 102 Special Agents designated as Crimes Against Children Coordinators throughout the FBI’s 56 field offices.5

In addition, these two programs receive significant support primarily from four other components at the FBI: (1) the Behavioral Analysis Unit 3 (BAU-3) – a support and research center with a focus on crimes against children; (2) the Office for Victim Assistance (OVA) – an office designed to assist victims of crimes, with children as its highest priority; (3) the Digital Evidence Section (DES) – a unit for analysis of digital evidence seized from computers and other electronic devices in child pornography cases; and (4) the Undercover Safeguard Unit (USU) – a component that performs psychological assessments of undercover employees working on crimes against children. The following chart diagrams the organizational layout of these entities.


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Source: OIG composite of the FBI organization chart

OIG Audit Approach

The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted this audit to examine the FBI’s efforts to address various crimes against children such as: (1) cyber-based child pornography, (2) child abductions, and (3) non-cyber sexual exploitation of children.

To evaluate the FBI’s efforts to address cyber-based child pornography, we reviewed the FBI’s national program dedicated to addressing online child pornography, IINI, and its policies and priorities for addressing this crime. We also examined FBI programs supporting IINI investigations, including behavioral analysis and research, forensic examination of digital evidence, and outreach programs for children.

For child abductions and other non-cyber crimes against children, we reviewed the FBI’s policies and practices for responding to incidents of child abductions and the sexual exploitation of children. We also evaluated the FBI’s efforts to coordinate with other agencies involved in investigating these crimes. We identified proactive FBI efforts designed to prevent children from being victimized.

During our audit, we interviewed over 200 individuals from the FBI and various law enforcement agencies, including FBI headquarters officials and field personnel involved in the FBI’s crimes against children programs. Additionally, we met with officials from the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) of the DOJ’s Criminal Division; the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC); and other federal agencies, local law enforcement, and non-profit organizations involved in crimes against children matters. We also reviewed policies, procedures, case files, and data pertaining to the FBI’s efforts to combat crimes against children. We performed fieldwork at five FBI field offices: San Francisco and Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; and St. Louis, Missouri. Further, through questionnaires we obtained feedback from FBI personnel stationed in FBI overseas Legal Attaché (Legat) offices regarding international parental kidnapping and child sex tourism; and from local law enforcement agencies that received assistance from the FBI’s specialized child abduction response teams.

Appendix I contains a further description of our audit objectives, scope, and methodology.

Results in Brief

In fiscal year (FY) 2007, the FBI initiated 2,891 crimes against children investigations and used the equivalent of 326 Special Agents working full-time to investigate these cases. Principally, the FBI investigates three areas of crimes against children: (1) online child sexual exploitation investigated by the IINI Unit; (2) child abductions investigated by the CACU; and (3) non-cyber sexual exploitation of children investigated by the CACU.

In the area of online child sexual exploitation, the FBI has implemented a national initiative with defined strategies and goals through the IINI. Within the IINI program, the FBI’s priority is to target criminal enterprises that are sexually exploiting children. Our review of IINI resource utilization data determined that the FBI focused 70 percent of its IINI Special Agent resources on its top two priorities – criminal enterprises and producers who sexually exploit children online. These enterprises include individuals or organizations that operate commercial child pornography websites or Internet-based groups that promote and facilitate the exchange of child pornography amongst members. Producers include individuals or organizations that create, manufacture, and distribute child pornography.

We identified issues with the FBI’s timely processing of digital evidence seized from computers and other electronic devices through investigations of cyber crimes against children. Digital evidence includes images and videos that contain child pornography, as well as any text files that are stored on computer hard drives, disks, CDs, DVDs, and other digital storage devices such as cell phones and digital cameras. The review and processing of digital evidence can be very time-consuming because of the large volume of evidence in many cases, and we found a significant backlog in the FBI’s review of digital evidence in crimes against children cases.

The FBI submitted a proposal to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General in March 2007 describing the problems contributing to the backlog and providing an outline of options for addressing the backlog. On February 13, 2008, the Deputy Attorney General issued a memorandum to the FBI, Criminal Division, Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and United States Attorney Offices, which included both short- and long-term strategies for handling the increasing volume of digital evidence seized during child sexual exploitation cases and requiring forensic analysis. The short-term strategy endorsed the FBI’s plan to upgrade and expand its use of preview tools, hire additional forensic examiners, and establish new forensic laboratories dedicated to processing digital evidence for significant child exploitation investigations. The long-term strategy included the creation of a permanent working group to identify ways to address the increasing workloads of digital evidence resulting from advances in technology.

In the area of child abductions, the FBI created the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) program to respond to the disappearance of minors. According to FBI officials, the FBI’s unwritten policy is to elevate its child abduction response to a top priority. At the same time, FBI written policies emphasize the importance of a coordinated and timely response to reports of child abductions. However, the FBI did not track and evaluate the timeliness of its response to child abductions, including those cases where its CARD teams were involved. Given the importance of an immediate response to the safety of an abducted child, we recommend that the FBI develop response timeframe requirements and a mechanism for tracking and analyzing FBI responsiveness to reports of child abductions.

