Ep. 13 Tim Ballard- How Operation Underground Railroad Combats Child Slavery

Ken Krogue: Hello everybody. Thom Harrison and Ken Krogue here. Today we’re with Tim Ballard from Operation Underground Railroad. Tim, you’ve been pretty busy. A lot’s been going on. In fact, he’s wearing the Pittsburgh Steelers sweatshirt today. He’s been out there. In the last year, you’ve been working with Mike Tomlin. He’s been part of the foreword of your new book. Tell us a little about, you know, some of the things that have been happening just this past year. It’s been a busy year for you.

Tim Ballard: It’s been really busy. You know, we’re combating slavery, and we learned from history. As you know, I love history. I’ve written several history books, and it’s sad when we can’t learn the lessons from history. And what we learned about slavery in the 19th century, how it was finally eradicated. It wasn’t that Abraham Lincoln raised his hand one day and said, “It’s over. I’m ending it.” It’s not what happened. As much as I love President Lincoln, that’s not what he did. In fact, the first time Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he said something very telling. According to her son, he reached down and grabbed her hand and he said, “So you’re the lady who wrote the book that started this war.” So what does that tell us?

Tim Ballard: Even Lincoln recognized it wasn’t the government. It was the people. It was the people who finally saw the sin of slavery in the land. After hundreds of years, enough of them rose up. People like Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. People like Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, the whole abolitionist movement. So we learned from this. I mean there’s… Not to take away at all from that horrific thing that was the transatlantic slave trade. But, just to compare numbers, you could add up all the people that were enslaved during that 400-year period called the transatlantic slave trade that we read about in history. You can add all of those people up that were enslaved, and there’s more people alive today enslaved than all those others combined over 400 years. It’s the slave labor. It’s sex trafficking. It’s…

Ken Krogue: What are roughly the numbers?

Tim Ballad: It’s about 30 million people who are enslaved today. Of those… And this is according to the Department of Labor, State Department, Trafficking in Persons Report. And these are pretty…there’s a consensus around these statistics. About 6 million children that are either forced into the commercial sex trade, labor slave, or organ harvesting. And we’re working on all of those sectors.

Thom Harrison: So are you talking around the world Tim, or are you talking in our nation?

Tim Ballard: This is around the world. In our nation, it’s still, you know, it’s still high. It’s not as high as other nations that aren’t as developed, of course. But it’s somewhere between 200 to 300,000 children forced into the commercial sex trade. And this is a daunting thought, especially when we consider this whole thing going on with the border, and the wall, and building it or not. There’s 10,000 children, 10,000 children forced into the commercial sex trade from outside the US, smuggled into the US, forced into the commercial sex trade here, adding to that number of total child sex slaves.

Tim Ballard: I’m not even talking about the adult. The women who are also trafficked. We’re just talking about the kids. We can talk more about my opinions about that point in a second. But, the point I’m making is learning from history. Since my face has been burned from doing too much undercover work, and I’ve been out too much, we had to come out and tell the story. We are trying to create a movement just like the original abolitionist of the 19th century did. We believe, we know, that like Harriet Beecher Stowe and the abolitionists, Frederick Douglass, and others who spoke out and got so loud that basically the foundation shook. And then governments acted and moved.

Ken Krogue: It was awareness.

Tim Ballard: It’s awareness. It’s people standing up and saying, “No longer will I allow this to happen in my land.” And the parallels are striking too, when you consider, because I think people say all the time, I hear them say, “If I had been an abolitionist in the 19th century.” Or sorry, “If I had lived in 19th century, I would have been an abolitionist. I would have been one of those that stood up.” And I have to kind of be the jerk that says, “I don’t know. Maybe not.” Because the parallels are pretty similar to today. If you haven’t been or aren’t right now, you probably wouldn’t have been then. Because people in New York say they didn’t see slavery any more than you and I today see human trafficking or child exploitation.

