DOCUMENT: Investigation, Crime

How Blogger Stung Undercover Federal Sex Sting

Sex tourism operation was torpedoed by gadfly

MARCH 11--A year-long Department of Homeland Security undercover operation targeting prospective “sex tourists” was torpedoed last month after a blogger unwittingly stumbled upon a sleazy web site set up by federal agents and engineered a reverse sting on investigators she mistook for pedophiles, The Smoking Gun has learned.

As detailed Wednesday by TSG, federal agents early last year launched a web site for the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company,” which offered to arrange trips to Canada from Cleveland, Ohio for customers seeking sexual encounters with children. The site--online at precioustreasureholidaycompany.com--succeeded in enticing several suspects to either arrange or explicitly discuss via e-mail trips for illicit encounters.

Last month, however, the DHS undercover site was abruptly taken offline by the Massachusetts-based web hosting firm on whose servers it was housed. Amazingly, the company was unaware that “Precious Treasure Holiday Company,” which it has “suspended,” was the centerpiece of the DHS operation.

The demise of the web site began in mid-February when an Illinois computer programmer (who is active in online efforts to expose human trafficking and pedophiles) clicked through to the DHS site via an online link. When she landed on the site’s homepage, the woman recalled in an interview, “I was like, ‘Holy crap!’”

She immediately spotted symbols used by pedophiles to indicate “boy lover,” “girl lover,” and “child lover.” Additionally, she recognized that the acronym for the site’s name--“PTHC”--was pedophile shorthand for “preteen hardcore.” During a review of the “amateurish” site, the woman, who asked that she not be identified by name, determined that its source code included a “noindex” directive that kept the site from being crawled and preserved by search engines and the Internet Archive (archive.org).

The computer programmer also noticed that the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” site appeared to have been designed using a 2003 version of Microsoft’s FrontPage. In retrospect, she remarked, the use of such outdated software should have tipped her to the fact that the site was a U.S. government production.

After discovering the site, the woman sent an e-mail to the Cleveland Police Department noting that, “last night I came across a site that appeared to be promoting a sex tourism site out of Cleveland.” She included the site’s URL in the note she sent to the department’s general e-mail address. The woman also went to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s web site and submitted information about the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” via the group’s CyberTipline.

Continuing her sleuthing, the woman had a colleague send an inquiry seeking additional information from the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” proprietors. “My wife and I are looking for some fun,” the February 15 e-mail read. “I want things to be sweet.”

On February 17, “Ray Gould” wrote back, attaching a one-page PDF that further described his company’s sex tours “with your special girl or boy.” The PDF was locked, but “Gould” provided the password: “PTHC.” As if the undercover operation could not be more blatant, the name “Ray Gould” is a reference to the pseudonym of a notorious pedophile who spent five years on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives before his capture and imprisonment in 2007.

The “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” flier noted that the tour included “Transportation to and from private place with your special girl or boy – your fantasy come true!” Two price options were detailed, along with the notice that a $100 down payment was required to “reserve date and child.” Prospective customers were also informed that prices did not include “Condoms, lube etc…” Additionally, the flier stated, “Adoption sales also available. Canadian trucker’s coming to U.S. we can help you to.”

Now armed with the explicit flier, the computer programmer sent a February 24 e-mail to the customer relations department at Endurance International Group, the Massachusetts firm hosting the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” web site. She attached a copy of the PDF she had received days earlier. The site, she wrote, “appears to be promoting sex tourism,” adding, “This seems to be illegal, and I would assume that it would violate most providers’ acceptable use policies.”

Later that day, Shimon Bakshi, a customer service manager, wrote back to thank her and report, “We have suspended the site.” Two weeks later, visitors to precioustreasureholidaycompany.com are still getting a placeholder page with the notice “This site has been suspended.”

While expressing regret for inadvertently derailing the DHS undercover site, the woman said she could not understand why federal agents did not clue in the web hosting firm as to who was behind the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” web site. Or why DHS did not simply place the site on a server it owned or better controlled (and to which it would easily have been able to mask its connection).

“I can’t figure out why they didn’t anticipate that someone might find the site and have a problem with it,” the computer programmer said. (1 page)

Comments (41)

