Boasted of abuse, not arrested

A Norwegian man bragged about abuse he had committed to members of a child sexual abuse website run by the Australian police for almost a year. Only when VG identified the man was he arrested.

  • Håkon F. Høydal
  • Einar Otto Stangvik
  • Natalie Remøe Hansen

Artikkelen er over to år gammel

On Saturday VG reported that the Australian police have covertly operated the internet’s largest forum for child abusers for most of the past year. Several forum members were Norwegian.

One of them boasted about abuse he had committed and planned to commit. Nevertheless, neither the Norwegian police nor the Australian police knew about him.

Only when VG managed to identify the man was he arrested.

When VG began examining child sexual abuse sites on the dark web last December, no one involved realized that the largest such site – «Childs Play» – was being operated by the Australian police. That fact emerged a couple of months later, and was revealed to the world on Saturday.

Shared advice on abuse

As part of their investigation into abuse sites, VG’s journalists attempted to identify several Norwegian and Nordic members active on Childs Play. A resident of western Norway in his 20s quickly drew attention to himself.

On Monday, 12 September 2016, he posted on the website that he would be committing an abusive act on a child in his own family later that week. Three days later, he wrote a new post claiming the act had taken place.

«One thing is very important,» he wrote. «Always motivate the children. … Do it right and you will [be able to experience such abuse again].»

The website where this occurred was on an encrypted part of the internet called the dark web, making it almost impossible to identify participants. To remain anonymous, more and more abusers and paedophiles using pseudonyms have been congregating in this part of the internet. In theory the system is failsafe.

But only in theory.

How he was identified

On 5 December 2016, the same team that one year earlier identified downloaders of child abuse pictures, startet working on identifying people on this website on the dark web.

VG’s journalists managed to identify the Norwegian man by comparing information he had provided about himself on the forum with information available on the open internet.

It turned out he had used the same username on Skype, a chat programme, that he used in the abuse forum.

It took VG’s journalists only a few minutes to link the username on the dark web to the Skype username. A couple of hours were then required to collect additional information confirming it was the same person.

The man had previously worked in a kindergarten.

On 9 December, VG notified the police. Norwegian news staffs rarely turn over unpublished material, but this time VG chose to send written documentation to the local police.

Read: This map shows 95,000 downloaders of child abuse pictures

– Anyone who contacts us can be certain that VG does not cooperate with the authorities, says VG Editor-in-Chief Gard Steiro:

– Our job is to be critical of the police. The exception is when lives or health are at risk. In this case we possessed information about possible ongoing abuse of a specific minor. Our concern was not to start an investigation but to make sure the child was seen to. It was obviously a correct decision.

ARRESTED THE MAN: Police head quarters of Norway’s Møre og Romsdal police district, in Ålesund. Foto: Maria Fagervoll VG

Did not notify Norwegian police

On Wednesday, 18 January 2017, the man was arrested at his home in western Norway. The following day he was remanded in custody for four weeks, accused of sexual assault against a child as well as “activities on websites/networks for paedophiles”, according to the remand order. Under questioning by the police, he partially acknowledged the allegations.

At the time of the Norwegian’s arrest, the Australian police unit Task Force Argos had been operating the abuse website for three months. The site’s Nordic-language sub-forum was monitored by a police officer with Nordic-language skills who collaborated with Task Force Argos. However, several messages to the young man as well as his own posts about the abuse he committed were written in English.

It is VG’s understanding that neither the Nordic-language investigator nor Task Force Argos notified Norwegian police about the abuse in question.

– I can’t comment on every individual case, says Task Force Argos investigator Paul Griffiths of Brisbane, Australia.

– But what I can say is that there are probably hundreds of Childs Play members who we know have access to children, and are potentially producing material with those children. But that doesn’t mean we can identify who they all are, he continues.

Serious case

Police prosecutor Julie Ulstein of Norway’s Møre og Romsdal police district tells VG that the investigation of the Norwegian man is still underway but is nearing an end.

– No indictment has been brought yet, but we see it as a serious matter, she says.

SERIOUS CASE: Police prosecutor Julie Ulstein of Norway’s Møre og Romsdal police district. Foto: Maria Fagervoll VG

– What do you think about the fact that nobody involved in this international operation contacted you about the abuse the man wrote about?

– It’s hard to comment on it, since we haven’t been in contact with them. I don’t know what all was considered by the Australian police, and what the basis was for those considerations, Ulstein says.

When Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service, known as Kripos, is asked whether it has received investigative material or information about Norwegians from the Australian operation, the reply is:

«At this time, we do not wish to confirm or deny whether we have received information from the action mentioned. Nor therefore do we wish to embark on answering the follow-up questions.»

The accused Norwegian’s lawyer, Erling Flisnes, declined to comment on the case.

The father

The child’s parents were informed of this article and have read it in advance of publication. They say the child is doing better now.

– We are very pleased there’s been a focus on this, though it is unbelievable difficult when it’s your own child, the father tells VG.

He says that the arrest of the abuser in the family, in January, caused a great deal of stress.

– It was the start of a dreadful situation for my wife and me, but it was the end of the problems for our boy. We take great comfort in that, at least. The school, the municipality and all the other authorities involved have been fantastically supportive and caring, he says to VG.

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