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How Police Infiltrated a Darknet Forum to Hunt Down Pedophiles

In 2015, we wrote about how a taskforce known as Argos, started focusing on hunting down pedophiles on the deepweb. Argos was not entirely composed of police officers – among the employed were IT specialists, hackers, and detectives. The agents had had to see thousands and thousands of what the head of Argos, Jon Rouse, describes as absolutely unbelievable, horrifying imagery and videos. But their prevalence ended up paying off, as they ended up secretly running one of the largest pedophilia networks on the internet and catching Britain’s worst ever pedophile ever.

In a special report from The Guardian, Jon Rouse describes that once they took down a pedophile that had been in Argos’s sights for a while, they took over his account on the darknet pedophilia forum in question. They took it over as if nothing had ever happened, with nobody the wiser. From there, police realized the forum was run just like any other company or business – it had intricate hierarchy – and senior members took control of single groups or boards. At the top, Rouse says, was a man who was “effectively the CEO.” He notably started his messages with “hiyas.”

Richard Huckle, known as Britain’s worst pedophile, was a top player on the site. He was a zealous producer and uploader of content; he got to the point where he was titling and branding the pictures and videos he was uploading. Despite the fact that he was not very popular, he belittled other forum members for claiming they were pedophiles but not living the true pedophile lifestyle. He was proud of what he was. The site even had a 180 page guide titled “the exclusive step by step guide for practicing safe and fun sex with children” and Huckle added one of his own: “Paedophiles and Poverty: Child Lover Guide.”

Part of the reason Huckle’s work was not incredibly popular was due to the fact that his victims were not white males or females – they were poor Indian children – and those weren’t what forum members wanted to see. The exclusivity of the demographic Huckle abused ended up working against him as it helped the police work to narrow down his location. Site users believed he lived in or near India, and although he never explicitly said yes, he went along with it.

Meanwhile, in Brisbane, agents were combing over posts on both the clearnet and deepweb for another user, the “CEO” who used the introduction “hiyas.” They believed, since it was a fairly uncommon word to use, it would help narrow down suspects. The search results yielded over 450, 000 uses of the word “hiyas” on the internet, a number that stacks the odds against the police. However, the majority of those posts were able to be ruled out as they linked back to women and in situations like this, a male suspect is far more likely. They were able to narrow down the location even more when Danish authorities notified Argos that the “hiyas” user was likely in Australia. With Australia in mind, focusing on Adelaide, the search became a little bit easier. Argos agents found a post on a 4WD forum where a user was asking about altering his ride height – the poster used the “hiyas” introduction and had a username very similar to the one on the pedophilia forum. That was too much of a coincidence, Paul Griffiths, a police officer who was working with Argos stated.

When people replied to the forum post, they suggested what parts would be required for lifting his vehicle. Police then found a Facebook post from a man in Adelaide, asking for information on sourcing those same parts.

The man they found was 32-year-old Shannon McCoole, a man who had worked in childcare for 4 years, raising concerns from his colleagues. In 2014, the police raided McCoole but made sure to keep the news hidden from the eye of the public in order to keep forum members in the dark. Police tell The Guardian that in 2011, an anonymous call had been made, telling authorities that McCoole was inappropriately physical with children. A psychological assessment was later made where he was found to be high risk and very unsuitable for the job but both the anonymous call and assessment had been ignored.

McCoole is now serving 35 years.

His online presence was immediately taken over by Argos agents, and the internet community was completely unaware of what had happened. Unlike the previous low level infiltration, McCoole’s account, being the “CEO,” had access to everything. The police were now able to read every private message sent between any of the 45,000 users. Included in the now unveiled messages were those of Richard Huckle, Britain’s worst pedophile.

