DHS’s ‘Operation Predator’ snares two of its own

It’s called “Operation Predator,” a high-priority Department of Homeland Security program that does battle against those who prey sexually on children.

Now, with the arrest Tuesday night of a department deputy secretary, at least two of the agency’s own top personnel stand charged with just such offenses.

“It hammers home the fact that these individuals can be anywhere,” said John Shehan, of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which works closely with Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau.

Brian Doyle, deputy press secretary to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, faces 23 counts of using a computer to seduce a child and transmitting harmful materials to a minor. He was caught in a police Internet sting in which a detective pretended to be a 14-year-old girl.

Doyle, 55, allegedly bragged to the “girl” about his post at Homeland Security, and gave her his work telephone number when conversing with her about engaging in sex acts.

A spokeswoman for the ICE said Doyle was not directly involved in the Operation Predator program, and declined additional comment. The investigation of Doyle was initiated by the Polk County, Fla., sheriff’s office, and the federal agency is cooperating with “the ongoing investigation,” according to a Homeland Security statement.

The other Homeland Security official charged with a sexual offense involving a girl is veteran administrator Frank Figueroa, 49, the ICE special agent in charge of the agency’s operations in central and northern Florida. Figueroa, who also ran the agency’s El Paso, Texas, office, has pleaded not guilty to charges he exposed and fondled himself to a teenage girl last year at a mall in Tampa.

Within ICE, Operation Predator is a high-profile program launched in 2003. It is dedicated to identifying, investigating and catching child predators, and reports more than 6,900 arrests nationwide since the program began, according to the ICE Web site. (www.ice.gov).

Aside from cracking down on Internet predators and pornographers and those who traffick in child sexual slavery, the program also has created the National Child Victim Identification System.

Through this database, ICE, the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Secret Service and other agencies can coordinate efforts to identify children who appear in pornography, rescue them and prosecute those who photograph and distribute the images.

Also a part of that network is the private, nonprofit missing-children center, which said it was “disappointed” to hear about the case against Doyle. Even so, Shehan said his organization remains an enthusiastic partner with ICE.

“It doesn’t shake our confidence,” Shehan said.

(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com)