NASA employees were caught buying child pornography from a criminal ring in Eastern Europe that distributed images of minors as young as three, it can be revealed.
An investigation by Daily Mail Online found 16 staff members from the space agency paid for pictures and videos of children in sexual situations, but were never prosecuted.
Their names have never been released because of government guidelines which protect their privacy – prompting fears some of the culprits are still employed by NASA.
The probe found that in 2010, the employees paid for the pornography using personal credit cards or PayPal while working for the government.
Their actions were uncovered during Project Flicker – an investigation by the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into American citizens buying child pornography from Belarus and Ukraine.
The investigation began in 2007 when more than 33,000 images of minors being abused flooded into the country.
Investigators identified more than 5,200 citizens across the country who had paid for a subscription to illicit websites in order to access the content.
In 2010 it was revealed that 264 of these worked for the Pentagon as either employees or contractors. Some of them worked for the NSA and had top security clearance.
But the Daily Mail Online can reveal for the first time that NASA employees were also identified in the sickening scheme in the same year.
Transactions from the space agency workers were discovered after a FBI special agent tipped off investigators.
However their names have been redacted in documents obtained by Daily Mail Online via a Freedom of Information Act request from NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
Therefore it is not known whether they were disciplined or sanctioned within the department – meaning they could still be working for the government.
When the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) investigated the Pentagon employees identified in the scheme, they only investigated 52 of the suspects and 212 people on ICE’s list were never questioned at all.
Some had highest available security clearance.
After the probe was completed just 10 were ever charged with viewing or purchasing child pornography – prompting fears some of those caught could still be working for the military.
It is not known whether any of the NASA employers were questioned, but it is clear they were not prosecuted – as their names have not been revealed.
If they had been found guilty of a crime, their names would not have been redacted in the disclosed files.
A spokesman for NASA told Daily Mail Online they would not be commenting beyond what was stated in the FOIA documents.
A spokesman from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said: ‘In 2006, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) opened an investigation into the criminal network behind hundreds of child pornography websites.
‘The investigation, called Project Flicker, was conducted in collaboration with other U.S. and international law enforcement partners around the world, and identified 30,000 customers in 132 countries – resulting in hundreds of convictions in the U.S. and 16 arrests in Belarus and the Ukraine.
‘The criminal rings involved used a variety of online and traditional payment methods, elaborate defense measures and a franchise business model that provided access to images and videos of sexually exploited boys and girls, some as young as 3 years old.
‘HSI’s Cyber Crimes Center distributed more than 5,000 domestic leads to field offices around the country and shared more than 4,000 foreign leads with its law enforcement partners via HSI’s attaché offices.
‘HSI is a leading federal law enforcement agency combating the sexual exploitation of children. HSI conducts investigations under Operation Predator, a nationwide initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who possess, trade and produce child pornography; who travel overseas for sex with minors; and who engage in the sex trafficking of children.
‘HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.’
The FBI said they would not be adding to the ICE’s statement.
The latest disclosure comes after Daily Mail Online investigations unearthed shocking breaches of computer guidelines inside the Department of Education the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services.