For 6 months, they searched through every picture and post by Huckle and realized the content of the pictures was not going to yield any useful information; what the photos were captured with proved to be the key. Most of the pictures had the metadata completely swept. The mistake that lead to his demise was when he forgot to clean one photo and it let the police know the pictures were taken on an Olympus camera. They then exhaustively searched photo-uploading sites like Flickr for pictures taken by the model camera that Huckle was using, in the general area they suspected him to be living in. Southeast Asia.

As the search went on, they found some pictures taken in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam that matched the camera and profile of Huckle. The unknown photographer had a number of pictures of children, sometimes naked, but “nothing illegal,” Griffith says. The photographs were innocent, in and of themselves, but they still fit the profile of the pedophile they had been hunting. The pictures traced to an email address, which, in turn traced to other sites Huckle had signed up for using the same email. Following the McCoole example, one of the sites he had signed up for had a username very similar to the one on the illegal darknet forum.

It became far simpler for police when they found that his email linked to a photography studio called Huckool Photography Productions, based in Malaysia. And it became even simpler when the studio’s website linked to Huckle’s personal Facebook profile. His  Facebook page had pictures of children as well. Legal pictures. But many of them were the same children he published being abused on the pedophilia forum.

Huckle was in Malaysia, but Malaysian authorities didn’t believe there was enough evidence against him for a lawful arrest. To Argos’s dismay, Huckle stayed in Malaysia for another 4 months. Police got a break when he posted something that would directly lead to his arrest. Griffiths said “I just saw a [Facebook] post he made, basically saying, ‘Great news, I’ve just booked a flight home for Christmas’ and “He had hashtagged the airline. It was almost too easy.”

In December 2014, he was arrested as soon as he got off the plane at Gatwick airport, a British Airways hub. He possessed over 20,000 images of children, and at least 1,000 of them were of children that he had personally abused. His laptop, with potentially more victims and thousands of images, is still encrypted and unexplored as Huckle refuses to let authorities access it.

On June 3rd, 2016, Huckle was convicted of 71 serious sexual assaults against children which resulted in 22 life sentences. He will serve a minimum of 25 years before eligible to apply for parole, despite being only 28 at the time of his arrest.

After the Huckle arrest, police posing as McCoole on the forums posted a closing message:

“[Forum name redacted] is a living creature. We have survived a lot of ups and downs. It’s been a passion of mine for a long time, and [forum name redacted] is bigger than ever. Believe it or not, the board doesn’t run itself and requires a lot of thankless hours from the admins, co-admins and mods. So the board will go into maintenance mode till the new year to give the admin team time to a break. [It] will return in 2015 refreshed and better than ever.”

After months of police running the forum, hundreds of users being prosecuted, and 85 victims of sexual abuse being rescued, forum members finally started catching on. After the news of the Huckle arrest, members starting approaching the McCoole account with concerns that the site might be compromised. And then, once the McCoole news got out, a forum member posted “Kudos. I chatted to McCoole for six months and didn’t realize it was the cops,” Griffiths says.

The officers involved with seamlessly assuming McCoole’s identity were awarded for how successful the operation was. It was a big win for Argos, but they still have pedophiles on their radar. Pedophiles that will be caught.

45 comments

  1. the problem is not in site there is hundred of them i accidently find a site which has a forum shit many people there more than you can imagine in blackmarkets problem in hosting company you really must post how thei seize onion domains as normal sites they contact hosting compan but for a dark services i cant imagine who you must contact

  2. the deep web is not what i thought it would attully be lol

  3. Amazing police work! But depressing to learn about how much effort it took. A new site will pop up in no-time (among the hundreds of sites that already exist) and they will have to start from zero.

    Now I know there are a lot of pedophiles reading this article as well and will try to downplay the seriousness of viewing CP. You people need to learn that these CP sites are a result of demand & supply. Without demand, supply will diminish. Viewing CP is not as depraved as producing it but with lower demand fewer CP will be made and hopefully viewer children abused. By viewing CP you are part of the problem of worldwide child-abuse.

