DALLAS When federal agents and Euless, Texas, police officers showed up at his door, Tim Whitington didnt even ask why they were there.
Youre here for the bad stuff, he said.
And just like that after agents escorted a young boy away Whitington directed them to a wooden box containing a flash drive.
What they found was disturbing: graphic pornographic images of children. Even more troubling was the discovery of a relatively new form of child pornography, one in which perpetrators request a specific type of molestation they watch online as it happens.
The photographic evidence, and Whitingtons arrest, led to the apprehension of a half-dozen child molesters across the country.
The Whitington case was a victory in the fight against child pornography, law enforcement officials say. Its a war worth waging, but one they dont expect to win.
In a typical week, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia fields about 10,000 child pornography-related tips, said Michelle Collins, vice president of the centers exploited children division. About 91 million child porn images and videos have been seized by authorities since 2002.
While the number of child pornography arrests is small, last week, 255 people were arrested as part of a national roundup of child predators.
Its no secret whats behind the rapid increase in the creation and distribution of child pornography, experts say. The Internet has made child pornography easy to make, find and trade.
Law enforcement groups target the problem, but their numbers are small and the caseload heavy. The topic will be explored next month when experts from around the world come to Dallas for the annual Crimes Against Children Conference, which will be hosted by the Dallas Police Department and the Dallas Childrens Advocacy Center.
The public, for the most part, doesnt want to face the problem, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Lewis, who prosecuted Whitington.
Who wants to think of something as grotesque and awful as children being raped for someones pleasure? Lewis asked. No one wants to believe that it actually lies in the heart of a man.
Law enforcement authorities say the public needs to be aware of the rarely discussed crime.
Whitington, who declined an interview from prison, was an outwardly unremarkable 44-year-old businessman when he was arrested at his Euless apartment in 2010.
But Pat McGaha, a Homeland Security Investigations agent, called him a monster and the people he traded images with vipers.
Homeland Security Investigations is a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The department is one of the main agencies that investigates child pornography because so much of the material crosses state and national borders.
Whitingtons case, which is still leading to prosecutions almost three years later, offers a rare glimpse into the battle against child porn production.
NOT DIRTY PICTURES
Whitingtons world began unraveling in November 2010 in Australia. A known sex offender was arrested for possession of first generation child pornography images police had never seen before.
Many pictures seized by authorities have circulated for decades. Some are known by name, such as the Misty or Vicky series, and are highly prized by child pornography collectors. For them, its like collecting baseball cards.
First generation material alarms officials because it means theres a new victim.
Make no mistake, said Dan Powers, clinical director of the Childrens Advocacy Center of Collin County, child pornography is abuse. The majority of actively traded images show some sort of physical sexual abuse of prepubescent children, according to Collins.
This is not dirty pictures, Powers said. This is victimization of children.
Powers and other experts avoid the term child pornography because it minimizes the crime. Children, unlike adults, cannot consent.
It is not porn, said Matthew Dunn, a cybercrime supervisor in the Irving office of Homeland Security Investigations. It is child abuse material, plain and simple.
The pictures viewed in Australia were made in England by a man who raped a boy and a girl under the age of 13. After his arrest, officials tipped their American counterparts that the Englishman also had been chatting online with a man known as Txfordguy.
The information reached the Irving office of Homeland Security on Dec. 23, 2010.
Like everyone else, agent Brad Hudson was ready to shift into holiday mode.
When he read the online chats with Txfordguy, he knew agents needed to act.
Txfordguy, also known as Timdubbya, had told the English molester, I want you to do x-y-z to your kids and send me those pictures so I can show it to (my victim), Hudson said.
What we had was him directing somebody to produce child porn and send it to him, the agent said. And the chats indicated Txfordguy planned to rape a boy he knew.
THEY DONT LOOK LIKE MONSTERS
The Internet is a double-edged sword: It makes sexual abuse images incredibly easy to access but it also leaves electronic footprints.
Homeland Security quickly traced the account used by Txfordguy to Whitingtons apartment. A background check showed he was a divorced father without a criminal record.
He was just your average Joe, coming to work and going home, Hudson said.
They dont have horns; they dont look like monsters, McGaha said. Theyre real congenial guys thats why theyre so good at it.
Most offenders know their victims and often coerce them with treats and rewards instead of threats, Powers said.
And most producers of child porn are motivated by sexual arousal, not profit.
When laws targeting child pornography first went into effect in the 1970s, commercial producers were more common. They sold images by mail but were mostly shut down in the 1980s.
Commercial sites surfaced again in the early days of the Internet, maintaining websites for paid subscribers. But again, they were put out of business fairly quickly.
Unfortunately, demand remained high.
The Internet, experts agree, brought child pornography out of the back alley and into the private home.
For people who would never buy an adult porn magazine, much less something about children, its a mouse click away now, said Plano police Detective Jeff Rich.
Authorities knew from chat logs that Whitington talked about abusing a young boy. So when neighbors mentioned theyd seen a child coming and going from the apartment, the sense of urgency grew.
Homeland Security contacted local police. Before they served the search warrant on Dec. 27, police parked a marked car outside Whitingtons apartment to let residents know law enforcement was on the scene.
Then Hudson and McGaha, casually dressed with guns concealed, approached the building while the search team of a half-dozen armored agents remained behind.
Whitington didnt resist and could have left while agents searched his apartment. Instead, he sat down to talk.
Within five minutes, he had confessed, McGaha said. Whitington gave agents his encryption key, enabling them to find the illegal material quickly.
Even with cooperation, child pornography cases take massive amounts of time and money to investigate, said Rich, the Plano detective.
The house where a raid is conducted may have several residents and multiple computers. Officers must determine who accessed the devices for pornographic purposes, and each computer image must be examined.
The images, which often number in the hundreds of thousands, can take weeks to sift through.
Its not like it used to be where everybodys got a 30-gig hard drive, McGaha said. Now we have terabytes.
KNEW IT WAS WRONG
Whitingtons collection wasnt huge, but authorities say he didnt need images to experience sexual satisfaction: He told them hed been sexually touching the boy whom agents escorted away for several years.
Like many molesters, Whitington a self-described nudist rationalized his actions, telling agents that if the boy had said no, he would have stopped. Like most victims, the child never told anyone about the abuse.
Whitington held his head in his hands while he talked, agents said, but he just didnt think he had done anything really wrong, McGaha said.
We were telling him, You cant do that. Its illegal, and he said, Well, whats a nudist to do?
Whitington pleaded guilty to the federal child pornography charges for ordering molestations online, but not guilty to a state charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child.
Whitington knew it was wrong, said Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Eric Nickols, who prosecuted the state case. He just wanted it to be OK.
Jurors were shown the pornography but the chat logs were actually harder to hear about, Nickols said. It was kind of like a pedophiles playbook.
One of Whitingtons state defense attorneys, Stephanie Patten, said the chat logs and pictures were used to convict him, but Whitington was not charged with pornography in state court.
Whitington, who was sentenced to 16 years in federal court and 50 years in state prison, plans to appeal the state sentence.