We reviewed nine CARD team deployments and found evidence in FBI files that the FBI coordinated with local law enforcement and that local law enforcement officials were satisfied with the FBI’s assistance. However, we believe that the FBI can enhance its overall efforts to combat child abductions through better coordination with other major nationwide programs addressing missing children investigations, particularly programs at the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and NCMEC.

We also found that coordination could be improved in the FBI’s efforts in international parental abduction by implementing a 2000 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendation to develop a shared database among the FBI, Department of State, and NCMEC. In addition, FBI Legat personnel suggested more specific training on international parental kidnapping to enhance the FBI’s effectiveness in addressing this complex crime.

In the area of non-cyber sexual exploitation of children, the FBI created the Innocence Lost National Initiative (Innocence Lost) to investigate the prostitution of children domestically. However, we found that the FBI does not have a similar program for child sex tourism cases – investigations of persons who travel abroad with the purpose of having sex with children. We believe that the FBI can improve its efforts to address child sex tourism by developing a programmatic strategy, guidance, and a separate investigative classification for tracking such investigations.

In our report, we make 13 recommendations to assist the FBI in its efforts to combat crimes against children. Our recommendations include that the FBI continue to develop strategies to help decrease the backlog of digital evidence, develop a mechanism to track the timeliness of the FBI’s response to reports of child abductions, improve its coordination with other nationwide child abduction programs, and develop a strategy and guidelines for addressing child sex tourism.

Our report contains detailed information on the full results of our review. The remaining sections of this Executive Summary describe in more detail our audit findings.

Online Sexual Exploitation of Children

The pervasiveness of the Internet has resulted in the dramatic growth of online sexual exploitation of children. This is exemplified by data from NCMEC’s hotline for reporting crimes against children – the CyberTipline®, which recorded a significant increase in the number of cyber‑facilitated child pornography cases reported over a 5-year period, from 7,038 in 2003 to 20,760 in 2007.6 In 1995, the FBI specifically developed the IINI to target online child sexual exploitation. Between FYs 1996 and 2007, the number of IINI cases that were opened increased from 113 to 2,443 – a growth of over 2,000 percent. In FY 2007, the FBI’s IINI investigations resulted in more than 1,000 convictions for persons victimizing children through online sexual exploitation.

FBI IINI Priorities

In January 2002, to account for the variety of cyber crimes against children, the FBI increased from one to four the number of case classifications used to categorize online exploitation of children. Later, in September 2005 the FBI prioritized these classifications, placing the investigation of criminal enterprises involved in online child sexual exploitation as the top priority, as shown in the following table.


Ranking Classification FBI’s Rationale
for Priority Ranking
1 Enterprises operating commercial child pornography websites or promoting and facilitating the exchange of child pornography amongst group members7 Complex multi-subject, multi-jurisdictional, and international investigations
2 Producers of child pornography Opportunities to identify and rescue victims from on-going exploitation
3 Online enticement of minors through mechanisms such as chat rooms Subjects who take concrete steps to exploit children
4 Possession of child pornography Most common violation – investigate if an enterprise-level nexus exists
Source: FBI IINI

Our analysis of FBI resource utilization data showed that for FYs 2006 and 2007 the FBI focused investigative personnel working IINI cases in accordance with these priorities. On average during these 2 years, out of 238 Special Agents, the equivalent of 86 full-time Special Agents worked on enterprise-level IINI investigations, 81 agents investigated producers of sexually exploitative images of children, and 72 agents worked cases related to online child sexual exploitation enticement and possession. The FBI dedicated 70 percent of its Special Agents investigating IINI matters to its top priority cases: enterprises involved in sexually exploiting children online (36 percent) and producers of cyber-based child pornography (34 percent).

AVERAGE FOR FYs 2006 and 2007

Groups and Enterprises-36%; Producers-34%; Enticers-18%; Possessors-12%.

Source: OIG analysis of FBI Special Agent resource utilization data

Interagency Cooperation

The Internet requires law enforcement organizations at all levels to cooperate in the investigation of online exploitation of children. Individuals committing these crimes who possess exploitative images of children often live in a different state or country from the host of the website who posted the images. Inadequate law enforcement cooperation may lead to duplicative and inefficient investigative efforts, which can jeopardize the effectiveness of the investigation. The FBI currently participates in two major interagency initiatives in an effort to combat cyber crimes against children: Project Safe Childhood and its IINI International Task Force.

Project Safe Childhood

Project Safe Childhood (PSC), developed in 2006 at the direction of the Attorney General, encourages federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, to cooperate in combating cyber crimes against children. The FBI supports PSC by requiring its field offices to integrate with the DOJ-funded Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces.9 Our review found that this integration took place in the geographic jurisdictions for four of the five FBI field offices we visited. For instance, the FBI St. Louis Field Office has a cyber crimes against children investigative squad co-located with the Missouri ICAC task force at the Clayton Police Department in Clayton, Missouri. This co-location facilitated the exchange of information and coordination on investigations between the FBI and members of the ICAC task force. ICAC task force members we interviewed were satisfied with the level of coordination between the Missouri ICAC and the FBI. Although not co-located with the local FBI cyber squad, ICAC representatives in Boston, Miami, and San Francisco expressed satisfaction with the level of coordination between their task forces and respective FBI field offices.

