Collecting FBI partner on track to dodge jail- child porn.

A cybersecurity taskforce chief turned child pornography collector seems poised to dodge prison – and live across the street from a Seattle elementary school.
Before agents arrived at his house across from Ballard’s West Woodland Elementary School, security consultant Brian Haller led the Seattle chapter of an FBI/private-sector group tasked with fighting computer crime and cyberterrorism. Haller had access to a secure FBI online platform and email system, though he is not alleged to have used either to collect child porn.
Haller was one of the smaller fish caught in an expansive FBI sting last year. Agents found the law enforcement insider used a “dark web” service – a Tor network site – to collect 600 files capturing the sexual abuse and exploitation of countless children.
Usually, Haller’s crimes would carry a five-year prison term. Instead, federal prosecutors have asked that Haller, 40, be spared even jail time when he is sentenced Friday for possession of child pornography.
Prosecutors are officially mute on a request from Haller’s attorney that he be allowed to return to his home across from West Woodland Elementary. A psychologist hired by Haller argues the children there will be safe so long as Haller covers his windows and isn’t outside during school hours.
The sentence suggested by prosecutors is nearly unheard of for child pornography crimes in the region. Haller would be Western Washington’s first federal child porn convict to catch such a break since the U.S. Sentencing Commission started tracking the crime separately five years ago.
Usually, a defendant like Haller would face five to seven and a half years in federal prison. Had he been prosecuted in Washington state court, he would’ve faced at least a year in prison. In 2015, the average prison term for the state equivalent of Haller’s crimes was four years.
Whether Haller receives that leniency is up to U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan, the Tacoma judge overseeing several prosecutions related to the operation that saw Haller nabbed. Haller’s plea agreement allowed prosecutors to seek up to four years in prison, though that pledge isn’t binding on Bryan.
(Click through for a special report child pornography in Washington.)
‘Playpen’
The FBI arrived at Haller’s house on July 13 after he was identified through a wide-ranging, controversial sting operation. The operation has prompted charges against more than 130 others, including a Vancouver special education worker and a Fort Lewis soldier.
In February 2015, FBI agents in North Carolina seized the servers hosting a child pornography website called “Playpen.” They then ran the site for three weeks, allowing child pornography to continue to flow while agents installed tracking software on the computers of thousands of users.
Accessible through the Tor network, the site had more than 200,000 users during the eight months it was live. Those users logged 7 million hours before the FBI closed Playpen on March 4, 2015.
The bureau has contended agents couldn’t close the site if they wanted to catch the men and women who traded there. The Tor network, which is accessed through specialized browsers, is meant to anonymize users.
On Playpen, Haller was a “newbie” known as “jbeldar.” In his first nine days on the site, he spent seven hours surfing it.
Most of Haller’s interest seems to have been directed at the exploitation of older children – investigators would later claim the “jb” in his screen name stood for “jailbait.” During his arrest, he told investigators he was most interested in children aged 12 to 14, but that he sometimes looked at younger ones.
An FBI special agent noted in court papers that Haller also viewed a photo picturing the rape of a 2- or 3-year-old girl. Haller’s collection also included a 40-minute video showing the sexual exploitation of an 11-year-old girl.
As stomach-turning as those videos are, far worse were moving through Playpen. Investigators note Haller passed close to one such video showing a mother sexually assaulting her young daughter; other members of the site are accused of trading rape videos of drugged or bound children.
Aimee Sutton, Haller’s defense attorney, described her client as an unusual child pornography collector in that he claims he was caught almost immediately after he began. Sutton noted that investigators didn’t find any child pornography downloaded prior to January 2015 on her client’s computers.
Sutton contended Haller’s crimes correlate to the death of his wife, who died a weeks before Haller joined Playpen. The defense attorney said Haller was only trying to wreck himself by chasing child pornography on the hidden web.
‘A human being who made a huge mistake’
Haller was born in Pennsylvania and raised in what Sutton described as a loving, caring family. His parents provided him with a private school education, Disney vacations and ample support.
Haller ultimately went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton, a multi-billion-dollar government contractor best known for its work with the National Security Agency. (Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden was among Booz Allen’s 22,000 employees in 2013 when he leaked classified details about an NSA mass surveillance program.)
Haller’s work at Booz Allen allowed him to travel the country as a cybersecurity expert. He moved to Seattle while working for the firm and married in 2001.
The couple had two children before jointly filing for divorce in 2010. Haller remarried in 2012, but lost his new wife to cancer on New Year’s Eve 2014.
Sutton said that loss devastated Haller. Seeking pain, she said, he turned to child pornography.
“He really has accepted responsibility for making a very terrible decision,” said Sutton, an attorney with The Marshall Defense Firm in Seattle. “We just tried to help (investigators) understand that he was at a terrible place in his life. …
“This is a human being who made a huge mistake, and that’s been acknowledged in every way possible.”
Victim: It’s like I’m just here for other people’s pleasure
Haller was released the day after his July arrest and has remained free since. He pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in December.
Haller admitted to downloading child pornography for six months – from January 2015 until FBI agents raided his home. Prosecutors appear convinced that Haller’s criminality didn’t extend beyond the crime he was caught committing.