Tim Ballard: They didn’t travel to South Carolina or Georgia any more than you and I travel to Mexico or Thailand. Not to say that it’s not happening here. Like I said, it is happening here, but it’s more hidden. So you see the parallels are very similar. We like to think, “How did these people in the north sit so long and do nothing?” Well, ask yourself, because you’re probably doing the same thing. Which means you probably would have done the same thing then. So you get them thinking like, “Oh my gosh, we have a chance to do something now. We have a chance to rise up.” So we are seeking opportunities. So, you know, long answer to your question about Mike Tomlin. When Mike Tomlin came to us, we see this as an opportunity. We see Mike Tomlin as a potential Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Ken Krogue: He’s amazing. Yeah.

Tim Ballard: He invites us in. He invites us to camp. He calls the media. He calls ESPN. And, within a year, ESPN shows up and does a whole story. We take Mike Tomlin deployed into one of our operations. ESPN comes with us. We helicopter into the area. And probably 30 to 50 million people have seen that piece about Mike Tomlin and Operation Underground Railroad rescuing kids together. So that’s why I wear this.

Ken Krogue: It’s pretty cool.

Tim Ballard: I wear Steelers stuff wherever I can.

Ken Krogue: And the team puts some OUR stuff on in the game. I mean they got behind it.

Tim Ballard: Sure, yeah. Roethlisberger, the quarterback, he’s worn OUR cleats. You know, we just put some cleats on. They just lost last night unfortunately or two nights ago to the saints. But Taysom Hill, Right? From our own BYU. He’s now an abolitionist and part of the movement. And he wore OUR cleats. Funny enough, coincidentally or not, worn them against the game against the Steelers.

Ken Krogue: Who wins that one? Now, you said something pretty interesting. You said parallels. And you know, Operation Underground Railroad parallels the original Underground Railroad. And even in your book, you’ve got parallels. You’ve got, you know, a story back in the days of the operation of Underground Railroad compared to your story today. Your new book, Slave Stealers, it’s about parallels. It’s been a… I mean Thom and I got to go with you for a week and see some of those amazing sites. But talk to the parallels in your book. I mean that’s kind of a neat thing.

Tim Ballard: Yeah. Well, you know, it started when I was asked to be an undercover operator. Oh man, what, like 18 years ago or whenever that was.

Thom Harrison: Now wasn’t that down at the border? Weren’t you in that arena?

Tim Ballard: I was working on the border. I was sent there to track down weapons and terrorists. I had come from the CIA where that was my background. I thought I was going to be…Mohamed Atta, who was one of the terrorists in 9/11 had crossed the border at the Mexicali, Calexico, California. So I specifically requested that office cause I wanted to track terrorists. I spent a whole, you know, all my academic work was based on that. I was there six months doing just that until I got called in and said… I was told, “We need you to do child crimes.” And no one really knew what was going on. Child trafficking in the early 2000s that was still like what? What is that? You could Google trafficking in early 2000s and no one would even know what it is.

Tim Ballard: I think the media has done a great job the last 5, 10 years talking about it. But again, when you hear human trafficking, just think slavery. Those words are interchangeable. Sometimes people don’t know what we’re talking about. So, when I really hark back to history was when they sent me to undercover school to infiltrate child trafficking rings. And when I got to the training, I, the first thing they do is they send you into a simulator. Basically, it’s just a fake house and you walk in and there’s a smuggler that was playing the role of a smuggler. This guy’s one of the top undercover operators in the US government. And he’s there to make you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. To make, you know, that’s how they play with you. It’s their tactic.

Ken Krogue: Mental boot camp.

Tim Ballard: Yeah, that’s what it is. And you walk in, there’s two way mirrors blacked out, there’s cameras everywhere, and you’re sweating bullets. I was more nervous doing that than the real thing, you know, later. You’re walking in, and they gave me my legend or my story, which was, you know, you are the undercover story. You are looking to buy children. This guy’s a general smuggler. Now this guy didn’t know. They didn’t tell him ahead of time what my legend was, what my story was going to be. That’s part of my job was to bring it up in a way that was natural enough that I didn’t look like a fool, or reveal the truth about who I was, or get caught up in a lie, you know, or an inconsistency. So that’s what this guy’s job was to break me down.

