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FBI Porn Sting Nabs 12 Nationwide

America Online subscribers were the target of an online porn sting launched by FBI officials that resulted in 12 arrests yesterday. The operation targeted AOL users allegedly guilty of transmitting and collecting photos of nude 2- to 13-year-olds. The FBI searched 125 homes during the operation, which targeted users in New York, New Jersey, Dallas, and Miami, according to published reports.

More arrests are expected, according to Justice Department officials. The sting operation began in 1993, sparked by the abduction of a 10-year-old boy from his Brentwood, Maryland, home. In the course of the investigation, officials unearthed a ring of adults and minors who were using AOL and other services to exchange objectionable images.

AOL officials cooperated with both FBI and Department of Justice officials to trap the alleged perpetrators. According to officials, the ring was using AOL and other online services to lure minors for sex and photo sessions.

AOL officials said yesterday that while exchanges between subscribers are usually private, the Vienna, Virginia-based company would not knowingly tolerate the use of its network for the procurement and transmission of objectionable materials.

In a letter yesterday to subscribers, AOL president Steve Case said AOL would "act swiftly to enforce the AOL Terms of Service and comply with federal and state laws. When material is forwarded to us which we believe is illegal, we notify law enforcement and upon receipt of a court order or subpoena, we cooperate fully."

According to one source, word that AOL regularly cooperates with FBI and other law enforcement officials to patrol the network is widely known among the online elite. "You'd have to be an idiot to use AOL to distribute this stuff. Everyone knows its lines are carefully monitored using sophisticated search filters," says one unnamed source.

Meanwhile, there's been little talk of yesterday's FBI sting in AOL's chat rooms. One of the most popular features of AOL, the chat area lets subscribers discuss a variety of topics.