A typical Granite State Sunday morning on the cusp of spring, and a scene surprising no one who watches the news or any number of television shows dedicated to fictional or real-life law enforcement:
SUVs and police cruisers surrounding a house. Figures in bulletproof vests marked “FBI” hauling away computers pursuant to the warrant they’re serving. The next scene practically writes itself. We all know our lines. Time to cheer on the white knights who protect society from the scourge of child pornography.
But this time it’s different. This time we know the raiders represent the child pornographers and that their victims are journalists who exposed the FBI’s role in operating an illegal child porn web site.
The house, located in the college town of Keene, New Hampshire, serves as broadcast studio for Free Talk Live (freetalklive.com), a libertarian talk show airing nightly on more than 170 radio stations worldwide. FTL ranks 38th on the “Heavy 100” list of Talkers magazine, talk radio’s premier trade publication. The home does double duty as living quarters for some of the show’s hosts.
Mere weeks ago, Free Talk Live dropped a bombshell into America’s political discussion, exposing a story that had previously only been noticed very much by tech insiders.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, it seems, has been moonlighting as a provider of child pornography. After locating and seizing the servers of a child porn site on the “dark web,” known as Play Pen and reachable only via the Tor browser, the FBI decided not to shut the site down. Instead, they kept it running for two weeks, using it to spread malware that could identify and locate a handful of the site’s visitors. The vast majority of the 200,000 people downloading child porn from the site went on their way unmolested (pun intended). A few whose computers were mis-configured so as to be vulnerable to the FBI’s trick were arrested.
Read that last paragraph again. It’s illegal — and most people agree it SHOULD be illegal — to distribute child pornography.
Yet the FBI did so with complete impunity.
Now they’re harassing the journalists who told us about it, raiding their home and seizing their equipment on the unlikely, even risible, claim that a computer in that building accessed the Play Pen site.
It’s spring in New Hampshire but there’s a chill in the air — the chill of politically motivated revenge by law enforcement gone rogue.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
- “The FBI Has an Enemies List: First They Came for Free Talk Live …” by Thomas L. Knapp, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, 03/24/16
- “The FBI and child pornography,” by Thomas L. Knapp, 03/25/16, Libby, Montana Western News, 03/25/16