By contrast, we found that the Los Angeles Field Office did not interact with the ICAC Task Force based in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). However, subsequent to our fieldwork in June 2007 and after two Central District of California Assistant U.S. Attorneys began serving as PSC co-Coordinators, we were informed that meetings between the PSC Coordinators, the FBI, and LAPD personnel were conducted in early 2008 in an effort to help enhance coordination in the investigations of cyber crimes against children. Yet, we believe further efforts are required in Los Angeles to ensure full coordination between the FBI and the local ICAC Task Force. A lack of coordination between federal and local agencies risks duplication of efforts and a generally poor use of resources and expertise dedicated to the same purpose.

Innocent Images National Initiative International Task Force

The FBI created its Innocent Images National Initiative (IINI) International Task Force in 2004 to enhance international coordination by hosting and providing training at FBI headquarters for foreign law enforcement officers, who become liaisons for child exploitation investigations on a global scale. As of March 2008, the IINI International Task Force trained over 47 foreign law enforcement officers from 22 countries.10

The FBI has recognized the need to extend its coordination internationally on cyber crimes against children to additional countries. According to the IINI Chief, the FBI’s next objective for the IINI International Task Force is to include law enforcement partners from South America. Such expansion of the IINI International Task Force to additional countries can enhance the FBI’s global efforts in combating online sexual exploitation of children.

Forensic Analysis of Digital Evidence

For many IINI investigations, digital evidence seized, including computers and electronic files of exploitative images needs to be analyzed to establish the possession, production, transport, and distribution of child pornography. Accurate and timely analysis of digital evidence is critical for the prosecution of these cases. Computer Analysis Response Teams (CART) and the Regional Computer Forensic Laboratories (RCFL) administered by the FBI’s Digital Evidence Section (DES) examine digital evidence seized by IINI and the CACU.

As of Fall 2008, the FBI had approximately 255 forensic examiners. Between FYs 2005 and 2007, the FBI’s CART-certified forensic examiners at headquarters and in the field received a total of approximately 2,400 service requests each year from IINI. Although the number of service requests was relatively constant from year to year, the volume of data processed and analyzed increased by 38 percent from FY 2005 to FY 2007.

The DES categorizes a request for forensic analysis of digital evidence as in a backlog status if the request is not assigned to a forensic examiner within 30 days of receipt or if the request is assigned to a forensic examiner but the forensic analysis is not completed within 60 days of the requestor’s submission to DES.11 Officials at DES said they have not established timeliness standards for conducting forensic analysis of specific evidence, because the type and amount of digital evidence, as well as the scope of each service request, varies from case to case, and this variance affects the length of time required for analyses. As of FY 2007, DES data indicated that on average IINI service requests were assigned to examiners within 19 days of receipt, well within the 30-day timeframe. However, as of the end of FY 2007, 353 out of 2,429 IINI service requests were considered in a backlog status.

In our review of 38 judgmentally selected closed IINI investigations at the 5 locations we visited, we found that 17 cases (45 percent) received forensic analysis of digital evidence, with 4 of these 17 cases involving multiple examinations. We analyzed the time elapsed between when the DES received the requests for forensic services and assigned them to a forensic examiner. For the 17 cases in our sample, the average elapsed time between receipt of a request for forensic services and assignment of the evidence to an examiner was 20 days, which was within the DES 30-day criterion. According to the DES, FBI computer forensic examiners completed their analysis on average in about 9 days after the service request was assigned to them, with the longest analysis taking approximately 90 days.

FBI officials in IINI and the DES acknowledged that the processing of digital evidence in some instances has taken unduly long periods of time. During our review, we were informed by IINI and DES that due to lack of personnel and resources, the processing time for digital evidence could range in some cases from 3 to 9 months. FBI data showed that it took FBI computer forensic personnel an overall average of 59 days to examine IINI digital evidence in FY 2007.

In March 2007, the FBI submitted to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General a proposal in which it stated that it needs “significant additional personnel and resources” in coming years to keep up with an ever‑growing amount of digital evidence in criminal investigations. The proposal included a plan for the increased resources necessary to process digital evidence seized in cyber crimes against children investigations.

On February 13, 2008, the Deputy Attorney General issued a memorandum to the FBI, DOJ Criminal Division, Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and United States Attorney Offices, which included both short- and long-term strategies on handling the increasing volume of digital evidence from child sexual exploitation cases requiring forensic analysis. The short-term strategy endorsed the FBI’s plans to upgrade and expand its use of preview tools, hire additional forensic examiners, and establish new forensic laboratories dedicated to the processing of significant cases of child exploitation investigations. The short-term strategy also included the construction of a new forensic laboratory in Linthicum, Maryland. This new laboratory will be devoted exclusively to working on high-priority cases of sexual exploitation of children. DES officials said they hope this new laboratory will help address the current backlog of unreviewed evidence.

