In just its first year of existence, the non-profit organization Operation Underground Railroad (www.OURrescue.org) has already rescued over 250 victims of human trafficking in eight different countries, and a majority of those are children.
We have also helped arrest over 30 traffickers and put them out of business for good. OUR is the brainchild of Timothy Ballard, who for 12 years served as a U.S. Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security. As a member of the Internet Crimes against Children Taskforce and the U.S. Child Sex Tourism Jump Team, Ballard helped infiltrate and dismantle dozens of trafficking organizations that kidnapped children and forced them into the sex slave industry. Despite the positive experience of working side-by-side with dedicated U.S. government professionals, Ballard became dissatisfied with the strategies being employed to rescue enslaved children. He felt helpless by the fact that the vast majority of child sex slaves fall outside the purview of developed nations, which meant that they were lost and unlikely to ever be rescued. As a U.S. agent, Ballard would never be authorized to rescue children if their cases lacked a U.S. nexus or could not be tried in a U.S. court. Feeling called to attack this problem from a different angle, Ballard left the U.S. government in October 2013, recruited a team of the country’s best, and created Operation Underground Railroad.
Mission: Liberate Enslaved Children and Dismantle the Criminal Networks
The mission is straightforward: using cutting-edge computer technology and human intelligence, OUR undercover teams of former CIA and Special Operations personnel go into the darkest corners of the world to help liberate enslaved children and dismantle the criminal networks. OUR operatives have dedicated their lives to rescuing enslaved children throughout the world, always with the invitation and permission of local governments. We keep the respective US Embassies informed of our activities, and have been fortunate to count on their support and participation in a number of the rescues. Our motto is, “We enter through the front door, or we do not go in at all,” and that formula worked in 2014 in countries as diverse as Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, and the United States.
The U.S. government is light years ahead of its foreign counterparts in the fight against human trafficking, but funding and bureaucratic restraints allow it to do only so much. In the meantime, thousands of children are being trafficked into the U.S. every year from Mexico and Central America, while hundreds of thousands are trafficked and forced into prostitution within these foreign countries. These countries do not have the resources or skills necessary to extract these victims and get them to safety. OUR crosses jurisdictional lines by offering the services of its skilled ex-government and military officers to any affected nation, which allows OUR to intervene wherever justice is needed. We have partnered with computer software companies that have helped us root out and pursue child pornographers, child rapists, and child traffickers. These initiatives led to some of the successful operations we conducted in 2014. OUR is currently developing its own online tool that will be at the cutting edge of anti-trafficking operations. We will provide this technology free of charge to host governments so that they can lead their own anti-trafficking operations in the future.
Fastest Growing Criminal Enterprise
The scope of the problem is vast; there are an estimated 27 million enslaved human beings in the world: more slaves than ever existed during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Many are sex slaves, as sex trafficking represents the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Fortunately, there are several reputable organizations that exist to disseminate information about this problem and raise awareness, and others function as aftercare organizations for victims. These groups are vital to addressing the overall social scourge that is human trafficking. We realized that very few are dedicated to the pro-active rescue and direct extraction of the victims, and to the capture and prosecution of their captors. For this reason, Operation Underground Railroad has stepped in to help fill the void. However, we are careful to ensure that the rescued children receive the rehabilitation and aftercare necessary to help rebuild their lives. The liberated children are reunited with their parents whenever possible, but in the unfortunate cases where the children are orphans or, even worse, were sold into slavery by their parents or other family members, OUR ensures that the host governments put the children into reputable shelters, orphanages, or safe houses. OUR employees endeavor to visit the rehabilitation shelters every few months to ensure that the children are receiving high quality care, and we bring with us clothes, school materials, and other humanitarian supplies.
Because of the undercover skills of our operatives, foreign governments often seek out OUR to assist in sting operations against child sex traffickers. The largest and most successful rescue operation took place this past October in Colombia. In conjunction with Colombian government officials and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations working out of our Embassy in Bogotá, OUR led simultaneous operations in three Colombian cities (Armenia, Cartagena, and Medellin) that resulted in the liberation of 123 trafficking victims—of which 55 were minors—and the arrest of some ten perpetrators. This was the largest recorded child trafficking rescue in history, and took months of painstaking investigation and pre-operation engagement with local officials and the perpetrators themselves. The details of the three operations were different, but each allowed OUR to play to its strengths—impersonating the roles of would-be child sex tourists who were organizing sex parties for wealthy and influential Americans and Canadians. We met early and often with the perpetrators to convince them of the seriousness of our plans, and to entice them to bring large numbers of minors to the party who we ultimately were able to liberate. In each undercover meeting our operatives wore concealed microphones and hidden cameras, which allowed us to capture high-quality evidence that Colombian prosecutors are using to build airtight cases against the arrested individuals.
In a sad commentary on our society of today, the reason that our cover story has worked so well and has been so easily bought by perpetrators is due to the fact that this type of sex party and sex tourism happens every day and in almost every part of our globe. As the publicity and recognition of our operations grow, we will be on the lookout for the need to change tactics to thwart the bad guys and rescue more children. We are fortunate that we have the speed, skill, and agility to tailor our operations to each case and to each country. We are constantly on the lookout for experienced operatives who have worked the darkest corners of the world and who can come on board to help us expand our operations into Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Despite our organization’s successes, we realize that nearly two million children are still out there being abused and trafficked in the worst form of slavery imaginable. It is our hope and prayer that they all will be freed someday, and it is our commitment and promise to dedicate all we have to rescuing them. This vast problem will never be stopped unless good people everywhere rise up and seek a solution, and that is the mission of the Operation Underground Railroad. Please join with us, and help O.U.R. children. Please visit www.OURrescue.org to see how you can help. Spread the word, get involved, become and Abolitionist, and join our Jump Team. Slavery did not end with Lincoln, and we all have a role to play. Thank you for your support!
"Mateo" is a 12-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and US Department of State. He served overseas tours in Madrid, Spain, Caracas, Venezuela, and Mexico City, Mexico. He holds a B.A. degree in International Studies from Miami University in Oxford, OH, and a Master's degree in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA.
Watching the six-year-old walk in my heart rose in my chest, and I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach. I looked at the trafficker, his eyes had narrowed with a glint of cruelty in them; he was all business now.