Okay, I just read the "advertisement", and the whole thing looked like some type of very bizarre and sick joke to me. I'd probably blow the whistle too just to be sure, but, come on....organized pedophiles? And they are advertising on top of it? Did the HLS even actually catch any pedophiles? Cause that bait just didn't look too convincing. It looked like a joke to me. I even question if ANY of this story is genuine. I think we're just being duped by a bunch of clowns.
There is something very suspicious about this sting. It appears that there may be pedophiles within DHS who were using this for their own motives. First of all this should have been conducted by the FBI not DHS. This is a criminal issue and is not related to homeland security. If the site wasn't being hosted by DHS under a proxy address, then the hosting company should have been made aware of the sting by DHS. How were they paying for the hosting service? Normally this would have gone through DHS procurement channels so the hosting company would have known that the Feds were behind this. Apparently the operators used personal credit cards to avoid detection. Why? There needs to be a criminal investigation of those at DHS who initiated and participated in this operation.
Why don't we investigate the SEC guys who were porn surfing while Wall Street crumbled? Why don't we investigate the Pashtoon? pedophiles in Afganastan who engage in raping 12 year old boys and even show our troops their 'trophy' photos on their cell phones. This has been on Drudge before. Our troops are getting blown up for these pedophiles. Why don't we sent the FBI to redition Polanski back to the US? Why don't we arrest Celine Dion's husband?
Yes that's EXACTLY why were out in the middle east. Stopping the pedos is TOP priority.
So by getting all of this information on the web this woman gets some "atta boys" for doing a good job, but the whole sting is blown forever. I mean was it really worth her getting attention when she probably alerted future pedophiles? Do your sting work in relative silence and share it with your friends and family and local politicians but don't go national with it!
Did you even read and comprehend the article? Or does education in the trailer park not extend to reading what is written?
The story about the sting website was initially broken by TSG on March 8, not by the blogger. http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/internet/undercover-web-site-dera...
The flier is riddled with typos. Wonder if that was intentional, and if so, why?
Well, this is a good example of the private sector doing another task that the Federal Government believes that they can do. See, Obama, we can police ourselves!
ATTN HERO BLOGGER WOMAN: I admire what you are doing and I'm ashamed our governement is so daft as to think A WEBSITE is where they are going to catch the piggy people who want to have sex with children. I hope YOU are watching the newsserver. I havent been on there in 5 years but I saw some REALLY DISGUSTING THINGS on there, not with kids, but things so disgusting I vomited. There are SOOOO many "channels" on the newsserver, I'm quite sure some piggy sex pervert groups are in there. SMOKING GUN: you are welcome to give HERO BLOGGER WOMAN my email address if she needs help with the newsserver. Im a little rusty but its like riding a bike. BTW: Backing up bogie, saw the story abt the guy in the service who was the one person caught.
Dear Bev, Since you have acknowledged that there is no kiddie porn on newsserve it seems you are going after those dirty pervs who like to have sex and view sexual content on-line. Well go get 'em girl! While you're at it let's get rid of all the other websites that may not agree with your sensiblilties. Let's whipe out all the newspapers and magazines that print stories that you don't like too! Why should we have to tolerate the existance of anything (or anyone) that doesn't align with your ideals and morals, right Bev? After all Bev, it's all about you. Love, Piggy Sex Perv
DHS opened this site? Why would they need to look any further than the pedophiles, hired to pat down dangerous children, in our airports? Are we sure that the site wasn't an in-house travel agency for DHS employees?
First we have Obama’s administration approving the sale of assault weapons to the drug cartels in Mexico in the name of stopping the sale of weapons to Mexico, and now we have it engaging in the sex trade business in the name of stopping sexual predators. Go figure! While, with one hand, it is claiming to fight sexual predators, it is fighting to promote homosexual rights, homosexual marriages, and other things I will not mention with the other hand. This administration is unbelievably incompetent—it’s like watching the keystone cops in action. And what does this have to do with national security anyway? Shouldn’t Homeland Security be concentrating on homeland security? You know, like closing our southern border and stopping the recruitment of Islamic terrorists within our country, maybe.
Excuse me, but what does promoting "Homosexual Rights" have anything to do with sexual predators? Are you still living in the 1950's? I don't give a crap what your personal feelings are on marriage equality or equal rights for all Americans, I do however have a problem with you categorizing Gays and sexual predators in the same group. Scientific studies show that the vast majority of sexual predators are adult HETEROSEXUAL males. Accredited medical studies state this fact again and again. In fact, when it comes to children, recent studies have found that children raised by same sex couples not only do slightly better academically and socially, there chances of being sexually molested are vastly smaller then their counterparts being raised by so called "traditional" heterosexual couples. If your going to post a comment for the world to see, try doing a little research first so you dont show the world just how ignorant you are,
They are not just in the same group...they are the same thing.
