The FBI has delivered some tough news to two Howard County, Md., high school sophomores: At 16, they have become too old for their jobs of teaching FBI undercover agents how to impersonate young teens online to catch prowling pedophiles. Three years ago, the girls were recruited by the FBI’s Baltimore office in a first-in-the-nation approach to fighting cybercrime.
It started when one of the girls’ fathers, an FBI agent, saw her at their home computer. When he looked at her screen, all of the instant-messaging windows quickly disappeared except for one–POS–for “parent over shoulder.” The girl enlisted a friend, and they designed a hip vocabulary list, crafted a quiz on teen culture and played hit songs for dozens of agents from around the world, often on a monthly basis. It is part of an FBI project called Innocent Images that has opened 14,377 cases since 1995, getting 5,314 convictions through March of this year. For the last three years, an afternoon with the girls has become a required and popular part of the weeklong training for undercover cyber-agents from Texas to Thailand.