Tim Ballard: So I get in there, and I start bringing up child sex. And I don’t know what I’m doing. I mean I’m new at this. But the telling part was this seasoned undercover operator stopped the simulator, stood up, said “Outer role,” which means cut. Usually that means there’s something that was a problem, something dangerous usually. Outer Role, stop. You know, something’s happening. He says, “Outer role” and he’s turning gray. And he says, “I’m not going to do this. It’s like, what is this a joke? I have a baby daughter, I’m not going to talk about this” and walks off the set. So I’m sitting there going, what am I… And it wasn’t that these, they were uncaring. In fact, my agency that I worked for leads the way today. It’s just that nobody knew.

Ken Krogue: Yeah, it was all new to them

Tim Ballard: It was all brand new, and there was no curriculum. And that’s when I realized, what am I going to do? You’re trying to teach me to be an undercover operator, but there’s no curriculum for this. And that’s when I decided, well, I know that what this is, it’s slavery. Everything I’ve learned about it. It looks like slavery. It’s slavery. These people don’t own themselves. These children are owned by other people who are sending them in to be raped for money, or labor, or whatever it is. So I just bought every book I could on… See, I wrote this book, The Lincoln Hypothesis that you’re familiar with. I mean, I didn’t write that because I was a historian. I wrote that because it was… I stumbled into it, because it all started from this experience. I bought every book I could on slavery, on the transatlantic slave trade, on the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln, everything I could learn about what others had learned already about slavery to make the parallels.

Tim Ballard: So that became my curriculum as I learned how to infiltrate these organizations that were enslaving children. Again, it’s important as someone who loves history, it’s important to maintain the integrity of the story. And not to make too broad kind of sweeping parallels, because it’s not the exact form of slavery. It’s not the exact kind. And you don’t want to do that. You want to preserve the stories, but to ignore the lessons, you know. I’ve been criticized by some people for daring to try to learn lessons from the transatlantic slave trade, because they want to be outraged at something. And it’s really silly. And I’ve explained, “I’ve rescued children. We’ve rescued children because of that history. We have learned.”

Tim Ballard: I can give you specific examples where we’ve learned from them including Levi Coffin for example. Levi Coffin was an amazing individual. He was kind of one of the leaders of the Underground Railroad. He had a house in Indiana that was called the…They call it the grand central station of the Underground Railroad, hidden compartments where he would hide fugitive slaves. He learned that the only way to rescue kids, or rescue slaves, was to go undercover. That you had to infiltrate the black market. So this guy, he has these amazing stories where he’d go undercover as a bounty hunter, as a fugitive slave hunter. He’d go undercover and he would… He had the intel where the slaves were, who they were looking for. He was hiding them. So he’d get on his horse, pull out his whiskey, and be a rough rider running around with these guys and say, “Yeah, I know who you’re looking for.” And he’d throw them off their trail. Send them over here, or send them over there. And that’s how he’d get things done, you know.

Tim Ballard: So we recognize up front that’s the only way to infiltrate. You know, pretend to be one of these guys. Learn to be, just like he learned to be a fugitive slave hunter, learn to be a child trafficker. There’s one example, the aftercare side, how it’s so important it’s long-term. Harriet Jacobs who… The principle in the book Slave Stealers. Which, by the way, it’s being made into a docuseries, which we’ll talk about in a second.

Ken Krogue: Oh man, I didn’t know that.

Thom Harrison: Oh really? How Wonderful

Tim Ballard: So she was the healer, you know, she set up the long-term care, the education. Politically speaking, you get laws changed. And we’re doing that. You know, we just passed a bill that the president just signed that we actually wrote most of it. I just sat in a few weeks ago, and we can talk about what that is. So the parallels, you have to learn from history, because they dealt with all of the elements of slavery.

Ken Krogue: It gives you a map.

Tim Ballard: It’s a map. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing.

Ken Krogue: Wow. So that method that you’ve used in your new book about parallels was striking to me. Again, we had a chance to go explore that. Now the organization itself, Operation Underground Railroad, tell us its timeframe. How long has it been around? What’s it currently doing? Then I want to talk about some of the things that just recently have been happening.

