NASA Contractor Downloaded Child Porn on His NASA-Issued Laptop

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NASA Contractor Downloaded Child Porn on His NASA-Issued Laptop

According to an announcement from the United States Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Florida, a Brevard County NASA contractor used his NASA-issued laptop to access child abuse content on the darkweb. The contractor was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography on August 7, 2018.

United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez, in an announcement published on the United States Attorney’s Office’s website, said that a criminal complaint accused 59-year-old Anthony Joseph Culotta, Jr. of Brevard County with several counts of possession of child pornography. The United States Attorney announced that the charges stemmed from the possession of nearly 1,000 pictures and videos depicting child abuse or children in scenes depicting simulated sexual intercourse. The pictures and videos, according to the criminal complaint, were found on the NASA contractor’s NASA-issued laptop. The Florida man worked at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Services Program since 2004. NASA had not revealed Culotta’s current status as a contractor or former contractor. Although, if convicted, NASA will certainly terminate Culotta’s position at NASA—a position with requirements Culotta would not likely meet from a prison cell.

If convicted of the child pornography charges, Culotta faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. As with the majority of federal cases, the actual prison sentence will likely fall far short of the maximum sentence permitted under federal sentencing guidelines. Very few federal cases ever end in a jury trial; at one point, more than 90 percent of federal cases ended in plea agreements. Child pornography cases are no exception. And as seen in the PlayPen cases, the vast majority ended in a plea agreement with a significant number of charges dropped by the prosecution.

The NASA Office of Inspector General of the Office of Investigations at the Kennedy Space Center investigated Culotta’s alleged child pornography possession after he had allegedly accessed a “dark web search engine.” NASA OIG Special Agent Thomas L. Di Vita wrote, in the affidavit for probable cause, that he investigated Culotta in December 2016 after an IP address on a NASA wireless network had accessed a dark web search engine through a Tor2Web proxy. Culotta accessed [onion address].onion.link through a clearnet browser. These proxies allow access to onion services through the clearnet at a great cost: the privacy and anonymity that Tor was designed to provide.

Tor2Web proxies often take the form of .link, .direct, .city, and many others. For effectively any purpose, using proxies to access onion services is a terrible practice. Two primary concerns stand out. First, the (unknown) owner of the proxy can see everything a visitor does while accessing an onion service through a proxy and second, regular DNS resolvers handle the Tor2Web proxy requests, allowing DNS resolvers to connect clearnet users to the onion services they visit.

The NASA Special Agent matched the IP address that had accessed the dark web search engine to a NASA-issued laptop that had only one registered user: Culotta. Records showed that the laptop’s hostname was “aculotta.” The Special Agent also noted that Culotta had attended and completed NASA’s Cybersecurity and Sensitive Unclassified Awareness Training program where he (should have) learned that his internet access at NASA was logged. The NASA policy: “[employees and contractors do not have a right to expect privacy while using Government office equipment at any time, including accessing the Internet and email.” Furthermore, “by using Government office equipment, [NASA] employees and contractors consent to disclosing the contents of any files or information maintained or passed through the equipment.”

On May 31, 2017, a NASA forensic examiner searched Culotta’s laptop and discovered more than 900 pictures and videos of either child pornography or “prepubescent child erotica.” Culotta consented to an informal interview that the Special Agent had recorded. During the interview, Culotta admitted downloading child pornography from the darknet to his NASA-issued computer. The Special Agent then informed Culotta of his Miranda Rights and indicated that Culotta was under arrest. Culotta waived his rights and gave the Special Agent further information about his downloading habits.

He admitted he had downloaded the content and then transferred it to a USB drive that he had taken home. He also admitted that he had more content on a computer at his house.

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