The opening of a new laboratory partially addresses the FBI’s proposal that it submitted to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, which requested two new forensic laboratories. However, there was no indication in the memorandum whether the DOJ would supplement the FBI’s budget to fund these enhancements.

The long-term strategy includes a permanent Computer Forensics Working Group (CFWG) that seeks to efficiently allocate resources to process the growing volumes of digital evidence. Composed of representatives from various DOJ components, including the FBI, the CFWG is supposed to meet regularly and propose long-term prosecution and investigative strategies for the efficient use of forensic resources to help ensure the timely investigation and prosecution of cases involving digital evidence. The CFWG also is supposed to recommend guidelines and performance measures for computer forensic examinations, including time frame benchmarks for processing digital evidence.

Mental Health of Online Crimes Against Children Investigators

The Undercover Safeguard Unit (USU), a component of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, is responsible for assessing the mental health of FBI undercover employees and candidates for undercover assignments. Undercover activities of IINI typically involve Special Agents assuming the role of a minor to identify adults who entice children in cyberspace. Special Agents working in an undercover capacity also infiltrate online groups that target children for exploitation. Further, undercover agents may have to review child pornography as part of their duties.

The IINI Manual states that IINI Special Agents who investigate online sexual exploitation of children in an undercover capacity first must pass a psychological assessment administered by the FBI’s USU. Agents who remain in an undercover capacity must pass subsequent assessments at intervals determined by USU psychologists.

Due to the sexually explicit and occasionally violent nature of the images they encounter, undercover employees may experience trauma or commit acts that pose a liability to themselves, others, and the FBI.12 Our review showed that of the 99 undercover IINI Special Agents whose USU assessment data were available, assessments for 31 agents were overdue between 1.5 to 10 months. Given the importance of ensuring the mental health of FBI employees exposed to these materials, we recommend that the FBI ensure timely psychological assessments for its IINI undercover employees.

Other FBI personnel not designated for undercover work but who are involved in cyber crimes against children cases, such as non-undercover Special Agents and DES forensic examiners, may also be exposed to images of children that are sexually explicit and violent. Currently, the FBI does not require these employees to undergo psychological assessments. While the USU stated that it would not refuse to provide a psychological assessment if requested by an employee, the USU concentrates its services on assessing undercover employees and relies on FBI management to refer non-undercover employees on an as-needed basis. Given the graphic content of the images that non-undercover FBI personnel may also encounter in the course of their duties and the associated mental health risks, we believe the FBI should establish guidelines for providing USU-approved psychological assessments or counseling for non-undercover personnel who have had or will have exposure to child sexual exploitation material.

Intelligence Analysis and Research

The objectives of the FBI’s Cyber Crime Section for 2007 included expanding IINI’s intelligence collection and analysis capability. During our review we identified several instances where the FBI conducted research to enhance its ability to investigate cyber crimes against children. At the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, one Intelligence Analyst’s primary task was to research current technological innovations and assess whether any would lend themselves to misuse in crimes against children. Likewise, an Intelligence Analyst at the San Francisco Field Office used her undercover identity to observe and analyze adult predators’ behavioral patterns. Additionally, the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU-3) has been conducting a research project since 2002 that analyzed completed IINI cases to identify characteristics of offenders, victims, and seized images of child exploitation. We believe these research efforts of the FBI are useful and have the potential to enhance law enforcement efforts by providing agents with additional information on emerging technologies as well as insights into the behavior and thought processes of the individuals who produce or access online child pornography.

Online Safety for Minors

Frequent online activities of minors can expose them to the dangers of cyberspace, including adults who prey on children. The FBI considers online safety for minors a significant concern and has included in the IINI Manual a policy requiring field offices to promote “community outreach programs regarding online safety as it relates to children.”

We found at all five locations we visited during our fieldwork that IINI Special Agents performed outreach activities to educate the public on Internet safety. For instance, at the FBI’s offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston, IINI Special Agents responded to requests from the public by making presentations on online safety issues. In Miami and St. Louis, Special Agents formed partnerships with local non-profit groups specifically devoted to online safety concerns for minors and participated in outreach programs to educate children about the dangers of unsafe Internet activities.

Child Abductions

According to a 2002 congressionally mandated study, 99.8 percent of children missing from their caretakers in 1999 returned home or were located alive.13 However, a 2006 study of more than 775 murders of abducted children showed that three-quarters of such crimes occurred within 3 hours of the abduction.14 Consequently, it is critical for law enforcement to react quickly to a child believed to have been abducted.

To determine whether the FBI has responded quickly to instances of missing children, we reviewed FBI child abduction policy and a sample of investigative case files. Between FYs 2000 and 2007, the FBI opened 722 child abduction cases. According to FBI officials, child abduction cases are a top FBI investigative priority. FBI policy requires field offices to establish liaisons with local law enforcement agencies in order to react immediately to reports of the mysterious disappearance of minors.

