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FCW : June 15, 2015
June 15, 2015 FCW.COM 21 Service-disabled veterans are finding a new mission in the fight against online child predators. For the third year running, former warfighters have been trained to help the Department of Homeland Securi- ty’s Immigration and Customs Enforce- ment process an immense backlog in child exploitation cases. Virtual warehouses full of case data sit unexamined on servers around the country, and that backlog has weighed heavily on Brian Widener, who leads a computer forensics unit at ICE. “How many victims are sitting there on a computer for X number of months because we didn’t get a chance to get to it?” he said. ICE’s computer forensics teams processed 3.9 pet- abytes of data on child exploitation cases in 2013 and 5.2 petabytes of data in 2014, according to Widener. The clear need to increase staffing led ICE to create a year- long program that trains veterans in computer forensics so they can join the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child Res- cue Corps. The program has expanded beyond the veterans of Special Operations Command who initially participated to include veterans of the National Guard and Reserve. ICE said it has hired sev- eral program graduates as computer forensic analysts in its Homeland Secu- rity Investigations division. The application process is competi- tive. From a pool of 94 applicants, 24 veterans were chosen for the latest class. The curriculum is both techni- cal and emotional, but applicants do not necessarily need technical skills to apply. Computers are just one “com- ponent of the battle on child exploita- tion,” said Joseph Arata, ICE’s chief of strategic recruitment. Multilayered training The first three weeks of the course focus on the gravity of the mission, and the veterans are trained to cope with the trauma of processing graph- ic and disturbing images of child exploitation. Many of the veterans “are driven more than anything else in life by wanting a new mission,” said Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Chil- dren, the program’s nonprofit partner in conducting the immersion training. “It’s been amazing to see how they grab hold of this mission.” After gaining insight into the under- world of child predation, the veterans spend eight weeks in computer foren- sics training at ICE’s Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va. They start with the basics, such as creating hash val- ues to catalog digital images. Within two to three weeks, the veterans have typically earned a CompTIA A+ IT security certification, according to Widener. Software vendors then teach the veterans how to use platforms such as EnCase to log evidence. And the endgame is always in mind: Last year, trainees took part in a moot court in which lawyers grilled them on the evidence they had unearthed. The third part of the program is a 10-month internship at ICE field offices across the country, where the veterans work side by side with inves- tigators, often processing evidence after a warrant has been served. “They’re an integral piece right from the get-go,” Widener said. Inspired by their children Two of the veterans in the program said they were inspired to partici- pate because they have young children. Mark and Joe asked that their last names be withheld for pri- vacy reasons. The more Mark heard about the pro- gram from a friend, the more it “re- sparked that interest and that motivation to continue to serve my country — not only for the country but for the kids them- selves, the victims,” he said. “It’s a good mis- sion,” Joe said. “Sometimes we don’t get to pick and choose our missions in the military.... But here, now that we’re out...we have this opportunity to pick and do something we want to do, so this is important to us.” Joe, a multiple amputee, said he had originally wanted to be an inves- tigator in child exploitation cases but realized that “for every one investi- gator, there [are] 35 dudes punching on computers, pulling up information that they use to build the case file. For me, I knew that switch had to be made to the technology side.” n BY SEAN LYNGAAS Through computer forensics training and internships, veterans are helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement tackle a backlog of child exploitation cases DAVIDWIEGOLD The current HERO Corps class includes 24 veterans, who are trained to handle both the technical and emotional challenges of tracking online child predators. 0615fcw_020-021.indd 21 5/26/15 3:53 PM
May 30, 2015
June 30, 2015