After a United States Department of Justice plane landed in the U.K., some speculated about just who American agents were there to bring back to the states. Julian Assange some guessed.
But the jet that landed in Dublin on Saturday was for the man known in Ireland and the U.K. as the child porn kingpin and by law enforcement in the U.S. as the “largest facilitator of child porn on the planet,” Eric Eoin Marques.
Hunted on the dark web by Anonymous and in real life by the FBI, Marques, 33, is now in U.S. custody in Maryland and faces up to 50 years in prison for his alleged crimes, if convicted.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Beginning in 2008, Marques Hosted Websites on the Dark Web Via the Tor Browser Where, the FBI Alleges, he Allowed Sites Devoted to Violent & Disturbing Child Pornography to Operate Freely & Anonymously
According to the DOJ, between July 24, 2008 and July 29, 2013, Marques “conspired to advertise and to distribute child pornography, and aided and abetted the advertising and distribution of child pornography, by allegedly operating a free, anonymous web hosting service (AHS) located on the dark web.”
The dark web is an area of the Internet accessible via the Tor browser, developed in the mid-1990s by the US Naval Research Laboratory, mathematicians and computer scientists to protect U.S. intelligence communications online. That was the original design. But has since opened the door to an anonymous so-called dark web where users can roam the anonymous internet where some engage in criminal enterprises. One of those enterprises is a disturbing and voluminous global network of pedophiles and distributors of often-violent images of very young children being sexually assaulted.
And that’s where Marques was found to be the most prolific of child pornography distributors, federal agents claim.
2. Sites Marques Hosted Shared Images of ‘Abuse of Prepubescent Minors, Violent Sexual Abuse & Bestiality’
Marques is alleged to have run Freedom Hosting which accommodated more than 500 servers throughout Europe affording them complete anonymity. The sites were also untraceable. Among the child pornography and abuse sites hosted by Freedom were Lolita City, the Love Zone and PedoEmpire.
In the criminal complaint, the FBI alleges that the sites Marques hosted “allowed users to view and share images documenting the sexual abuse of children, including the abuse of prepubescent minors, violent sexual abuse, and bestiality.”
It’s also alleged, according to the Independent, that Freedom Hosting also provided services for money-laundering operations, encrypted mail systems and fraud forums.
The Independent reported, “Freedom Hosting’s appeal for some of its clients was its promise not to look in on the websites it was hosting, though it stated that downloading illegal content was not allowed, but added, “If you choose to do so anyway, we are not responsible for your actions.”
3. The FBI Complaint Against Marques Includes Disturbing Details About the Millions of Images of Child Sexual Abuse he’s Alleged to Have Distributed
According to the amended criminal complaint, as of July 12, 2013, one site hosted reported that there were almost 1.4 million files that were uploaded and accessible by individuals who visit the hidden service.
During 2012 and 2013, FBI agents and employees using computers in Maryland downloaded more than one million files from that website.
As part of the investigation, those files were reviewed and “nearly all of the files depict children who are engaging in sexually explicit conduct with adults or other children, posed nude and/or in such a manner as to expose their genitals, in various states of undress, or depict child erotica.”
A substantial majority of the images downloaded by the FBI depict prepubescent minor children who are fully or partially nude or engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
The complaint alleges that during the time of the conspiracy, the IP address associated with the anonymous web hosting service was “assigned to a computer server associated with and exclusively used by Marques,” the federal complaint reads.
4. Born in the US to an Irish Mother & Brazilian Father, Marques Has Been in an Irish Prison Awaiting Extradition. Tor Users Worried About Security Being Compromised as the FBI Conducted its Operation to Catch Marques
In a report from media in Ireland, Marques’ parents are divorced and when he was first arrested in 2013, he was living with his architect father in Dublin’s Mountjoy Square. Neighbors described Marques as a very quiet loner who spent most of his time in his basement on his computer. Born in New York, Marques has dual U.S. and Ireland citizenship.
In 2011 ‘Anonymous’ launched Operation Darknet to locate, expose and shut down child pornographers and pedophiles. One of the largest and most notorious of sites, the aforementioned Lolita City, was DDoS-attacked and members’ names leaked.
And with the FBI investigation, and its own hacking and attacks to expose Marques, Tor users worried about compromised security. In late 2013 and early 2014, it was reported that half the Tor sites went down after feds nabbed Marques.
This now-archived Reddit post from 2013 shows how users were torn; okay with stopping child porn but concerned about the loss of anonymity via Tor.
5. Marques is Facing Nearly 50 Years in a U.S. Federal Prison. Marques Has Used Asperger’s Syndrome as a Defense & His Lawyers Say he Won’t Get Proper Care in an American Prison
If convicted, Marques faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30 in prison for conspiracy to advertise child pornography and for aiding and abetting the advertising of child pornography; and a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute child pornography and for aiding and abetting the distribution of child pornography, the DOJ says.
Meanwhile, Marques’ lawyers say that an examination of Marques at a “high security prison in the Irish Midlands last month confirmed he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition which is part of the autism spectrum,” the Belfast Telegraph reported.
According to Reuters, his attorney’s said he’d likely “not receive adequate medical care in U.S detention” and said there was a risk of “overcrowding and sexual assault.”
Marques has been fighting extradition to the U.S. for more than 5 years.
The extradition and federal charges were announced by U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; and Assistant Director Robert Johnson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
“Criminals cannot hide on the dark web or in foreign countries,” Hur said.
Prosecutor Benczkowski noted that “Child exploitation sites on the dark web present a grave danger to children and unprecedented challenges to the world’s law enforcement agencies.”
But the FBI’s assistant director said there’s nowhere to hide.
“…no matter where you are in the world …the FBI will never stop working to ensure justice is served for the vulnerable child victims who are unable stand up for themselves.”