HSI Madrid and partners prioritize child sexual exploitation investigations in the Iberian Peninsula
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of lockdowns in Spain, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Madrid’s area of responsibility in the Iberian Peninsula has seen an increase in cyber-related cases, including those involving child exploitation.
HSI Madrid, together with its partners at Spain’s Guardia Civil, Spanish National Police (SNP), Andorra Police, and Portuguese law enforcement agencies, have conducted several successful operations in fiscal year 2021, resulting in more than 58 arrests, 61 search warrants and the rescue of six victims.
HSI’s vast international footprint and strong partnerships have helped identify and rescue child victims; identified and apprehended offenders; prevented transnational child sexual abuse; and helped make the internet a safer place for children.
On average, HSI Madrid receives more than 150 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) Cyber Tip Line reports daily, which indicate the production, possession, and/or distribution of child sexual exploitation material by users in Spain, Andorra and Portugal through internet service providers, electronic service providers, and/or internet protocol addresses.
“The analysis of leads we receive is always disturbing; yet, it’s an amazing and rewarding feeling when a child victim is rescued or the perpetrator is arrested by our local law enforcement partners,” said HSI Madrid Special Agent Jeannette Vega. "We are fortunate to have a great group of dedicated investigators and the support from the units, initiatives, agencies, and law enforcement partners involved in this type of horrendous criminal investigation,” added HSI Attaché in Madrid, Manny Larragoity. “HSI Madrid will continue to work closely with our international counterparts to enforce the laws intended to keep the children in our country and around the world safe.”
The partnership between Guardia Civil and HSI Madrid in this area was reinforced in 2018, thanks to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations. From March 2019 to June 2020, several operations have been carried out between the Guardia Civil’s Central Investigation Unit and other regional criminal investigation units together with HSI. These coordinated investigations are being used as a prototype for other probes related to the sexual exploitation of minors.
For example, in July 2020, an investigation called PIXELS was conducted to combat the production of child sexual exploitation content that was being distributed on different "cloud" virtual platforms, as well as exchanges of this type of material through social media networks and other digital media. In this case, the victim was a minor being exploited by her father in Spain. The minor’s father was arrested thanks to the collaboration between the Guardia Civil and HSI in this joint investigation.
The importance of NCMEC reports should be emphasized, as several of these investigations have been triggered by the information provided in these reports, which confirms the importance of the exchange of information between Spain's Guardia Civil and HSI Madrid in the fight against child sexual abuse.
Through the collaboration of HSI Madrid with the SNP, over 500 enforcement actions have been carried out based on NCMEC reports. Likewise, HSI Madrid has offered operational assistance in highly complex investigations initiated by the SNP based on other leads, particularly from the dark web, facilitating data, contacts and other support that has led to the arrest of dangerous suspected child sexual predators.
In November 2020, a joint investigation with the SNP’s Central Child Protection Investigations Division led to the arrest of seven individuals in six different Spanish provinces: Málaga, Coruña, Barcelona, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Madrid and Zaragoza. One of the arrested individuals from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was a 70-year-old male who exclusively collected sexual material from teenage girls. Another arrested in Zaragoza worked as a sports coach and participated in numerous activities with minors, both in school and in summer camps. Thanks to the extensive analysis of photographs conducted by investigators, two minor victims were identified and located.
Most recently, in December 2020, SNP recognized the collaboration with HSI Madrid on the arrests of 40 individuals across multiple provinces in Spain for this type of crime. The investigation, known as Operation Koda (Operación Koda, in Spanish) was initiated by HSI Madrid and SNP based on information provided by NCMEC regarding the possession and distribution of child sexual exploitation material by numerous Instagram users in Spain.
— Chief Inspector Celia Carreira Vigo, Minor Protection Section, Cybercrime Central Unit
“The National Police [of Spain] is grateful for this fruitful law enforcement cooperation [with HSI]—and wishes to intensify this mutual reciprocity, support, and assistance in order to achieve our common goal: the protection of children in the Internet,” emphasized Chief Inspector Celia Carreira Vigo, chief of the Minor Protection Section, Cybercrime Central Unit.
Additionally, HSI Madrid was invited for the first time to attend a cyber training at Guardia Civil Law Enforcement University. Participation in this training strengthened and expanded the existing HSI Madrid working relationships with Spain’s cyber investigators and counterparts.
Much like they have in Spain, training and targeted operations in collaboration with HSI Madrid have resulted in an increase in the number of child exploitation investigations and the arrest of several individuals by the Portuguese Judicial Police.
“On behalf of the national team of investigators of the Judicial Police in the area of online sexual abuse crimes, of which I am a coordinator of the respective central section, we recognize and appreciate the excellent police cooperation work carried out by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI),” said the criminal investigations coordinator for the Online Sexual Abuse Crimes Unit of Portugal’s Judicial Police, Pedro Vicente. “In fact, being the Judicial Police the only law enforcement agency competent to investigative in that area of crime in Portugal, we have been counting on the unsurpassed collaboration of colleagues placed as Liaison Officers for Portugal.”
HSI Madrid is also currently coordinating with HSI International Operations and the HSI Cyber Crimes Center to hold a one-week cybercrimes training for the Judicial Police in Portugal. This training will serve to continue expanding the relationships with Portuguese law enforcement counterparts.