If true crime documentaries and the gruesome truths surrounding them are your cup of tea, then the Discovery+ docuseries “Operation Lost Boy” should definitely be next on your list. Besides that, anything like a documentary that either sharpens our intellect or makes us a little more informed about the world can never be considered harmful. Anyone like me who has spent the majority of their time on social media in the past couple of months has hardly been able to steer clear of the controversy surrounding the arrest of a former kickboxer and influencer, Andrew Tate. Tate has been arrested on charges of mainly human trafficking and rape. But since his arrest, survivors have begun to narrate their stories, and social media platforms like Tik Tok and Twitter have had users claim Andrew Tate to be a pedophile as well.
In May 2020, through Netflix’s television documentary series “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich,” the world finally caught up with the pedophilic actions of the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who thought that wealth yielded all the power in the world and that it would be enough to hide his true face in public. His partner in crime, Ghislaine Maxwell, was also convicted; she will be serving the rest of her life in prison. Ghislaine, in fact, has two documentaries on her—one on Netflix and another on Apple TV+. What is interesting about these documentaries is that they are subversive in their mode of narration; that is, we don’t get the person on whom the documentary is based telling their story; rather, it is from the perspective of the survivor that we construct the picture of the ultimate evil. In my opinion, pedophilia is probably the worst sort of crime a person can commit. Traces of pedophilia can be found in every walk of life—from the clergy to corporate America, from the educational field to law enforcement—which highlights the fact that children are not safe anywhere. In countries of Global South poverty, lack of growth and opportunity make the children even more vulnerable. In a recent bizarre remark, Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked that the culture of pedophilia is quite common in the West.
The internet has become an easier place for pedophiles to find new targets. The cases recorded in the era before the internet mostly identified very close relatives or people known to the victim as perpetrators—they were either relatives or someone the child met regularly. The Internet was the name of a revolution. In today’s day and age, it can simultaneously be viewed as a brace and a boon. It is a dark place. In fact, an average internet surfer is exposed to a minimum percentage of content available on the world wide web. The majority of the internet resides on the dark web. You can have a field day on the dark web only if you are a terrorist looking for illegal weapons, you are trying to start an organ trafficking business, or you are a pedophile. Everything is just a couple of mouse clicks away. Doesn’t it terrify you that a similar click to the one that perhaps enables you to buy your favorite luxury perfume or helps you invest in bitcoins and the stock market might be destroying someone’s childhood somewhere else in the world?
Back in 2010, the United States law enforcement authorities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, unveiled a ring of child pornography around the world that included perpetrators from countries like Germany, Norway, Belgium, New Zealand, and France. The then assistant director of the FBI, Steven Martinez, remarked that the case titled ‘Lost Boy’ helped uncover the subculture that allows adults around the world to trade pictures of children in compromised positions and also enables the trading of tools that contribute to the sexual exploitation of those children. The adults who perpetrated these crimes developed a circuit where they would ‘groom’ children for their futures. The ‘Lost Boy’ case highlighted that gender had little to do with a child being attributed as prey. In fact, there was a ‘Boy Lovers’ club in South California.
The first episode of the docuseries in contention here, “Operation Lost Boy,” reveals in testimony from prosecutors and legal advisors on the case that the men involved in the exchange of these pornographic images of young children often treated the kids like the way we used to treat the Pokemon cards or the WWE trump cards. More often than once, they discovered various images of the same children that recorded their abuse over the years, just showing that the abuse was not an isolated event but a regular accompaniment to their lifestyle. The ‘Lost Boy’ case led to the adjacent case of an individual who called himself Muddyfeet in the southern state of Missouri. This middle-aged man often befriended single mothers who had children between the ages of eight and thirteen. He was aware that these mothers did not have spare time on their hands to spend on dating; rather, they would work two or three shifts at separate jobs. Muddyfeet, aka Jeffrey Greenwell, would offer his help to these mothers and promise to look after their children. Under the garb of this, he would ‘groom’ these kids, and eventually, he became a prolific maker of child pornography. He was responsible for creating the notorious ‘Scooby-Doo” series of child pornography. He was arrested and put away from life in the aftermath of the ‘Lost Boy’ operation. But what triggered this case? For that knowledge, we need to journey eastward to Norway, the Land of the Midnight Sun.
It all started when a fifteen-year-old boy named Martin Krossnes was surfing the internet in a cybercafé in Bergen, Norway, on a Saturday afternoon in 2006. He began talking to someone casually, and they started sharing their interests. While talking to this person, Martin felt that he had befriended someone his own age. They planned to meet up that evening at the central square in Bergen. The moment Martin discovered that this was not a fellow fifteen-year-old but a well-built and fully grown man, he was on high alert. This man proposed that Martin accompany him to the nearby hotel where he was putting up. Now, sirens began to ring in Martin’s head. He makes an excuse for an errand at a nearby kiosk and is quick enough to make a phone call to the police. Two on-duty police officers respond to Martin’s crisis, and they meet at the Central Square of Bergen. On enquiring about the man, Martin gives them his mobile number. While running the number quickly on the Norwegian database, it was discovered that it belonged to someone who resides at Allehelgensgate 6. The patrolmen are shocked because the address belongs to the Bergen police station. At first, they thought that they were being pranked by someone. The number, in fact, belongs to a man named Johan Martin Vie. He was a police officer who worked with a local police station in the nearby town of Odda. When the patrolmen knocked on his hotel room door, he answers it and reveals that he indeed met a young boy that evening, but he thought that Martin was older. The suspicious police officers asked him to hand over his mobile phone and laptop and called him for questioning the next day at 10 a.m.
Does Vie get arrested for teasing the underage Martin? What happens with the investigation? Bent Raknes, the former head of the investigation, becomes the head of the investigation in Martin’s case. The Odda police department is alerted to conduct a sweep around Vie’s residence. There they found material related to pornography and pictures that showed Vie’s travel stories across the globe—photos of his travel to Brazil, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. The only odd thing about these pictures is that he always posed with young boys for them. What raised the bar of suspicion for the Bergen police was Vie’s irrational behavior in undertaking the 6- to 7-hour up-and-down drive between Bergen and Odda. The Superintendent of Police had already announced that Johan Martin Vie was being looked into for some misconduct in Bergen. He had immediately canceled his Vie access card for the police station, but he returned to the station, took the help of a cleaning woman to gain access to his possessions, and then drove back to Bergen. The Bergen police believed that there was perhaps a laptop or some computer hard drive that he threw in a fjord while making his return journey. On reaching the police station in Bergen, the police officers, including Raknes, ask for his permission to conduct a quick sweep through his car. They discover the CPU of Vie’s computer in the trunk of his car. In 2006, the field of forensic investigations regarding computers and hard drives was still in its infancy. The CPU and laptop are left in the archives, gathering dust. It takes a long time for the Norwegian police departments to break down the information contained on those devices. In the meantime, Johan Martin Vie was not taken into custody, but he nonetheless handed in his resignation. This is where the first episode leaves us; we are yet to find out what happens to Vie if the police are successful in making an arrest.
“Operation Lost Boy” is directed by Benjamin Langeland, and it records the extraordinary story of a 15-year-old teenager named Martin Krossnes, along with the investigative struggles of the Norwegian police. The small notification that Martin delivers torpedoes the revelation of a huge ring of child porn. Therefore, this is definitely a story that deserves some attention. New episodes of the Norwegian docuseries appear every Tuesday on Discovery+.