Silicon Insider: Dark World of Child Porn

As usual, it took a celebrity bust to finally interest the public in a scandal.

This time, the celebrity is Pete Townshend of the Who, and the scandal is child pornography. Townshend is accused of downloading and sharing kiddie porn files, purchasing them with his credit card.

Townshend, for his part, claims he was researching a book on his own suspected abuse as a child — the genesis of Tommy's Uncle Ernie, among other indicators in his body of work — and some of his Web writings from more than a year ago suggests there may be some truth in this.

On the other hand, there are procedures for this sort of research, none of which Townshend appears to have followed. Moreover, "research" has become a tired alibi for pederasts and other visitors to the underworld over the last decade. Every sleazeball with a disk full of pictures of naked children turns out to be working on an expose book.

Though I suspect that Townshend may be telling the truth, I have no firm opinion either way.

What I do have a strong opinion on is that the media continues to utterly fail in its reporting of this topic, and the consequence of this failure is horrible beyond imagining. And one day it will touch us all.

How do I know this? Because I've visited those depths and returned a shaken man.

The Shocking Truth

Three years ago, as editor of Forbes ASAP magazine, I was approached by Robert Grove, my multimedia editor and producer of my TV shows. The story he told me was shocking. Like most people, I knew that child porn, that most despicable of crimes, was available somewhere out there on the Web. But I assumed it was furtive, tiny and all but inaccessible; the province of a handful of perverts passing photos back and forth.

What Bob told me was stunning. What he had learned from his sources was that child porn wasn't a tiny boutique industry, but a global empire. That it wasn't hidden, but easy to find. But most of all, he said, this wasn't just some crude, back-alley operation, but a sophisticated business octopus, using some of the most sophisticated computer software and encryption, conveyed by some of the biggest and most legitimate corporations, and with revenues of billions of dollars. Worst of all, Bob said, this creepy shadow organization ultimately had the potential to morph into dangerous new forms and threaten our national security.

I gave Bob the assignment to chase the story as far as it would go. Little did he or I now how far that would be.

But first, we did one thing Pete Townshend apparently never did: We went to the feds. In our case, it was the FBI office in Oakland, Calif. There, the agents did exactly what they should have done: They warned us that if we were lying or downloading any of the sites, they would throw us in jail. In turn, we, as editors for Forbes ASAP, agreed to turn over any leads we had.

And then we began a three-month tour of hell.

You may think you know what the child pornography industry is, but, no matter how cynical you are, you do not. Yes, it is naked children exposing themselves. But it is worse than that. It is adults having sex with children, even babies. But it is worse than that. It is the rape and torture of little children.

But, hard as it may be to accept, it is even worse than that.

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