    • Your claim is nonsense; everyone in PedoLand knows that CP is free! There is no such thing as “supply & demand”. But, some lessons learned for CP admins & users:

      1) Treat every Deep Web site (including, this one) as being compromised, because, eventually, they all will be. It’s not a question of IF but WHEN.

      2) Treat every potential “friend” as being an undercover cop and/or informant. You can never trust anyone, ever; maybe, just maybe, after 10 years, you can be to “trust” someone a little, but never, ever reveal your true identity and/or location.

      3) Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt! I would recommend Linux with full system encryption, and within that, VeraCrypt containers with at least several dozen “spoof” containers that look like the real ones.

      4) Do *NOT* post on social media sites, such as Facebook, ever!

      5) CP forums and CP image sites should be absolutely SEPARATE entities with different servers, admins, and of course, .onion addresses. If you combine them, then, in the eyes of the Law, it’s CP all the way. Keep them separate and the forum sites may constitute free speech.

      6) Use anonymous public Wi-Fi with Tails running as a VM on your encrypted Linux drive with Tor bridges. Use the highest security settings at all times, which means disabling JavaScript ALL the time! If something looks tempting, it is likely a trap.

      7) Use translator software to mask your online posts, which you should keep as short as possible. Access everything via Tor and vary your languages as much as possible. For instance, translate from English to Spanish and then back; you’ll get something completely different. Next time try Slavic; rinse and repeat!

      8) Keep your hidden sites hosted outside of the country in which you live, preferably, in India or somewhere in Africa. Pay anonymously, of course, which means tumbling your Bitcoins.

      Good Luck & stay safe!!

      • Mr. Don't Worry

        You are an absolutely disgusting and depraved subhuman. But I don’t see how grooming men in chat rooms with the bait of a fake 15 yr. old is helping society. For most of human evolution 15 or younger was acceptable to marry. Would you arrest Dante for dating Beatrice?? Change the age of consent in the West to 13 as it is in Mexico and elsewhere. We need realistic laws.

        • If you believe in evolution as you claim, then a person’s sexuality is in their genes. Which means that pedos cannot help their sexual attraction to children. It is better that they can act on their desires in fantasy than in the real world.

        • Oh yes, you are a real genius. Because people in the past did it, we should because they got everything right. Let’s start stoning people to death because that used to be acceptable. Pedo.

      • Little Jam

        BJ is a clear CP viewer. always posting only on these articles.

      • Julian

        “CP is free! There is no such thing as “supply & demand”.”

        What a load of crap. Because it’s free it does not mean that there is no supply & demand. All these articles show that CP uploaders take a lot of pride in what they do. They want to be the top-notch uploader. By watching it you are contributing to that feeling of pride. Get real.

        Stop being part of the demand if you really give a fuck about children’s well being.

        • Terry

          I am a licensed, practicing psychologist with over two decades of clinical experience. Some of my clients have pedophilic tendencies, although, none of them are abusing children, so far as I know. If they were, I would turn them into the authorities.

          The clinic and scientific literature on this subject is clear and unambiguous — a human being does not choose his/her sexual orientation. Some persons are born heterosexual, others homosexual, still others asexual, and with many others (perhaps, a number greater than the homosexual population), there are those who are attracted to underage children. No researcher knows why this is the case, although, it is an aberration in human evolution.

          I work with my clients on controlling and maintaining their urges. Many of them simply fantasize in their heads about young children, while others draw pictures which they throw away later on. However, some of my clients download child pornography on the open Internet while others use the Dark Net. As a clinician, my job is to help my clients not to abuse children and to stay out of jail, while maintaining an overall level of satisfaction in their daily lives.

          Telling individuals to kill themselves or that they are “scum”, “depraved”, etc., is just pure posturing. None of my practicing peers within the profession of psychology and/or psychiatry feel this way.

