WASHINGTON – A pilot program designed to train military veterans to help investigators conduct criminal investigations into child pornography and online child sexual exploitation was announced today in Washington by the multi-agency team that established the project.
The Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Recue Corps, or HERO Corps, was developed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Defense Department’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the National Association to Protect Children with support from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.
The first class of HEROs is made up of 17 veterans from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, many of whom are wounded, injured, ill or disabled special operations forces (SOF).
Currently, the HEROs are attending seven weeks of training in computer forensic analysis and digital evidence collection at HSI’s Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., in order to help identify and rescue child victims of sexual abuse and online sexual exploitation. Prior to that, they attended four weeks of intensive training at ORNL in Tennessee where they learned about child exploitation cases and the federal and state criminal laws that they will be helping to enforce.
After completion of the training, HERO Corps participants will be based at HSI offices in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Fairfax (Va.), Las Vegas, Memphis (Tenn.), Miami, New Haven (Conn.), New Orleans, Orlando (Fla.), Phoenix, Savannah (Ga.), Seattle and Tampa (Fla.) They will work under the direct supervision of HSI special agents, conducting computer forensic exams, assisting with criminal investigations and helping to identify and rescue victims of child sexual exploitation.
"These veterans have demonstrated courage, compassion and commitment. These characteristics, shared by so many of our ICE employees, are essential in those who seek to protect and rescue children," said ICE Acting Director John Sandweg.
The HERO program is made possible by a five-year $10 million initiative funded with private sector money that underwrites training, logistics and equipment.
"This innovative partnership between government, military and the private sector is exactly what taxpayers wish for and deserve," said Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children. "HSI is making child rescue a national priority, and I believe that mission will gain new momentum now that one of our early HERO planning partners, John Sandweg, is acting director of ICE."
"Meaningful employment allows our wounded, ill and injured SOF warriors to regain their purpose and relevancy as they transition from the military. The HERO program represents a great first step in that direction, but we must continue to expand our partnerships with other government agencies and organizations within the private sector to ensure we fully honor our commitment to our veterans," said Brigadier Gen. Richard Keene, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) assistant deputy commander.
The next recruitment for the program is expected to begin early next year. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or applying, should send an email to email@example.com. All applicants are interviewed and vetted to ensure a good fit with the HERO Corps.
"Ultimately, this project will unleash the talent and determination of men and women who have demonstrated incredible commitment and valor," said retired Army Master Sgt. Rich Robertson of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's International Security and Analysis Division. "By hiring one of these soldiers, law enforcement agencies can greatly enhance their capabilities and ability to find, arrest and help convict predators who prey on thousands of children."
In fiscal year 2013 to date, more than 2,000 child predators have been arrested by HSI on criminal charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children. Since 2003, HSI has initiated more than 29,000 cases and arrested more than 10,000 individuals for these types of crimes.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
Download the Operation Predator smartphone app for additional information about wanted suspected child predators, or to submit a tip using a mobile device.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.