At the five field offices we visited, we reviewed a total of five recently closed investigations on child abductions. In this small-scoped examination, we found documentation in case files suggesting that these field offices responded to missing children’s reports and provided investigative assistance to local law enforcement agencies. In addition, we interviewed representatives from six local law enforcement agencies at the five field office locations, and we asked general questions about the FBI’s response to child abduction cases. Representatives from the six agencies told us that there were no recent abduction cases, and therefore they could not specifically comment on the effectiveness of the FBI’s response to such cases. Nevertheless, these six agencies expressed that their working relationship with the FBI was generally positive with respect to crimes against children.

Furthermore, we found that the FBI’s liaison at NCMEC received timely notifications from NCMEC’s missing children hotline and disseminated the missing child reports to the appropriate FBI field offices for further response. FBI Crimes Against Children Coordinators located in the field offices received notifications of missing children in a variety of ways, including NCMEC notifications, the AMBER alert program, and FBI’s internal e-mail system.15

In attempting to review the timeliness of the FBI’s response to child abductions, we also interviewed FBI personnel involved in investigations at the field offices we visited. While our review suggested that the FBI personnel responded in a timely manner, the FBI does not have a means to track and evaluate its response to child abductions on a nationwide level.

The FBI considers a missing child as someone in “imminent danger” and elevates such investigations automatically to a top priority, and has developed a policy to require Special Agents to respond immediately to such crimes. Thus, response timeframes should be a primary measure for determining the FBI’s performance in responding to child abductions. We recommend that the FBI develop response timeframe requirements and a mechanism for tracking and analyzing FBI responsiveness to reports of child abductions. The data gathered should include the dates and times when the FBI was notified, when the FBI responded, and when other important steps in the investigation occurred. This will provide FBI management the ability to evaluate its response to child abductions and to identify offices requiring improvements.

The FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Teams

To enhance its response to child abductions, the FBI in 2005 developed its Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) team program. CARD teams are comprised of Special Agents located throughout the FBI’s field offices with experience in conducting investigations of child abductions in multi-jurisdictional settings. As of November 2007, 64 Supervisory Special Agents and Special Agents nationwide served on 10 CARD teams. The FBI field office within the jurisdiction of an abduction decides whether it wants the assistance of a CARD team. Once deployed, CARD team members travel to the crime scene and serve as technical consultants to local law enforcement leading the search for the missing child. From the first deployment in March 2006 through 2007, the FBI deployed its CARD teams 26 times. Eleven deployments resulted in the recovery of the children alive; 13 deployments resulted in the recovery of the children deceased; and 2 deployments did not result in the location of the missing child.

The FBI documents CARD deployments by providing a narrative summary detailing the facts of the case and recounting the efforts made in the investigation. Although this documentation provides the date on which the children were reported missing and the date of the CARD team deployments, it does not capture critical data such as the time that the FBI was notified and the time that the FBI acted upon the notification.16 Without the ability to establish a precise chronology detailing the sequence of events in the search for a missing child, the FBI does not have objective data to evaluate whether the CARD teams took necessary steps during the first crucial hours of the child abduction investigation. Consequently, as we recommended for the FBI’s overall child abduction assessment, the FBI should systematically track its CARD teams’ response time and investigative actions.

CARD Post-Deployment Survey

The 2007 Strategic Plan of the CACU included developing a CARD post‑deployment survey for field office management. This survey was intended to help the CACU develop policies to achieve satisfaction. We believe that such survey results would also identify best practices and any potential shortcomings to improve the CARD teams. However, the CACU Chief informed us during our audit that the post‑deployment survey tool had not been completed as of June 2008.

In the absence of such post-deployment survey data, we selected nine CARD team deployments for evaluation by reviewing related documentation maintained by the CACU at FBI headquarters and interviewing local law enforcement officials assisted by the CARD teams. We found that local police agencies who received assistance from the CARD teams were satisfied with the FBI’s assistance in all nine cases. Nevertheless, we believe that the FBI would benefit from developing the post-deployment survey that it identified in its 2007 strategic plan. Information obtained from the survey would allow the FBI to enhance its efforts in responding to these time-sensitive crimes, thereby increasing the chance of locating missing children alive.

International Parental Abduction

International parental child abduction refers to situations in which a parent “removes a child from the United States, or attempts to do so, or retains a child (who has been in the United States) outside the United States with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights.”17 The FBI investigates international parental abduction of children pursuant to the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act, which made such abductions a federal offense. International parental abductions often involve foreign judicial systems and social customs that differ from U.S. laws and procedures. For instance, certain countries do not view parental abductions as kidnapping or a crime.