"...what does promoting "Homosexual Rights" have anything to do with sexual predators?" Here is my experience: When I (male) was 13 y/o, I was approached by a 18-20 y/o (male) for sexual "fun & games." I was confused and bewildered because I unfamiliar with homosexuality. Now, with hindsight, I realize this homosexual person was targeting me. The question is, do homosexuals prey on the ignorance of adolescents for their sexual gratification? This is what predatory sex is about.
ONE! That's how many pedophiles they caught. JUST ONE. But they do have a lead on another who happens to be serving our country in the middle east right now. He's asked them several times if they are FBI and told them he is not. He's a 32-year-old Staff Sergeant in the Army. He'll be coming back early this summer. They even had his picture in uniform on the site I saw yesterday. Great guy, what?` He even told them that he hoped they were not from that NBC Dateline program!!! WHOOT WHOOT! And he leads men - damn! I think I saw this on drudge report yesterday. Look around, you'll find the article, sorry I don't remember where. Even though we do need to put these guys under the jail, that is the FBI's job, not DHS's.
Why does this fall under homeland security? Why isn't the FBI handling this?
The only problem with this is it is ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Investigators doing this sting. It should be the FBI. ICE says it is their job because it involves international commerce. Actually ICE's main job is supposed to be marriage fraud involving illegal aliens and also arresting and deporting illegal aliens living in the US. The Border Patrol used to arrest illegal aliens living in the US but since the DHS came into being the powers that be gave that job to ICE, AND THEY DONT DO IT, unless it is a headline event. Why isn't the FBI doing this job? They used to, and they did a good job. Give it back to the FBI and make ICE Investigators do their jobs!!!
Um zad...Are you retarded?? Of course nothing was thwarted halfbreed. It was a government website which is the whole point of the article. WOW. Do me a favor. Get in your car, drive to a rural country road, pull over, put the car in park and just punch yourself in the face until you pass out. When you wake up go home, pour yourself a glass of milk, go to the living room, sit on the couch and think long and hard before you share something online ever again. Seriously.
No, don't you dare send that dimwit to my rural area! Nooo sirrr. He stays in the city where he belongs! :)
While I do commend this person for their actions, I doubt that anything was "thwarted". If you look at the flier that was attached in the article it clearly states at the bottom that the website may change addresses from time to time and all that someone needs to do is send an email, with the word "list" in the subject line, to the address on the flier and they will be notified of all website address and site changes. I am sure they just went to another unsuspecting hosting site, whom I bet could also be at risk for hosting the site in the first place. Has anyone done this? I would bet that the operation lives on... I don't really care who is going after these sleazebags, nor how they are nabbing them, NO child deserves this!!!
Well, looks like Big Sis got exactly what she was looking for: "See Something, Say Something"
As bad as this is and that these freaks need to be put away, WHY did they have to go and vilify the trucking industry? There not scumbags, There the unappreciated back bone of the world, yet they are scape goats and or less than human.
I agree with you on that. They always get a bad rap, and the movies that come out don't help any. If it weren't for truckers we would all starve, have no gas, no garbage pick-up, no fresh veggies, and the one that would hit me the most, no sodas
Easier way to say it: naked, homeless and hungry (until you hit upon the idea of eating each other)
It would be interesting to see if or how many people the DHS caught in this sting. Then it would be interesting to see how much of our money and time was spent on this, all of it is well worth it if they were taking these sick people off the streets.
WHAT WHAT WHAT!!! You want the government to be somehow ACCOUNTABLE for its actions?!?! HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST SUCH A THING!
Don't worry, Big Sis is off on another wild goose chase! If only the DHS and the TSA would do their jobs the right way. We all might be less inconvenienced and safer to boot! Close the borders, and profile to catch bad guys. Obummer hires these people and lets them go hog wild with no supervision.
Don't worry, Big Sis is off on another wild goose chase! If only the DHS and the TSA would do their jobs the right way. We all might be less inconvenienced and safer to boot! Close the borders, and profile to catch bad guys. Obummer hires these people and lets them go hog wild with no supervision.
I wonder how many TSA agents went to that site? Seems that would excite that lot of losers
Good job on shutting that thing down. Why is Homeland Security doing sting operations for sex pedophiles? I want my tax money paying for them to catch terrorists.
That would require them out in the field. Why would they want to do that when they can sit on there fat asses in a comfy building.
I assume that there won't be any investigation into the DHS on this situation, no demand for documentation concerning this sting to confirm that is exactly what it is. We're just going to take their word for it. There are so many gov. sex scandals, whistler;s link is a good place to start.
Are you suggesting that the government is involved in things which may be seen as somewhat underhand?!?! But, but, but... they're the government!!
I couldn't agree more.
The gov. funds sex rings. This was probably just a for profit site for it. I KNOW... I KNOW... the gov. would never do that... Well, at least that's what they tell you and congress.
All those apprehended will begin a real sex tour while incarcerated in prison with hard core tattooed lifer sex tour guides.....
Bubba will meet him at the door with a big red rose tattooed on his arm with MOM written in black in. You're mine.
So, did DHS think that misspelling 'Fantasies' made the site look more authentic?
Good for her! So glad someone had teh gall to say SOMETHING after stumbling upon something potentialy harmful to children. It could just have easily been the real McCoy...