          • Tad X

            What a load of hogwash, BJ. You have a shockingly feeble mind, or should I say “Dr. Terry.” You’re a con artist gussied up as a “clinician” Your blather doesn’t impress us.
            “none of my colleagues feels this way” — yeah right.
            I suggest you go “posture” your pink ass down on Main St. in hot pants.

            • Terry

              You’re free to believe whatever you want — you can identify me with “BJ” or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The choice is yours. I don’t care.

              One thing that is not in dispute is what the published literature has to say on this subject. You can research that yourself. I am not a paid tutor.

          • Aussie F

            Cooped up in the dayroom with pedos and coloring books. Now I’ve heard everything. You know what they say if you hang out with shit you start to smell like it.

          • xabu

            You ain’t no shrink. It is true that people can’t control their sexual orientation but they can choose to abuse or not abuse. That is what a pedo does. They ABUSE children so the derogatory terms ( scum, shitt bag, etc. ) are perfectly applicable.

            • Terry

              This is just false. Most pedophiles are not child abusers of any kind, whether sexual or physical. Rather, most are controlling their urges. As I stated above, the majority of my clients simply fantasize in their heads about having sex with little children while they masturbate to those fantasies. Others use pictures of little children who are fully clothed, which they get online from clothing catalogues, and masturbate to those; only a simple minority of pedophiles, I suspect, are into masturbating while viewing underage pornography. Only a minority of those are into actual child sexual abuse. The estimates that I trust have one of out twenty to one of out a hundred men having pedophilic attractions to underage children.

              As I said, if I ever suspected child abuse from anyone, my clients included, I would report that abuse to the authorities.

          • newbie

            BJ it is clear you are ; 1 a pedo. 2a homo not by choice buy because you were abused hence your passion to write about ‘helping’ others. People like you ruin the dark Web.your deprived mind will 9ne day hopefully be exposed and you will receive the beating of your life (I hope). But my point is that there should be an easy instant way to report individuals who do these horrible things or even contemplate it, whether is in real or fictional aspect still same sick shit.

      • Denver

        You’re right but,see: Using anonymous Wifi itsn’t garantee to get privacy. I agree pedophilies are right now acting, it’s disgusting. Anyway,they will go on,thinking up a hundred billions ways to cheat the laws.
        What piss me off is the fact they’re compromising we, civillians whos try to get by With our sacred rights: Freedom, privacy, and fight against all sort of totalitary government tyranny.
        Of course, must to fight against those crimes, but never give up them dare move to rape our lives.

  4. BJ: You are a complete fiend. A sickening ghoul. Your comments here are towards aiding and abetting child rape. Do you think the children who participate in these vile videos will ever look at them and be proud of themselves? Or is it more likely that they will regard their acts in these films, where they were tricked or forced by total rotters,as a source of shame and agony their whole lives? Most will choose drink and drugs to blot out the horror–you are creating broken adults. Life stealer! May their misery one day be yours.

    • ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ9

      Aye, let the loud knock on “BJ”‘s door be soon.
      DEATH TO THE BLACK MAGICIAN “BJ”!

      • You’re just sick. Whoever this fucker “BJ” is, he (or, maybe, even “she”) does not deserve to be murdered. Christ, you can find neo-Nazi sites all over the Internet, advocating the extermination of “inferior” races, not to mention how-to articles on how to commit the perfect murder. Most, if not all, of these articles fall under the umbrella of free speech. BJ’s laundry list of dos/don’ts could apply equally well to drug dealers as well as to religious victims of Islamic fundamentalist or even to Mexican drug informants.

        You can outlaw guns and banish all ammunition but that won’t prevent criminals from robbing banks with knives. Nothing this “BJ” has said is even new; in fact, you can find all of his/her suggestions on the Tor website.

      • I want you Anonymous Pukes to know that I am a proud owner of a 9mm. If that does not stop you, the cops where I live will, and the advantage of living in a large city is that murderers rarely get away with it. Kill me if you can. Even if you succeed, you be wearing a pair of handcuffs a short time later. Guaranteed.

