Defense bill includes Spanberger rider to crack down on child pornography


Despite Washington’s hyper-partisan dysfunction, Rep. Abigail Spanberger holds hope that Republicans and Democrats will see eye to eye on better policing child pornography.

The Virginia Democrat aims to “root out” trading of child-exploitative imagery in a place one might not expect to find it: the U.S. Department of Defense and its contractors.

Trafficking in child porn has grown virulent in Defense Department-affiliated computer networks. Its network ranked 19th nationwide for that crime, out of 2,891 internet service providers, according to 2018 data from the Internet Crimes Against Children Child Online Protective Services program.

The 7th District lawmaker says she was surprised by that ranking, though she had long been aware of interstate trafficking in child porn, from her time years ago with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed her proposal to help the Pentagon stop the use of its network to possess or obtain child pornography. The bipartisan amendment, introduced by Spanberger and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, was part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“It’s an issue of national security,” Spanberger said in an interview Tuesday. “We must root out these bad actors to make our military, and our country, stronger. We expect better from those serving our country.”

Anyone using DoD networks should abide by the highest ethical standards, a matter of great importance for Pentagon contractors and for troop readiness, she said.

A 2006 report by Immigration and Customs Enforcement identified 5,200 Pentagon employees, including hundreds of DoD civilians, who were suspected of using peer-to-peer file-sharing services to trade or download child pornography on their government hardware, according to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office.

As a Postal Inspection Service agent from 2004 to 2006, Spanberger focused mostly on drug cases and money laundering, but also came to realize that child-porn trafficking is a huge issue.

“It is a devastating crime, with lifelong ramifications for the victims,” she said.

The Spanberger-Meadows amendment would improve the training and technical capacity of military criminal investigators to battle misuse of DoD facilities and equipment to access and trade child pornography.

Investigators would learn more about computer forensics, specifically how to hunt for child-porn trafficking, determine where it is coming from, and find the traders, Spanberger said.

Such training would also encourage investigative groups to take the next step: sharing information with national groups, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to identify the victims of trafficking, she said. Sometimes, those children are still being abused, and intervention can remove them from the abusive circumstances, Spanberger said.

When House and Senate meet in conference committee to consider the defense authorization package, Spanberger said she hopes they’ll keep the provision in the bill.

“When the NDAA goes to conference and members of Congress are hashing out their differences, it is my hope and my expectation that this amendment will stay in the NDAA, looking at the impact it can have on victims, and its bipartisan support,” she said.

But just in case, she and Meadows introduced a standalone version of their measure earlier this month.

“We put a marker there so people will know it’s important, and we will continue to push this issue,” Spanberger said.

The amendment is also a marker that bipartisan cooperation on matters of consequence is possible, she said.

“Congressman Meadows and I don’t agree on a lot, so us coming together is a great example of members of Congress really trying to find common ground and trying to find places where they can partner and build some type of relationship,” Spanberger said.

Meadows chairs the House Freedom Caucus, a group of firebrand conservatives, and is considered one of President Donald Trump’s closest allies in Congress.

Spanberger said she regularly reaches across the aisle to try and partner with GOP colleagues.

“Almost everything that I have introduced, amendment or bill, has been bipartisan … because I think it’s important,” she said. “… Maybe my legislation could be stronger if I made it a little bit more inclusive. That’s my thought process …

“That’s also reflective of my district. We’ve got a big, expansive district with people who run the gamut,” Spanberger said. “And where I can find commonality with my constituents on any variety of issues, I’m willing to. This is just an example of me legislating in the way, frankly, I would like to see more legislators legislate.”

The House-passed defense bill would provide help to military families to address poor housing conditions and contaminated drinking water at military bases. This year, Spanberger helped introduce bipartisan legislation to increase accountability on private contractor-provided housing for military families.

It includes Spanberger’s amendment to examine the use of military force abroad and review how the U.S. military determines which groups and individuals can be legally targeted. It also includes a measure Spanberger cosponsored to bar the unauthorized use of military force in or against Iran.

She advocates rethinking U.S. strategy toward American military and diplomatic engagement in the Mideast, while ensuring the nation continues to support its allies and remains strongly committed to counterterrorism operations.

Spanberger has questioned the administration’s decision to circumvent Congress and authorize an emergency sale of high-tech arms to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthis in Yemen. She is a member of a bipartisan group of House members that has introduced legislation to halt the arms sales.

Serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Spanberger has pushed for a strategy with North Korea that mitigates the North Korean nuclear threat, reassures U.S. allies and protects U.S service members and their families in the Pacific.

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