Wanted: Crime-fighting partnerships

The man in front of the cameras of "America's Most Wanted" said Wednesday that the FBI is hobbled in its investigation of child pornography and pedophiles operating over the Internet by small budgets and an archaic bidding system.

"It's frustrating for the FBI," said John Walsh, host of the popular weekly series that features re-enactments of crimes and a toll-free tip line for the public.

"America is a capitalistic, free economy, and there has to be some control so that there are no sweetheart deals [between agencies and companies]," Walsh said. "But the computer industry is more than willing to give the FBI state-of-the-art equipment, software and training" to fight child porn and pedophiles.

Under the purchasing system, he said, the FBI must buy from the lowest bidder. "They have to buy the Wal-Mart stuff. No offense, but you know what I mean," he said.

Walsh was in Washington, D.C., to promote a new Web site being funded in part by Congress and by Compaq Computer Corp. The NetSmartz Workshop (www.netsmartz.org) is aimed at teaching young people — ages 5 through 17 — about the good, the bad and the ugly of the Internet.

The NetSmartz content is being written and created by corporate and entertainment professionals. And to help ensure that the program gets to the children perceived as most vulnerable — those with little or unreliable adult supervision at home — Compaq donated $1.5 million worth of computer equipment to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The project was developed jointly by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The center is a nonprofit organization that receives half its funding each year from Congress and the other half from the private sector.

The center has close ties to the Justice Department and the FBI. Walsh said the center handles the FBI's caseload of long-term missing children and those who have been found dead but not yet identified.

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