To evaluate the FBI efforts in addressing international parental abduction of children, we reviewed eight recently closed investigations and interviewed officials from the FBI and State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues (OCI).18 Additionally, we surveyed eight of the FBI’s overseas Legal Attaché (Legat) Offices on international parental abduction matters.19

Our review of eight FBI case files found that FBI Legat Offices facilitated investigations by coordinating with both U.S. and foreign agencies. These investigations involve complexities of working with foreign governments, honoring the sovereignty of foreign countries and their laws, and adhering to international agreements. This operating environment requires FBI Legat personnel to have significant knowledge of the investigative and diplomatic tools available for addressing international parental abductions, which are different for each country. However, our survey of FBI Legat Office representatives indicated a need for training on international parental abductions, as Legat personnel received very little instruction in this area. We recommend that the FBI develop specific training for FBI Legat personnel on international parental abductions of children.

Coordinated Database

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 2000 that a weakness in the federal government’s response to the international parental abduction of children was the lack of a coordinated database for sharing information among the State Department, DOJ, and NCMEC. GAO reported that the State Department planned to implement a new system by August 2000.

During our fieldwork, we met with officials from the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues to discuss the implementation of the new system. None of the officials that we met were familiar with the proposed system or with the previous plan for implementation. According to the State Department officials that we interviewed, rather than develop a new database, the State Department considered in 2007 providing the FBI and NCMEC read-only access to its existing system for tracking parental kidnapping cases. In September 2007, we learned from the State Department that NCMEC planned to grant the FBI and State Department dial-up access to its database on international parental kidnapping. Subsequent discussions with the FBI and the State Department confirmed that this access was provided.

During our audit, officials from the FBI CACU stated that there were no recent instances of duplicative efforts on cases of international parental kidnapping among the FBI, State Department, and NCMEC. We did not review any case files to assess whether any duplication had occurred. However, the GAO reported in its 2000 review that investigative duplication involving the FBI and State Department had occurred on international parental kidnapping matters. One CACU official stated that the likelihood of duplication is higher between the State Department and NCMEC when both agencies file applications for civil resolution through the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the organization that had created the Hague Convention.20

Nevertheless, given that duplicative investigations involving the FBI have occurred in the past and that coordination plays a central role in the investigation of international parental abduction of children, we recommend that the FBI coordinate with the State Department and NCMEC to promote the development of a central, integrated database of information on international parental abductions.

Non-Cyber Sexual Exploitation of Children

Prostitution of Children

Sexual exploitation of children constitutes a major category of the crimes against children investigated by the FBI. The FBI addresses the prostitution of minors mainly through investigating major criminal enterprises involved in this crime and gathering strategic intelligence on the issue.

The FBI coordinates with the Criminal Division’s CEOS and NCMEC in addressing the organized prostitution of children through its Innocence Lost National Initiative (Innocence Lost). Through this initiative, the FBI investigates major enterprises that prostitute children for financial gain, the CEOS lends prosecutorial experience and advice, and NCMEC provides related training programs.

As of June 2008, the FBI had 24 Innocence Lost locations across the country, with 13 full-scale task forces and 11 informal working groups.21 Between FYs 2004 and 2007 the FBI’s Innocent Lost initiative reported that it opened 365 cases on child prostitution organizations, which resulted in the location of 281 victimized children and the conviction of 216 persons for prostituting minors. Detailed statistics on the Innocent Lost initiative are provided in the following table.


Fiscal Year 2004 2005 2006 2007 Total
Cases Opened 66 71 103 125 365
Located Child Victims 24 32 44 181 281
Indictments 26 44 68 55 193
Convictions 22 45 43 106 216
Source: FBI

Sexual Exploitation of Children

In addition to investigating enterprises that prostitute children, the FBI’s CACU also responds to leads on individuals who exploit children sexually across state and foreign boundaries without evidence of prostitution. Although a new classification code was created to account for the Innocence Lost, the FBI currently classifies all non‑cyber related cases of sexual exploitation of children across state and foreign boundaries under the same code. FBI investigations in these areas include those who have allegedly traveled overseas for the purpose of engaging in illegal sexual relations with minors, referred to as child sex tourism cases.23

Our review determined that the FBI conducts both reactive and proactive investigations to combat child sex tourism. In reactive investigations, the FBI responds to allegations that individuals are suspected of having sexually exploited children overseas. We reviewed four reactive investigations on child sex tourism, one case at each of the Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, and St. Louis field offices. In addition, to help assess the FBI’s efforts overseas in conducting child sex tourism investigations, we surveyed two FBI Legat Offices for countries identified as having a significant problem with this crime: Thailand and Costa Rica. Responses to our survey, as well as interviews with CACU officials, suggest that the FBI faces significant challenges in its reactive investigations of child sex tourism, including obtaining necessary evidence, receiving the assistance of victims in prosecuting the offenders, and obtaining adequate and timely assistance from foreign governments.

In 2002, the FBI’s Miami Field Office began a proactive online undercover operation directed against individuals who intend to travel abroad to engage in sexual activities with minors. Special Agents from the FBI’s Miami Field Office pretended to arrange travel for persons wanting to visit a foreign country for the purpose of having sex with minors. As of Summer 2008, 15 individuals were convicted as a result of this operation. This proactive approach to addressing child sex tourism is employed only at the FBI’s Miami Field Office.

