Understanding Operation Flicker

in #operation7 years ago

Operation Flicker, a 2006 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement/Cyber Crimes Center/Child Exploitation Section (ICE/C3/CES) investigation into child pornography, focused on “Home Collection,” a commercial website operated by an organized crime ring in Belarus and the Ukraine. The initial leads uncovered that the same company ran an extensive network of child pornography websites. Memberships to the various sites cost between $79.99 and $99.99, and payments were made through PayPal. When investigators cross-referenced the PayPal records with a database of Department of Defense (DoD) employee email addresses, they made a shocking discovery.

Unfortunately, Operation Flicker is often misrepresented, leading some critics to scoff at its significance and to dismiss it as “fake news.” Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

To understand Operation Flicker’s scope and significance, one must dispel a few common misconceptions.

1 - Operation Flicker did not catch 5200 Pentagon employees with child pornography: The results of Operation Flicker were not made publicly known until 2010, and numerous outlets erroneously reported that the investigation caught 5200 Pentagon employees with child pornography.

Not true.

That 5200 number so often cited refers to the total number of domestic clients that had paid for subscriptions to Home Collection and its various associated sites, not to the number of Pentagon employees (there were also roughly 4400 international clients).

Good news, right?

Well, not quite. The initial Operation Flicker report identified 264 Pentagon employees or contractors among the 5200 domestic clients. More on that number later.

2 - Operation Flicker was not an investigation into Pentagon employees and contractors: Those trying to dismiss Operation Flicker’s significance suggest that even 264 guilty parties among the tens of thousands of DoD employees and contractors would hardly be surprising since a similar percentage would no doubt be found in society at large, and even DoD employees are not immune from being flawed humans.

One problem: Operation Flicker was not an investigation into Pentagon employees; it was one investigation into one network of child pornography websites that just happened to find 264 DoD employees and contractors.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Of the 5200 domestic clients discovered in one child pornography investigation, investigators identified 264 DoD employees, accounting for 5.1% of the total perpetrators. Disturbing, no? It gets worse.

3 - Pentagon employees did not represent 5.1% of the domestic clients: While having 5.1% of the perpetrators be DoD employees would be staggering, the true number will never be known.

In 2011, Senator Chuck Grassley took a personal interest in Operation Flicker. According to Grassley, roughly 1700 of the original 5200 domestic clients were never even considered or checked for possible DoD connections [2]. Of the original 264 DoD employees identified in the original Operation Flicker report, only 52 of them were investigated, leading to a scant 10 convictions. Several of the investigations were halted when ICE refused to cooperate and hand over evidence [1]. Those remaining 212 DoD employees? They were never even questioned. All investigations were halted after just eight months due to a “lack of resources.”

Under pressure from Grassley, the Pentagon promised to reopen the investigation and to pursue the already identified employees, as well as the 1700 unchecked leads. Today, six years later, no further arrests have been made and there is no evidence of any ongoing investigations. Of course, when FOIA requests were made in 2015 to access additional documentation, the DoD declined, noting that the requested documents involved open investigations [3]. Try to read that without laughing.

Considering Grassley’s findings, those 5200 domestic clients, minus the 1700 leads that were not even considered, become 3500. Thus, the true percentage of ensnared DoD employees would be 7.5% (264/3500).

To review, 32.7% (1700/5200) of the potential leads in Operation Flicker were not even considered. Of the 264 confirmed DoD employees identified, 80.3% (212/264) were never even questioned and just 3.8% (10/264) were charged.

[NOTE: The precise numbers are sometimes reported as 302 identified DoD employees and 70 investigations. Trying to find the precise number from the official documents can be tricky due to the frequent redactions. Therefore, this article relies on the more conservative, and more cited, numbers of 264 and 52.]

4 - The Pentagon employees ensnared in Operation Flicker were not average workers: Among those confirmed 264 DoD employees, nine had “Top Secret” security clearances [1], which means these individuals had access to information that, if disclosed, could “reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security” [4]. A total of 76 individuals had “Secret” or higher clearances. These were not janitors and secretaries. The culprits included NSA and DARPA employees and DoD top staff.

In 2015, the Daily Mail Online reported that Operation Flicker had caught eight NASA employees; however, the employees were never identified [5]. NASA contacted the Daily Mail and stated that all eight employees no longer worked for the agency. Notice, there was no mention of prosecutions.

5 - The people caught in Operation Flicker were stupid idiots: Keep in mind, these 264 DoD employees were not caught clicking a random link or accidentally downloading child porn while searching for hot MILF action or the latest in lesbian shenanigans. No, these people were caught because they subscribed to child porn websites and paid for the subscriptions with their own PayPal accounts. The only reason they were identified is because they purchased the child porn with either their actual military and government email addresses (which, incredibly, many did) or some other public email the DoD had on file. These were not accidents or even momentary lapses into perversion. These were legitimate pedophiles who were so desperate they risked using their own email addresses and PayPal accounts. And yet, the Pentagon investigated only 19.7% (52/264) of the confirmed cases and charged only 19.2% (10/52) of those investigated.


  1. Who were the nine people with the Top Secret security clearances?

  2. Why was the investigation halted after eight months and after investigating only 52 of the 264 confirmed cases?

  3. Why were 212 confirmed cases never investigated? Who were these individuals? Do they still work for the DoD?

  4. Why were 1700 potential leads never even considered?

  5. Was the investigation halted due to a “lack of resources” or because the names identified were too powerful to pursue?

  6. Of the 254 confirmed DoD employees who were not charged, how many still work for the DoD?

  7. Is the government using the evidence from Operation Flicker to blackmail those 254 individuals [6]?

The Pentagon allowed at least 254 employees and contractors caught purchasing child pornography to go unpunished. Conspiracy theories thrive because governments lack transparency and often fail to meet their responsibilities, often through incompetence. Of course, powerful people also conspire to manipulate situations for their personal benefit.

Decide for yourself which theory best fits Operation Flicker.


[1] Operation Flicker Documents (932 pages – Commercial Websites)

Official Operation Flicker Report (94 pages – Individuals)

[2] Anderson Cooper Interviews Senator Chuck Grassley in 2011

[3] Department of Defense FOIA Request
Did We Finish Looking Into Those 1,700 Pentagon Child Porn Cases?

[4] List of U.S. Security Clearance Terms

[5] NASA Employees Caught Buying Child Porn from Site Which Showed Three-Year-Olds Being Abused - But They Escape Prosecution and Now Their Names Are Being Kept Secret

[6] The REAL Hastert Scandal: Pedophilia, Drug Money and Blackmail


The Child Porn-Pentagon-NSA-CIA Link ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know

Pentagon Declined to Investigate Hundreds of Purchases of Child Pornography

Pentagon Workers Found to Have Downloaded Child Pornography

Did We Finish Looking Into Those 1,700 Pentagon Child Porn Cases?

The Pentagon Isn’t Done Investigating 1700 Child Porn Cases from 2016


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