Writing the court, Assistant U.S. Attorney S. Kate Vaughan said Haller’s “extremely serious conduct” hurt abused kids “every time he downloaded and viewed child pornography.” The veteran federal prosecutor has offered the same argument as justification for years-long prison terms against other offenders.
In her memo to Bryan, Vaughan included a statement written by one of the girls whose abuse Haller took in secondhand. She described the fear that comes with knowing that her sexual exploitation is being enjoyed by thousands of men online.
“Every time someone else sees the pictures or videos of me it feels like they are the ones who hurt me to begin with,” the young woman said in a letter to the court. “It feels like they are the ones who did this to me.
“It is like I am just here for other people’s pleasure and am not a person.”
A trust broken
Vaughan described Haller as an “extremely sophisticated” computer user paid to advise companies on how to block hackers. He was the unpaid president of the Seattle chapter of InfraGard, an FBI-sponsored private sector taskforce that partners with the bureau on cybercrime and cyberterrorism defense.
Through InfraGard, Haller had access to an FBI secure communications network with an encrypted website and email. He and other InfraGard members shared information related to cyber threats to American infrastructure.
“As Seattle president of InfraGard, Mr. Haller held himself out in the community and to law enforcement as a person committed to public safety and the protection of the most vulnerable,” Vaughan said in court papers. “But, for the duration of this crime, Mr. Haller spent his private time victimizing children.”
More than 20 supporters – including his ex-wife – filed letters with the court on Haller’s behalf. All the writers described him as a decent man; several said he was grief-stricken after his second wife’s death.
Sutton argued that Haller is not a pedophile or child-pornography hoarder. He is, she said, ashamed, embarrassed and already much reduced by his criminal conviction.
Haller’s career in cybersecurity ended with his arrest. He lost several security clearances and will now carry a special stamp on his passport identifying him as a sexual offender. He will be required to register with local police for at least 10 years.
Collector hoped to return to school-side house
Judge Bryan or probation workers will decide whether Haller can return to the home across the street from West Woodland Elementary that he left following his arrest.
A psychologist hired by Haller said he and his colleagues have “reviewed and approved” a plan that would allow Haller to live in his home across from the school. Key elements include requirements that Haller not be outside his home during school time, that he cover his front windows and that he refrain from crossing the street for any reason.
If Haller avoids jail or prison, he’ll be among a small group of federal child pornography defendants to do so.
U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics show that federal prosecutors prevailed in 1,903 child pornography prosecutions nationally between September 2014 and September 2015. According to the commission’s most recent report, 97 percent of those defendants received prison sentences, while only 1 percent – 19 people – received probation without any confinement.
Western Washington hasn’t seen a child-pornography defendant avoid confinement since the sentencing commission began tracking child-pornography crimes separately in 2010. In that time, federal judges in Seattle and Tacoma sentenced 119 child-pornography criminals to prison and five others to a mix of incarceration and house arrest.
Bryan is scheduled to sentence Haller on Friday morning. Prosecutors have asked that Bryan impose 10 years of probation on Haller, while the defense has requested a five-year probationary term.
Whatever sentence is imposed, Haller cannot withdraw his guilty plea solely because of it. The judge has the authority to impose a sentence outside the recommendations offered by prosecutors, the defense and court staff.
FBI child pornography distribution draws criticism
Bryan’s decision could echo through other prosecutions, as he is overseeing what’s become one of the leading cases stemming from the Playpen investigation.
Jay Michaud had worked in Vancouver-area schools for more than a decade before the FBI came calling last year. Federal prosecutors say Michaud used Playpen to download videos showing children as young as 7 being anally raped. Agents claim to have found more than 2,400 images of child rape as well as a guide entitled, in part, “How to Have Sex With Very Young Girls … Safely.”
Public defenders representing Michaud have fought his prosecution aggressively and are largely, if incidentally, responsible for the publicity surrounding the investigation.
The FBI’s continued operation of the Playpen site was the subject of a debate on The New York Times opinion page. A USA Today report on the investigation noted that the FBI used the same technique in at least two other investigations, including a 2012 Nebraska-based operation first covered by seattlepi.com.
Writing the court in Michaud’s case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Hampton said agents considered simply shutting down Playpen. They contended doing so would’ve prevented them from identifying the site’s users or rescuing children exploited there.
“It was the judgment of law enforcement that the seizure and continued operation of (the site), for a limited period of time … was necessary and appropriate in order to identity (the site’s) users,” Hampton said in court papers.
FBI agents used what they describe as a “network investigative technique” – defense attorneys call it a hack – to install tracking software on the computers of Playpen users like Haller. A federal judge in Virginia approved the operation, which identified the IP addresses of more than 1,000 users.
Michaud’s attorneys and privacy activists have faulted the FBI for hacking the computers of Playpen members after agents seized the site. Colin Fieman, the federal public defender representing Michaud, described the operation as “outrageous” and is seeking to have the indictment against Michaud tossed out.
“The unprecedented nature and scope of the government’s distribution of contraband in connection with this case has no legal justification or excuse and offends common standards of decency,” Fieman and public defender Linda Sullivan said in a memo filed in Michaud’s case.
Bryan ordered the government to produce more information on the operation to Michaud’s attorneys. Prosecutors have asked him to reconsider that order, and he is expected to take up the matter in May.

Source: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/crime/article/Child-porn-collecting-FBI-partner-on-track-to-7233308.php