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Veteran joins HERO Corp child porn investigators

TULSA, Okla. — A few months ago, psychology major David Blau was wrapping up the spring semester at Rogers State University. Now he's in training with Homeland Security and other agencies to be a cyber forensic agent assisting in child pornography investigations.

Blau, a 31-year-old Marine Corps veteran and Collinsville resident, was accepted into the first class of the Human Exploitation Rescue Operatives Corps in July after his college adviser encouraged him to apply.

"My counselor said 'This came down through an email ... it sounds like something you might be (interested in), go try it out, apply for it and see how it goes,' " Blau said in a phone interview from Fairfax, Va.

The program, he learned, was a collaborative effort of the National Association to Protect Children, U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations. They were seeking veterans from all branches of the military to train as agents to combat the production and distribution of child pornography.

Blau served two tours in Iraq and was honorably discharged in 2006.

"(Cyber forensic agents) go through peer-to-peer networks ... to intercept the pictures that are being downloaded by individuals," Blau said.

The agents and law enforcement are then able to trace the files to a geographic location using consumers' and distributors' Internet protocol addresses, seek search warrants and apprehend child pornographers.

"The reason why they pick us ... is that we fought a battle already so we're kind of mentally able to cope," he said.

Blau applied for the one-year unpaid internship, passed the necessary security clearances and background checks, and was accepted into the HERO Corps in July. The first phase of training, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn., soon followed.

He and 17 others from across the nation are completing the second phase in Virginia before being dispatched to Homeland Security Investigations field offices where they will work under supervising special agents beginning in November.

"I will start to learn my job, as far as working on the computers, going out to (serve) search warrants, seizing computers, doing on-site forensics and possibly ... testifying in court," he said.

Blau, a father of three boys, said he expects witnessing the realities of child exploitation will be difficult.

"What we experienced overseas is one realm compared to what we're going to experience with little children," he said. "I think it will be a little bit harder than dealing with what we dealt with over there, (but) each individual is going to be different."

He's looking forward to being the voice of oftentimes silent victims, rescuing them from abusers "that are doing horrendous, horrible things to them," Blau said.

He advises parents to be aware of their children's Internet activities because social media is a growing means for pornographers to contact and exploit teens.

Blau also warns that trusted family members frequently exploit young relatives.

"Don't be afraid to talk to your kids about it. They need to know that it's not OK" for adults to touch them in private areas.

amanda.bland@tulsaworld.com
 

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