New Angel Watch Center Opens to Combat Child Sex Tourism

WASHINGTON – On Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at HSI’s new Angel Watch Center in Fairfax, Virginia. As part of the ceremony, ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence explained that HSI special agents initiated more than 4,200 child exploitation cases in fiscal year 2019, resulting in approximately 3,771 criminal arrests, an increase of 18 percent compared to fiscal year 2018.

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I would like to welcome our honored guests. We have ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence, HSI Acting Deputy Executive Associate Director Matthew Allen, and of course, our partners in Angel Watch Center, we have from the U.S. Marshalls, Deputy Assistant Director Richard Kelly, from Customs and Border Protection we have Assistant Director Todd Seidel, and our international partners from the Australian Federal Police we have Detective Superintendent Andrew Bailey, from the Canadian Embassy Counselor for Public Safety of Canada Michael Holmes, and last but not least, we have from Protect, one of our great partners, Mr. Grier Weeks. Without further ado, I’m going to present ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence to do some opening remarks.

Thank you Joann, good morning everybody. Thank you all for joining us today. It’s my distinct honor and privilege to help open and dedicate the Angel Watch Center, a new facility located here at the Cyber Crimes Center that is dedicated to protecting children throughout the world from exploitation by sexual predators. I am pleased to welcome and to recognize our fellow partners in this important work, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshalls Service, Department of State, and the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition to our operating partners, I want to thank New Jersey representative Christopher Henry Smith who introduced House Resolution 515 also known as International Megan’s Law, with a stated goal to prevent child exploitations and other sexual crimes through monitoring and advanced notification of traveling sex offenders. I’d also like to take a moment to recognize Special Agent Kevin Panginovan who had the great idea to start Operation Angel Watch as a pilot program in Los Angeles in 2007. This pilot program was the genesis of what we know as the Angel Watch Center today. Thank you Kevin, job well done. Just one recent illustration of the success of the Angel Watch Center is from February 2018 in which an Angel Watch Center notification was sent to the United Kingdom for a registered sex offender from Washington who was previously convicted for possession of sexual imagery of a minor. UK authorities executed a border inspection upon his arrival, and discovered child abuse imagery in his possession. It was also discovered the subject’s purpose for travel to the United Kingdom was to take part in a youth cheerleading camp as an instructor. The subject was deported from the United Kingdom and his electronic devices were confiscated by UK authorities and sent to ICE Homeland Security Investigations. A search of those items along with additional items discovered during the execution of a search warrant in the subject’s home led to the discovery of more than 5000 images and 2000 videos of child abuse imagery. In May of 2019 the subject pled guilty to federal transportation of imagery depicting sexual exploitation of minors and was sentenced to nine years and 10 years supervised release. As this example clearly illustrates, law enforcement is most effective when it is carried out in partnership. And I want to thank each of these outstanding organizations for stepping up to help eliminate trans-national child sexual abuse and safeguarding the innocence of children everywhere. When International Megan’s Law was signed by the President in February 2016, it signaled the United States’ firm commitment to working closely in collaboration with the international community to identify and target convicted child sex offenders traveling to foreign countries. Since our creation nearly two decades ago, the analysts, investigators and special agents who comprise Homeland Security Investigations possess unique law enforcement authorities concerning cross-border criminal activity and have a long-standing jurisdiction to investigate traveling sex offenses. To be clear, the primary responsibility of Angel Watch Center is to provide notification to foreign countries regarding anticipated travel of convicted and registered child sex offenders. The goal is to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation everywhere we find it. International Megan’s Law provides us the authority to assemble the essential resources to do just that and I’m confident the good work we’ve been doing together will only get better as we continue to educate, train, and build capacity both at home and abroad with our domestic-international partners. In FY 2018 Angel Watch efforts resulted in nearly 3500 notifications of child sex offender travel and more than 14,000, 1400 instances those individuals were denied entry. If only a fraction of those notifications saved a child from having to carry the lasting scars of sexual abuse and exploitation, the Angel Watch Center has more than lived up to its name. Thank you again for joining us and at this time I’d like to invite Deputy Assistant Director Richard Kelly with the U.S. Marshals Service to say a few words.

Good morning all. On behalf of Director Donald Washington, Deputy Director Derrick Driscoll and the men and women in the United States Marshals Service, I wish to offer my deepest gratitude for allowing us to participate in today’s grand opening of the Angel Watch Center. Since 2008 the Marshals Service has been involved in perhaps its most important investigative mission. To protect the most vulnerable members of our society, and to play a role in bringing to justice those who would do them harm. As we were finding our way in those early days, we were offered invaluable assistance from the dedicated professionals of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. The first official visitor to the newly incepted National Sex Offender Targeting Center was an agent named David Meadows who wanted to discuss an innovative program that ICE was running out of Los Angeles International called Angel Watch. Now as much as I’d like to tell you that we grabbed the coffee, hammered out a few details and became partners I can’t do that. We were trying to figure out our role in the Adam Walsh Act and the international travel of registered offenders was the most baffling part. The SMART office did their best to help us find some direction but I don’t think I have to tell anyone in this room, oops, sorry about that, that the entire mission, noble as it is is complicated. Thankfully in 2016 with the passage of the International Megan’s Law, the years of trying to do the right thing without the right tools were remedied. Since that piece of legislation was enacted, we’ve been lifted of the burden of being rivals for the needed resources and have forged the start of working bonds built around a common goal. The Department of Homeland Security has been a leader and an innovator in the development of a system that seeks to leverage the most powerful tool in law enforcement, information. They provided leadership and moved the initial Angel Watch Center into an operational footing in just a matter of months. Since then more than 4500 notifications have served to provide a responsible and an equitable means for other nations to vet our registered offenders who seek to enter their borders. The SMART Office continues to work with the myriad of state registries to ensure that the tenants of the law are adhered to. 24 states now stand compliant with this provision due to their efforts. The Marshals Service has conducted over 300 assessments for violations of the Adam Walsh Act as a direct result of the work of the people who staff this Center. The partnership with the United States Coast Guard, centered on Operation Safe Harbor, has sought to improve the safety on cruise ships and has resulted in over 400 notifications to do just that. This new and improved edifice will allow for even more hard-working and dedicated government professionals to exercise their vast array of talents and to make this world just a little safer for our children who deserve to live out their precious few days of youth knowing that they’re protected from the evil that we all know seeks only opportunity. The newly created international Committee of Sex Offender Registries shows that we’re not alone in this fight but we all know that the world looks to us as a leader, so leaders we shall be. In closing, we recognize that by itself, this is just an office building. Sure, it’s new and the amenities are exceptional, but filled with those who each day come to work to do the job of the government of the greatest country on earth then it’s far more than that. It’s a place from which the angels take watch. And that certainly is worth showing up for. Thank you all and all of you stay safe.

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