Murder of FBI agents leads to alleged Australian paedophile ring bust

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A fatal shootout with an American paedophile which claimed the lives of two FBI agents unearthed the Australian arm of an alleged child abuse network, leading police to 19 paedophiles and sparking the rescue of 13 children across the country, investigators say.

FBI special agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were killed by automatic gunfire while standing on the doorstep of a Florida apartment, in February 2021, preparing to execute a search warrant for child abuse material.

A screen shot from local news after two FBI agents were killed while trying to serve a warrant in a case involving child porn and “violent crimes against children”. Credit: Channel 10 News

The reclusive IT worker behind the trigger, 55-year-old David Lee Huber, is likely to have seen the FBI through his doorbell camera, and fired his assault rifle through the door.

Three more agents were wounded and Huber killed himself.

Alfin and Schwartzenberger’s investigation, however, continued after their deaths and, in early 2022, the FBI discovered Huber was part of a child abuse network that investigators now say stretched to Australia.

Operation Bakis, led by the Australian Federal Police’s anti-child exploitation centre, was established to pick apart the dark-web network where men were sharing child abuse material – and creating their own.

FBI agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger.

On Monday the AFP and state police forces across Australia revealed the details of Operation Bakis for the first time, saying they had arrested 19 men, aged between 32 and 81, allegedly linked to the network.

“Members used software to anonymously share files, chat on message boards and access
websites within the network,” the AFP said in a statement.

Florida paedophile David Lee Huber shot two FBI agents.

“Network members were able to search for and distribute images and videos of child abuse material, and allegedly used encryption and other methods to avoid law enforcement detection.”

The AFP had allegedly found videos of one of the men, who cannot be identified, abusing a toddler. He had been tracked from the dark web and raided exactly one year after the Florida shooting.

There were allegedly 800 child victims among the 16,000 files police found on the man’s hard drives, along with a “paedophiles handbook” about how to talk to police if caught.

Many of the Australian paedophiles alleged to have been using the network were working in jobs that required a high degree of IT and tech knowledge, the AFP said on Monday evening.

NSW Police worked with the AFP’s Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation to investigate and charge five men in NSW.

An alleged user of a dark web paedophile network during his arrest in South Australia, after a joint investigation by the AFP, state police and the FBI.Credit: AFP

“If you choose to offend against children, it is only a matter of time before police come knocking on your door,” NSW Police’s top anti-child abuse investigator, Linda Howlett, said.

Two children have been “removed from harm” as part of Operation Bakis in NSW.

Queensland has five offenders facing 45 charges and four children removed, and five more men are before the courts in SA, two in the ACT, one more in Tasmania, and another in WA.

“Everything you do online leaves a trace. To those predators who seek to exploit children online, remember the next person you engage with online could be a police officer,” Queensland Police Detective Superintendent Glen Donaldson said.

The AFP will reveal more details about Operation Bakis in Brisbane on Tuesday.

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