Tim Ballard: Sure. So yeah, Operation Underground Railroad was founded in 2013, in November of 2013. And really it was… The basis of it was to look for one boy, and we knew that looking for that one boy would lead to other things. But, we learned about a little boy who had been kidnapped, born in Utah, but kidnapped in Haiti of Haitian descent. And it was striking to me when I learned about this little boy, and I learned about his father who was looking for him. And I knew enough about Haiti to know that nothing was being done to find him. Except that this father would walk the streets hoping to find, to hear his son’s cries. When he told me; when I met him. So as a government agent, I promised this father that we would never stop until we found his son. But a few weeks later, after making that promise, I learned that there was no way to make it a US case. There wasn’t enough Nexus back to the United States.

Tim Ballard: So I had to… I had a decision to make, you know. Do I fulfill the promise I made to this man and believe that we can basically privatize the rescue of children by supporting law enforcement and training? And that was a really tough thing, in 2013 that decision my wife and I had to make. But ultimately, we made the right one, and we went looking for this little boy. And since that time, that was Haiti. That was one country in 2013. We are now in 20 countries, 22 states in the United States. We still haven’t found this little boy, but we have rescued now close to 1800 sex trafficking victims, close to 800 traffickers in jail. Which, I love that number better, because I know that one of those traffickers or pedophiles can abuse easily up to a hundred kids in a lifetime. So how many kids are being rescued that never needed rescue.

Ken Krogue: You’re cutting off at the source.

Tim Ballard: Right. Those are the best rescues. The ones where the kids never had to know.

Ken Krogue: How many rescues roughly, have you guys been a part of? That you’ve launched. You call them a jump, right?

Tim Ballard: Yeah, I mean there’s multiple. I don’t even know if I can put a number on it because it’s multiple now. We’re in 20 countries and they are happening constantly. We don’t even report most of them anymore, because they’re happening so frequently. We have guys full-time in those countries. Every day is a new operation oftentimes.

Ken Krogue: Gotcha. Now who are these people that help you? That you’ve recruited? They come from many walks of life.

Tim Ballard: Yeah. They’re experts. They’re experts in trafficking from different areas. We have some on the military side, former Navy SEALs. We have, on the federal law enforcement side, Homeland Security. We have state and local officers who have an expertise. We have computer forensic guys who help process the evidence. We’ve built a lab. We’ve built labs. We have two labs that we built. One is in Colombia. One is in Thailand. And it’s amazing when we provide the tools, the forensic tools, the digital tools, required to do these cases. You can’t do these cases without that technology, because so much of the trafficking is online. The child sex, the pornography, the deals that are being made in the dark net on peer to peer networks. So if law enforcement doesn’t have the ability to infiltrate these online hubs of Child Sex, they can’t combat it.

Ken Krogue: So a lot of it is technology based now, it’s being driven…

Tim Ballard: A lot of its technology based. So we are working right now to build the capacity that way. One thing we’re doing in the United States is providing, cause there’s plenty of labs here, but there’s not mobile labs. So we’re building mobile labs, where law enforcement can go to the site of the crime, the house, the search warrant, and begin processing evidence immediately. Which then allows them to arrest the perpetrator immediately. Otherwise, they can’t arrest him too soon, because then the prosecutorial clock starts. And they could send their stuff to a lab, and it can be six months waiting time. But during that six-month period, I’ve seen predators then abuse more children. These mobile labs allow them to process the evidence onsite, get enough evidence to get the green light from the prosecution to go ahead and arrest. Start the clock, because we know we have enough evidence

Thom Harrison: The commitment of your operations officer has been amazing to me. I’ve had the opportunity over the last 15 months to chat with some of them after an operation has taken place. And the commitment of these individuals to go on and do this very difficult task, but then come out and feel like they’ve really done some service. They’ve really helped.

Ken Krogue: Yeah. Speaking of service, wow!

