On an October night in 2016, the two leaders of one of the largest child abuse forum on the darknet, met in Virginia and abused a four-year-old child. Records revealed that Homeland Security Investigations agents watched the Canadian man meet with his United States counterpart and enter the house. Agents arrested both men two days later. The grandmother of the four-year-old has raised questions about the events surrounding the abuse of her grandchild. She wants to know if HSI could have stopped the attack that night.
Whether or not law enforcement had known what the men had planned, the questions she raised mirrored those raised by lawyers and researchers who followed the case. The investigation that targeted the men—Operation Artemis—closely resembled two other darknet child abuse forum operations: the takedown of PlayPen by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the takedown of The Love Zone by Taskforce Argos. Unsurprisingly, Taskforce Argos spearheaded Operation Artemis. The investigation targeted one forum called Childs Play and, to a lesser extent, a second forum called Giftbox Exchange.
Taskforce Argos took control of Childs Play in 2016 and operated the site for 11 months before closing the doors. During that time, they sought to identify the site’s admins and rescue victims. The police work came at a cost, though; in addition to allowing the site to run and interacting as the covertly arrested admins, Argos had to post pictures on a monthly basis. Norwegian news site VG spoke with some of the parents of the children in the pictures and the conversations went as expected.
However, not all the parents of the abused children on the darknet forum showed the same shock as those that VG spoke about last year. One, a now-imprisoned Virginia man, had reached out to Childs Play owners Patrick Falte and Benjamin Faulkner with a proposal. He wanted them to partake in the abuse of his four-year-old child.
Before Argos had slipped into the accounts of Falte and Faulkner, they worked with US HSI to identify the men. They discovered that one lived in the United States and the other lived in Canada. But law enforcement did not want to act hastily and undermine the undercover operation Argos had planned. Instead, in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, HSI monitored both men. In September 2016, alarms went off and HSI’s GPS tracker showed that Faulkner had crossed from Canada into the United States.
Law enforcement had known this would happen, conversations between VG and Taskforce Argos revealed. “We knew they were used to meeting each other. We just did not know why,” and Argos agent said. “WarHead had been in the United States four to five times earlier, and we assumed that he and CrazyMonk had met all the time. Probably they met each other for the first time in 2015.” Law enforcement decided to sit and wait until the men met once again.
HSI tracked Faulkner to a hotel in Virginia where he met Falte. They arrived at the hotel on a Saturday and later went to a house in the same town where they stayed until late Saturday evening. The four-year-old and his father also lived at the house. On Sunday, both men travelled to another house in Virginia and stayed the night. On Monday morning, HSI agents kicked the door down and arrested Faulkner and Falte. Law enforcement had obtained pictures and videos taken by the father that identified one of the two men’s hands. Staring at life in prison, they handed over their Childs Play passwords, and Argos then took control. They still received life sentences.
In the grandmother’s eyes, HSI could have stopped the men before the admins and the child’s father raped her loved one. HSI maintains that they could not have known what the men had planned. They knew the father had previously spent time in prison for murder and they knew Falte and Faulkner planned something, but HSI and Argos argue that they knew nothing of the abuse prior before it took place.