International Trafficking Network Discovery Leads to FBI Sting Operation
Friday May 3, 2019

The identification of an international sex trafficking network using TellFinder technology in 2017 led to more than a dozen, coordinated FBI-led sting operations on January 15, 2019. A federal grand jury has since returned two indictments, charging six people with running sex trafficking organizations in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

In 2017, TellFinder was in development under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Memex program, an effort to develop new Internet search technologies which answered to a higher calling than ad revenues, for the benefit of the counter human trafficking community. In exploring TellFinder’s new capabilities for advanced network analysis, analysts uncovered a distinct network of more than 350,000 adult service advertisements with documented connections to dozens of Asian massage parlors throughout the U.S. and Canada. Their online commercial sex industry history was traced back as far as 2012, with advertisements placed in over thirty U.S. cities.

Memex analysts developed a package of evidence documenting their findings and passed it on to the FBI. After a year long investigation, with the partnership of local law enforcement agencies in more than a dozen U.S. cities the FBI initiated sting operations targeting U.S.-based criminal organizations in Oregon, along with other Asian sex trafficking networks. As part of the takedown operation, the FBI seized the primary website used by one of the organizations, SupermatchEscort.com, and as many as 500 other associated domains. On January 15, 2019 a federal grand jury in Oregon returned two indictments charging six people with running sex trafficking organizations operating in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Victim assistance was provided to five individuals in Oregon.

TellFinder now serves over 200 law enforcement agencies around the world. TellFinder is available to law enforcement investigators through support of the TellFinder Alliance -- a network of law enforcement, technology and research partners who adapt and advance emerging capabilities in AI, data science, visual analytics and deep web data for counter human trafficking applications.

The impact of TellFinder and the Memex program attracted the attention of national media sources, including 60 Minutes, Popular Science, Scientific American and The Wall Street Journal.