Overall, our audit disclosed that the FBI’s response to child sex tourism has not been as well managed as its efforts to combat domestic trafficking of children for prostitution under the Innocence Lost initiative. In reviewing Innocence Lost, we found that the FBI had established program goals, monitored its progress in achieving program goals, gathered intelligence, issued detailed guidance to Special Agents, and created a separate investigative classification code for accounting purposes. By contrast, we did not find that the FBI established program goals for its child sex tourism investigations, gathered related intelligence, or provided detailed guidance to Special Agents. Further, child sex tourism investigations were not tracked separately under a different investigative classification code. Instead, these investigations were combined under a single classification with other non-prostitution related sexual exploitation cases. This makes it difficult for the FBI to identify its operations addressing child sex tourism cases. Therefore, we recommend that the FBI develop for its child sex tourism cases a programmatic strategy, goals, guidance, and a separate investigative classification for tracking such investigations.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The FBI predominantly investigates three areas of crimes against children: (1) cyber-based child pornography (2) child abductions, and (3) non-cyber sexual exploitation of children. In each of these areas the FBI has developed national programs to guide its efforts, specifically its IINI, CARD Team, and Innocence Lost programs.

FBI data shows that in FY 2007 the FBI opened nearly 2,900 crimes against children investigations and dedicated the equivalent of 326 Special Agents to work these cases, an increase in personnel of approximately 52 percent from FY 2001.

In the area of cyber-based child pornography, we found that in FYs 2006 and 2007, the FBI devoted 70 percent of its IINI Special Agent workforce to investigate top IINI priorities – enterprises sexually exploiting children online and producers of cyber-based child pornography. In addition to investigative operations, we found that two of the five FBI field offices that we visited performed outreach activities to educate children on the dangers of unsafe Internet activities through partnership with local non-governmental organizations. Special Agents at the remaining three offices we visited stated that they responded to requests from the public to make presentations to children on Internet safety, but these offices did not have proactive outreach programs. We recommend that the FBI develop policies for field offices to form partnerships with non-governmental organizations to educate children on online safety issues.

The timely processing of digital evidence in investigations of cyber crimes against children was a challenge for the FBI. While FBI officials said they are attempting to expedite the processing of digital evidence, a continual backlog exists because of resource issues and the growth of digital evidence seized in child sexual exploitation cases. During our audit, the FBI opened a new digital forensic laboratory devoted to conducting forensic analysis on high priority crimes against children cases.

In the area of child abductions, we found that the FBI created Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) teams to provide technical assistance to its field offices and local law enforcement agencies in missing children investigations. The eight law enforcement agencies sampled in our review of CARD deployments expressed satisfaction in their experience of working with the FBI.

Regarding its international efforts to assist in recovering children abducted abroad by a parent, FBI Legat personnel we surveyed said they lacked sufficient training on topics that would assist them in more effectively addressing international parental abduction cases. In addition, our limited review of case files indicated that the FBI was generally coordinating with law enforcement partners, both domestically and internationally. However, the FBI could improve its coordination with the State Department and NCMEC in promoting the development of a shared database on international parental kidnapping to avoid possible conflicts if the FBI, State Department, and NCMEC were to investigate the same individuals.

In the area of non-cyber sexual exploitation of children, the FBI launched with the CEOS and NCMEC the Innocence Lost project in 2003 to combat domestic trafficking of children for prostitution. As of the end of FY 2007, Innocence Lost helped locate about 280 children victimized through prostitution. We found the FBI’s approach to child sex tourism was less comprehensive than its Innocence Lost initiative in gathering intelligence and providing operational guidelines.

Our report makes 13 recommendations to assist the FBI in its crimes against children programs. We recommend that the FBI continue to develop strategies to alleviate its digital evidence backlog for crimes against children cases, develop a mechanism to track the FBI’s response time to reports of child abductions, provide additional training to Legat personnel on international parental abduction cases, coordinate with the State Department and NCMEC to promote the development of a shared database for cases involving international parental abductions, and implement an FBI-wide strategy for addressing child sex tourism. Our findings and recommendations are presented in more detail in our full report.


  1. See 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.

  2. 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 CACU in 1995. The FBI created the Cyber Division in 2002 to address “cyber threats in a coordinated manner.” In 2003, IINI officially transferred from the CACU to the Cyber Division. For a historical perspective of the FBI’s crimes against children program, see Appendix IV.

  3. Although the FBI designated 102 Special Agents as Crimes Against Children Coordinators and assigned 329 Special Agents and Supervisors to investigate cyber crimes against children, the actual full time equivalents of both was 326. The difference between the total number of Special Agents assigned to work these types of cases and the full time equivalents is attributable to Special Agents and supervisors also investigating violent and cyber crimes that did not involve children. From fiscal year (FY) 2001 to FY 2007, the total number of full time equivalent Special Agents and supervisors that investigated crimes against children increased 52 percent, from 214 to 326, respectively.

