STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Homeland Security Busts the Rentboys
By Philippe Gastonne - September 04, 2015

The website Rentboy.com is accused of connecting male sex workers with clients, enabling prostitution, which is unlawful virtually everywhere in the country. It operated fairly transparently, giving annual parties, announcing a scholarship contest for escorts and promoting the motto "Money can't buy you love … but the rest is negotiable."

It's somewhat baffling, though, that taking down a website that operated in plain sight for nearly two decades suddenly became an investigative priority for the Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. This week, the website's founder and six employees were charged with violating federal law by facilitating paid sexual encounters.

Kelly Currie, the acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, trumpeted the case against Rentboy.com, calling it an "Internet brothel" that "made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution." The website pulled in $10 million over the past five years, charging escorts for publishing their profiles, according to prosecutors. That's less revenue than an average McDonald's franchise generates. – New York Times, Aug. 29, 2015

Government officials including FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers frequently demand greater investigative powers. They justify it by highlighting – some would say hyping – terrorist threats from ISIL and other radical groups. To save us from the threat, they say they must have more money, more technology and more privacy-busting power.

If that threat is really so serious, why is the cabinet department charged with stopping it instead of going after male prostitution? Did they run out of terror suspects to investigate? Or is this another example of a government bureaucracy morphing into a role far beyond its original charter?

Even the New York Times editorial board finds the case "baffling." As their article explains, the web site operator appeared to be facilitating consensual sex between adults. There is no sign anyone exploited the sex workers or that minors were involved. The Obama administration is otherwise very friendly to gay rights. So what is up?

Here is a guess, and it's only a guess. I have no evidence to support this.

Rentboy.com presumably has a customer list. On that customer list may be the names of high government officials who do not wish to be associated with the renting of boys. The bust could be a preemptive move to prevent their exposure.

Alternately, suspects in an actual terror investigation might be connected with the prostitution ring, as either workers or customers. The arrests could be an attempt to put pressure on them to divulge information or testify against other terror suspects.

When a government agency does something that makes no sense, it is usually because government agencies just do crazy things. On rare occasions, though, there is a method to their madness. This may be one such time.

Posted in STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
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