Phuong Ly writes in the Washington Post about Maryland eighth graders and best friends Karen, Mary and Kristin, who are real-life “Charlie’s Angels,” helping the FBI bust internet pedophiles. In Operation Innocent Images, FBI agents pose as teenage girls and try to strike up internet conversations with these guys, hoping to catch them. But agents are too old to know what’s “cool,” so they need help from these three, who’ve been teaching agents across the country how to sound like genuine teenage girls. It’s hard though?the first time they gave the FBI agents a quiz, the agents all failed.
“They, like, don’t know anything,” says Mary, who’s 14. At their middle school graduation ceremony, the girls each received a letter of commendation signed by FBI Director Robert Mueller, thanking them for their help catching pedophiles, despite their “busy 8th-grade schedule.”
The FBI estimates that at every moment, 20,000 pedophiles are online worldwide, looking for vulnerable teenagers. Operation Innocent Images has led to the convictions of 2,200 people all over the U.S., for exchanging child pornography or arranging to meet teens for sex.
The program started in 1995, when FBI agents investigated 113 suspects. However, internet pedophiles are becoming suspicious, and “test” the teens they’re talking to, before making any moves that might incriminate them. The girls were recruited after one of their fathers, who’s an FBI agent, watched her typing an e-mail to a friend and realized he didn’t know what she was talking about. Agent Gary Bald says, “We can teach agents how to be careful and make sure they’re following the law and how to arrest people. But how to convince people they’re a 13-year-old is something we need help on.”
You’ll never know what?s possible?until you try.
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