  4. Appendix X lists the federal statutes governing crimes against children.

  5. As the primary “go-to” persons, the Crimes Against Children Coordinators are responsible for establishing liaison with local law enforcement and social service agencies when addressing crimes against children occurring in their jurisdiction. These coordinating functions are considered collateral duties for Crimes Against Children Coordinators, who are also responsible for investigating a variety of violent crimes, including crimes against children.

  6. These statistics include reports sent to law enforcement where child pornography was facilitated by commonly used electronic-sharing technologies and do not represent the full universe of CyberTipline® reports of child pornography.

  7. Enterprises that operate commercial child pornography websites are not necessarily involved in the production of the child pornography, but rather facilitate the distribution of pre-existing material.

  8. Data represented in this pie chart is 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 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 1 year. All percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

  9. The ICACs were created by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) through the FY 1998 Justice Appropriations Act to help state and local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat cyber crimes against children through training, investigative assistance, and victim-related services.

  10. The 22 participating countries of the FBI’s ITF are: Thailand, the Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom, Finland, Croatia, Canada, Germany, Latvia, New Zealand, Sweden, Fiji, Ukraine, Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cyprus, Belarus, Chile, Panama, Iceland, and Brazil. In addition, Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement organization that handles criminal intelligence, also participates in the FBI’s IINI International Task Force.

  11. The FBI does not have criteria by which time a service request has to be assigned to a forensic examiner and by which time it has to be analyzed once it is assigned. The backlog list is not considered to be a criterion, but rather a tool to help field managers manage their forensic workflow based upon prioritization of other investigations pending examination.

  12. An analysis by the FBI’s BAU-3 of the child pornography seized in FBI investigations determined that most collections also contain multiple paraphilic themes, including bestiality, bondage, sadism, and urophilia.

  13. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (October 2002), (accessed October 22, 2008). The Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984 requires the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to conduct periodic studies to determine the number of children reported missing and the number recovered in a given year. OJJDP has sponsored two National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART). NISMART-1 was issued in 1990 based on data from 1988; NISMART-2 was issued in 2002 based on data from 1999. NISMART-2 is a comprehensive study that captured various scenarios where the caretakers did not know the whereabouts of the children: non-family abduction, stereotypical kidnapping, family abduction, runaway children, thrownaway children, involuntary missing-lost-injured, and missing with a benign explanation.

  14. Attorney General of Washington and OJJDP, Investigative Case Management for Missing Children Homicides: Report II (May 2006). The Criminal Division of the Washington State Attorney General’s office began this study in late 1993 with a sample of more than 600 child abduction murder cases and issued the results in 1997. A new edition of the study was released in 2006 by incorporating the results of an additional 175 solved cases of child abduction murders. OJJDP provided partial funding for this study.

  15. The America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert began in 1997 in Texas as a local program to inform the public about missing children. As of December 2007, AMBER Alert had expanded to 119 statewide, regional, and local AMBER plans.

  16. The only exception among the 26 deployments of the CARD teams was the first deployment, where the CACU noted in the narrative summary both the date and time the police agency notified the FBI field office of the missing children.

  17. See 18 U.S.C. § 1204(a) (2005).

  18. The OCI assists the “left-behind” parent with the international diplomatic aspects of the civil process, such as locating the abducted children, reporting on their general welfare, providing information on the status of judicial and administrative proceedings in other countries, and making contacts on behalf of the left-behind parent with local officials in foreign countries.

  19. We surveyed Legat Offices in Israel, Mexico, Poland, the United Kingdom, Barbados, Ethiopia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

  20. The Hague Convention seeks to bring about the voluntary return of the abducted child, including the use of judicial or administrative procedures that would result in the resolution of such cases of international parental abductions.

  21. The 13 task forces include: (1) Miami, Florida; (2) Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio; (3) Las Vegas, Nevada; (4) Reno, Nevada; (5) Dallas, Texas; (6) Boston, Massachusetts; (7) Newark and Atlantic City, New Jersey; (8) San Juan, Puerto Rico; (9) Los Angeles, California; (10) Phoenix, Arizona; (11) Detroit, Michigan; (12) Wichita, Kansas; and (13) Orange County, California. The 11 informal working groups include: (1) Indianapolis, Indiana; (2) San Francisco, California; (3) Denver, Colorado; (4) Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; (5) Houston, Texas; (6) Chicago, Illinois; (7) New York City; (8) Washington, D.C.; (9) Jacksonville, Florida; (10) Honolulu, Hawaii; and (11) Sacramento, California.

  22. When the FBI established its Innocence Lost initiative in FY 2004, it also created a new classification code to track investigations of prostituted children at the enterprise level. However, before the establishment of Innocence Lost, child prostitution cases were categorized together with other non-prostitution related child sexual exploitation cases under the same classification code. Therefore, we could not obtain statistical information on child prostitution investigations dating back before the launch of Innocence Lost.

  23. The 2003 Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act increased existing penalties for engaging in or attempting to engage in child sex tourism to a maximum of 30 years in prison. In addition, it is no longer necessary to prove that the traveler intended to engage in illicit sexual conduct at the time of travel, merely that the traveler actually engaged in or attempted to engage in illicit sexual conduct.


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