The story of Hunting Warhead, a six-part co-production from the Canadian network CBC and the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (known as VG), begins with an IT expert and computer hacker named Einar Stangvik and his pursuit of the perpetrators of online revenge porn. After months spent tracking down and monitoring them, Stangvik shared his findings with the VG journalist Hakon Hoydal; the subsequent story resulted in one of the offenders, a local politician in Drammen, losing his job and serving a two-month prison sentence. The case also marked the beginning of a fruitful working partnership between Stangvik and Hoydal.
Stangvik doesn’t like to be called a hacker as, he says, “I try to fix things, not tear them down.” Nevertheless, his ability to infiltrate the dark web and uncover criminal activity has led to his and Hoydal’s exposure of an international network dedicated to the creation and sharing of child abuse images. Presented by the Canadian journalist Daemon Fairless, Hunting Warhead — “WarHead” is the username of the creator of Childs Play, a web forum for abusers and paedophiles which had more than a million registered users — tells of the painstaking business of tracking down web servers and hosting facilities as well as the site’s users.
The first episode of the series focuses on the site’s discovery, while the second shifts to Stangvik and Hoydal’s pursuit of its administrators, their dealings with police and the sting operation that led to the apprehension of “WarHead”. The latter’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment is told via an interview with a man named Gordon who recalls joining his roommate, Benjamin Faulkner, on a trip from Ontario to Washington D.C. When the police batter down their door early one morning, he learns that Faulkner has been running a child pornography network and the objective of his trip was to meet with fellow paedophiles and take part in the rape of a child.
While the facts are undoubtedly harrowing, the series steers clear of prurient detail, focusing on the investigative process and the personal impact of the case on those who helped to build it. Recalling the first arrest, Hoydal says, “I don’t cry very often but I did then.” Hunting Warhead has been billed as true crime, though it feels closer to the journalistic reporting seen in such series as the Bellingcat Podcast, about an investigation into the downing of Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, and The Tip Off, which tells the behind-the-scenes stories of scoops including the unmasking of the Isis terrorist known as “John the Beatle”. Told with enormous subtlety and care, Hunting Warhead shines a light into the darkest corners of the internet while revealing the skill and doggedness that go into exposing egregious wrongdoing. As Stangvik says: “Anyone can be unmasked if you’re willing to put the time and resources into it.”
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