        As for me posting under other aliases, you can believe what you want to. I have only used one alias on this website, although, I have used different aliases for other websites.

        • Nikodym

          What do you need a gun for? Force infants to suck your micropenis?

          • Fuck you.

            • Fuckanonymous

              BJ, your desire to reply all posts says that you’re definitely one of the worst kinds of human right now. You don’t even deserve to be here, people like you should kill themselves…I would like to beat you, or better, shoot you right in your chest and look how you sick fuck die.

              • I and my 9mm await you, asshole. I have a 100% kill accuracy at 10m with greater than 95% at 15m.

                • Fuckanonymous

                  Do you think that I’d take the risk? There are things that you don’t know about me, bitch.
                  I’m a sniper, I can shoot your chest from 30 meters or more with an excellent precision and see how you fucking sick bastard die without no one knowing that it was me.
                  So, look everywhere around you, be careful when you walk down the streets (if you really go out from your house, of course), but I don’t care. I’ll shoot you whenever and wherever I want, when you don’t even expect it, asshole.

                  • Ha! I’m looking forward to it!!!

                    I live in a major metropolitan city and I have a conceal and carry permit. Kill me if you can! If I don’t get to you if you fail, the cops will get you if you succeed!! Guaranteed. You should just hope that they don’t give you the death penalty.

        • Corey

          Nobody cares if a pedo like yourself dies. Your death will be celebrated.

  5. yup. I’m now on a government watch list for reading this.

  6. afaik there was a full war against tlz and other pedo sites, not only the cops but anons identifying pedos and victims and cracking the sites. I wonder what happened to them, they had a bbs style and mailing list but was highly restrictive, just for top tier anons or probably undercover cops using illegal stuff to infiltrate and lure those sickos, it disappeared shortly before tlz was definitely shut down and haven’t heard from any of them since that, would be great if those ppl and cops work alltogether to stop this cp shit

  7. There is only one acceptable sexual orientation and that is heterosexual. If for any reason at all you accept homosexuality then note that no matter how much you hate cp or pedophiles, your children would some day accept them. After all your ancestors once taught homosexuality a crime. Stupid!!!! DO the right thing. Tell the truth. All sexual urges are controllable and have been since time immemorial. Even a heterosexual has the will to control his/her sexual urge. Evolution has no freaking role here. Just people and politics. If anything, the level of social acceptance this immoralities have gathered is the reason we have so many people identifying with them. Even kids who would never have been homosexual or even taught about it for that matter find themselves drawn to it as a result of this. Any other sexual orientation accepted other than the heterosexual, simply opens the door for more and more sexual immoralities. Period. I am not saying hang them but don’t tell them it’s ok. It’s not. They need help as much as an alchoholic or drug abuser does. The fact that this people can’t control themselves doesn’t make it OK. You can track me if you like. I am 100% anti-LBGT and and any other form of sexual orientation. Now open your mouths and do the cursing. FOOLS trying to fool the entire world. Not for long, definitely not for long.

  8. I have gay friends… I am straight… IT IS GENETIC.. born like that. exactly go back to school. father of 3 kids… gay.. .. 2 kids GAY… GENETICS.

    • Then killing people is also genetic. Raping some nice chick with big boobs is also genetic. Stealing banks is also genetic. And so on.

      The bottom line: genetic or not, homosexuality is not normal and making it the new “norm” means pedos with be next.

  9. Overbearing mother and disapproving or non-involved father equals gay male. This equation works on EVERY gay male. As far as men being attracted to 13 year olds, up until 100 years ago 13 year old girls were child bearing age, cause life expectancy was much shorter. 100’s of thousands of years of people being on earth, some people take longer to adjust to the new social norms.

  10. There is no CP any more the FBI shut it all down.

  11. ssssss…….I can hear you and I’m going to kill all you f*cking biohacking psychologist….. On the other hand your comments amongst yourselves are pretty amusing…. Ta Ta

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