U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Boston Group Supervisor John MacKinnon and the Operation Holitna team received the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in Homeland Security and Law Enforcement, Oct. 3. Less than three weeks later, President Barack Obama met with all of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals finalists and winners at the White House, Oct. 23, to congratulate and thank them for their service.
Along with MacKinnon, the HSI team members include Intelligence Research Specialist Ann Pombriant and Special Agents Greg Squire, Pete Manning, and Andy Kelleher.
They were recognized for their work in rescuing 167 victims of child pornography and developing new forensic investigatory techniques to track down the predators that abuse them, resulting in 54 arrests since 2010. Because of this success, their techniques are being adopted internationally.
According to its website, "the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals pay tribute to America's dedicated federal workforce, highlighting those who have made significant contributions to our country. Honorees are chosen based on their commitment and innovation, as well as the impact of their work on addressing the needs of the nation."
Specifically, the Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal recognizes federal employees for "making a significant contribution to the nation in activities related to homeland security and law enforcement."
The HSI Boston team focuses first on rescuing child victims. They do this by analyzing lurid photos and videos for the smallest clues, which might point them to the scene of the crime and the perpetrators.
"Our goal is to find out who the child is and who took the photo," said MacKinnon. "We look at background clues in the photos or videos, such as a milk carton or unique carpet pattern or piece of clothing. If we find out where the objects were made, then we can figure out where a particular picture might have been taken."
The team also monitors online forums, social media and they take advantage of international law enforcement and non-governmental organizations to seek help.
"Our approach is a combination of old school and new school investigative techniques," said MacKinnon. "We’ve changed the way law enforcement is doing child pornography investigations."
Operation Holitna is an ongoing HSI-led investigation that originated in Boston. In 2010, the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of Massachusetts and HSI Boston arrested Robert Diduca on child pornography production charges. He was convicted and subsequently sentenced in June 2012. Forensic analysis of Diduca's computer led investigators to the Netherlands where a Dutch national was arrested and charged with production, distribution and possession of child pornography, as well as the sexual assault of 87 minors.
Since that time, a worldwide network of offenders has been, and continues to be, unraveled. Defendants and victims continue to be identified around the world. These types of investigations are part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Learn more at www.ICE.gov/predator.
To report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity call the HSI Tip Line toll-free at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.