Darkness By Day
Weekend reading from the Daily Mail, if you can stand it. The article, which bills itself as a background to the Madeleine McCann case opens with this dramatic scene.
A Ferrari engine makes a deep, distinctive sound. When the children at Portugal's most famous orphanage heard the sports car roaring down the driveway, fear swept through the dormitories.
The noise could mean only one thing: the man known as The Doctor was coming to call. Yet this medical practitioner had no intention of adhering to the ancient Hippocratic Oath.
Instead, arriving at Casa Pia (House of the Pious), a 17th century Lisbon orphanage where more than 4,000 children are cared for each year behind high stone walls, the doctor would summon selected boys and girls from their beds for examinations one night each week.
Where possible, he chose deaf-mutes.
After checking that the children were not suffering from any sexual infections, the doctor was joined by the orphanage caretaker, known as Bibi, who ushered the unfortunate children outside to a waiting van.
With the doctor following in his red Ferrari, Bibi drove the van to the prestigious homes of some of the leading members of Lisbon society - ranging from Portuguese government ministers and high-ranking diplomats, to famous television stars and members of the judiciary.
The clear suggestion is that a network of extremely evil people, more evil possibly than even Osama Bin Laden, exists in Portugal. Is it real, or an urban legend? Over to another part of Europe. In 2004, Belgium was rocked by a series of scandals centering around the gang of a man named Marc Dutroux.
a Belgian criminal, convicted of having, in 1995 and 1996, kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused six girls, ranging in age from 8 to 19, four of whom he murdered. He was also convicted of having killed a suspected former accomplice, Bernard Weinstein. He was arrested in 1996 and has been in prison since then. His widely publicised trial took place in 2004. A number of shortcomings in the Dutroux investigation caused widespread discontent in Belgium with the country's criminal justice system, and the ensuing scandal was one of the reasons for the reorganisation of Belgium's law enforcement agencies.
As the Dutroux investigation progressed it became evident that he was hooked up to something far wider. The door opened a crack, but the portal was shut before anyone could get a good glimpse at the slithery things within.
There was speculation that Dutroux was part of a widespread pedophile ring, including prominent Belgians. There were several reasons for these speculations, one of them being the many mistakes that had been made during the time that Dutroux was under observation by the police. Other reasons were the occasional statements from Dutroux about just being a "pawn" in a much larger network, the political connections of Nihoul, or the allegations of pedophilia against politicians Elio Di Rupo and Jean-Pierre Grafe in late 1996. The fact that the parents of Julie, Melissa and An continually voiced their dissatisfaction with the investigation also added to speculations of a cover up.
However, maybe the most important reason for rumors about high-level pedophilia networks were the so-called X-Dossiers, which first came to the public's attention in late 1996 and early 1997. It turned out that in the aftermath of Dutroux's arrest (some had contacted the police before), more than half a dozen purported victims of pedophiliac rings had begun to testify in Neufchateau. Their testimonies have always been extremely sensitive, because besides individuals as Dutroux and Nihoul, many well known Belgians were also accused of pedophilia, including members of the royal family, top politicians, and some of the country's leading bankers. Several of the most important names came up in different testimonies. However, the investigations into these testimonies were ultimately all shut down after senior police officers and Justice department officials ruled they were not reliable, leaving the case wide open to speculation that they were yielding under the weight of powerful individual and institutional interests.
Over the years, several books have been published that make the case that the decisions to shut down the X-investigations were unjustified. The newspaper De Morgen and Humo magazine have been saying the same thing, although they are bitterly opposed by most of the other major media outlets.
How do these networks of scum form? My intuition is they form in a way not very different from any Small World Network, of which terrorist cells are a familiar example: that there are hubs, to which a new arrival on the scene can easily form an attachment. As with all Small World Networks, there are probably only a small number of "hops" which separate a footsoldier like Marc Dutroux from the evil Mr. Bigs. Th existence of hubs will guarantee that.
One piece of academic research which might help us understand the structure of pedophile rings is The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution, a monograph by Microsoft which examines how illegally downloaded music or video is shared across a Darknet -- a private network of distribution. It's usefulness lies in that the abstract characteristics of illegal file sharing systems it describes are probably shared to some degree by the pedophile networks. By examining the architecture and vulnerabilities of one, we better understand the organization and weaknesses of the other.
Early attempts to shut down large scale illicit content distribution focused on closing down servers from which the material was downloaded. This would be the equivalent of closing down the Casa Pia orphanage described in opening paragraph. But just as the architects of content distribution sharing systems responded by creating a peer to peer structure where the "goods" were passed from one anonymous system to another, so will the pedophiles have adapted. It was suggested that if Madeleine were indeed abducted, she was "abducted to order". You don't download a child from the server any more, just from another peer node. But even this switch from a client-server model to a peer to peer system did not remove the vulnerabilities entirely. The Small World Property reasserted itself in video and music file sharing networks and created super-peers which were themselves like the old content servers. And these too can be targeted. This means that even in a pedophile network without wholesale warehouses like the Casa Pia orphanage, there are "hubs" of users which occupy important positions in the system. Taking down those hubs will degrade the system seriously.
Finally there is the little appreciated matter of attacking the "search engines" of a Darknet than can be considered. The "search engines" or directories of the content distribution Darknet were themselves attacked, as in the case of Napster. The Microsoft monograph notes that, without a central file server responsible for downloads to shutdown, it was Napster's searchable database that became a legal target. They were finally forced to disallow queries to identify copyrighted material. It's worth digressing to point out why attacking a network's directory is important. All networks face the problem of identifying resources that exist on it to its users. Unless the users know where to find the resources, they may as well not exist. Music or video downloading networks need some way of instructing a joining node where to find what it wants. It needs a playlist. Without the playlist and pointers to where they can be downloaded, the Darknet loses a great deal of its functionality.
What would a search engine for pedophile networks look like? My guess is it would in part look like the hideous sites operated by these perverts on the Internet. The UK Times describes one of these in its article on the children abducted to order.
More than 200 paedophiles in 13 countries had exchanged more than 750,000 images of children through a private internet club called Wonderland. Analysis showed that 1,236 children had been subjected to abuse that officers described as “unimaginable”.
Some were abused live, to order, online. Officers said that they had wept as they catalogued the pictures and that they had been haunted by them for years.
Shutting down these pedophile "search engines" would make things harder for the perverts. So why not close them down? Those who have been following the discussion on Belmont regarding Jihadi websites probably know that it is sometimes better to keep them operating in order to find the key hubs, through traffic analysis and other means, and from there develop the intelligence to take down the network. There is always a tension between the evil caused by leaving enemy cells up and using them to find more enemy cells. Pedophile websites are how they find victims and sick material. But they are also places through which pedophiles can be identified, as the recent arrest of "Swirly Face" pedophile recently arrested in Thailand proves.
But always one returns to the matter of political will. Here we come to the hardest part of the equation. Like Terrorism, there remain many powerful apologists for the sexualization of children. Like the terror apologists, they hide behind words like "civil liberties", "freedom of speech". And maybe as a result the political will to take down pedophilia, like the political mandate to destroy terrorism, leaves something to be desired.
We have the technical tools needed to inflict heavy blows on the pedophile network. In principle every tool designed to uncover terrorism can be used against pedophiles. But do we have a political mandate to use them? And I will say no more on the subject other than to wish, though I am unlikely to get my wish, that the JDAM and bullet in the brain were part of the solution.