Tim Ballard: Yeah. This was not an easy job. You know, especially you’re working for a nonprofit. So there’s only so much benefit financially set there. So these, the men and women who work for us, are just incredible. I mean they lived a lot of… They sacrifice their lives. They live on a airplane, you know, unfortunately our work…

Ken Krogue: And they have to go at a moment’s notice.

Tim Ballard: Oh yeah. Something happens, they’re on a plane; they’re gone. You know, it’s a tough life.

Ken Krogue: And there’s two main elements. There’s the rescue and then there’s the care after the people are rescued, right? And you’ve got, you’re fighting a war on two fronts. You’ve got to go save the kids, but then you’ve got to help in the aftercare strategies.

Tim Ballard: And not only that, but our policies. If we were to liberate say two children in Guatemala, and then we take them to one of our aftercare centers that we have vetted out. That’s how we do this. We vet these out. We’ve supplied them with resources and make sure they have what they need before we’ll even do the rescue. But if we liberated two children from traffickers in Guatemala, took them to our aftercare center, and that aftercare center has 300 kids already healing. We take them all on. So it’s over double. The number of kids we’ve rescued versus the number of kids that we are personally responsible for, their healing, is more than double. Because once we connect with the aftercare center, then they are our partners forever.

Ken Krogue: So we’ve got, our episode first episode on this is about over. I want to talk in our next episode of how YouTube worked together, and some of the things that have been happening. But the main question from our viewers, our communities, how do they get involved? How do they get behind the awareness? And some… I get people all the time saying, “I want to help. What can I do?” How do we answer that, Tim?

Tim Ballard: You know, the best answer is… See people want me to say “a, b, c, go do it.” And I say, “I can’t say that to you, because I don’t know you. You will know before I know what you can do.” And it’s the people that generate their own ideas and begin to execute. Those are the ones that last. Those are the ones that make a difference. And then we plug in. We always plug in. Once we see that happening, we plug in.

Thom Harrison: So the intention is with those who want to volunteer. They feel it. They know what they can offer, and then they plug in with the organization through that intention, which is very similar to EternalCore. They feel an intention, they have a core story, and they plug in with EternalCore, God-centric mental health through the intention. And it moves the whole process forward. Very similar process.

Ken Krogue: That’s powerful. Tell us some of the things they have. I mean, what are some of the things they have been doing, volunteering?

Tim Ballard: Can I give an example real quick? I want to go back to Harriet Beecher Stowe for a second, because her story is amazing. Her story is very much it’s very similar to the people who are coming to you saying, “What can I do?” She’s a mother of many children living her life as ordinary as anybody. And she lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. She crossed the river into Kentucky for an errand she had to do and stumbled upon slavery. Didn’t mean to see it. Had heard of it, had heard of slavery just like everyone here’s heard of trafficking. But now she stumbled upon it. She sees it, just like one of these people who stumbles upon one of our videos, sees the actual footage, meets an actual survivor of sex trafficking.

Tim Ballard: And she was so moved. She came back and says, “What can I do? What can I do?” And again, just like they’re coming to you and me. “What can I do? What can I do?” She goes, Harriet Beecher Stowe goes to her sister, says, “What can I do? I feel so helpless. I’m not a politician. I’m not an operator on the Underground Railroad. I have no skills. What can I do?” Her sister writes her a letter and says, “You know how to write. Why don’t you write something?” And Harriet tells the story about how she’s reading this letter that says, “Write something,” and she was so moved. She stood up. She fisted, you know, she made a fist around that, crunched up that letter even, and she said out loud, “I will write something. I will if I live.” And she writes Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Now she didn’t go to someone and say, “Tell me what to do.” She didn’t go to the government and say, “Tell me what to do. I don’t know what.” She said, “I know what I can do,” and She just did it.

Ken Krogue: Wow that gives you chills. That’s powerful

Tim Ballard: And she sat down and she wrote this book. People read it, people were moved by it, and then they asked themselves, “What can I do?” And they did their thing. So that’s what we need people to do.

Ken Krogue: It was a catalyst that just started the dominoes falling, didn’t it?

Tim Ballard: Yes. And so we tell people, “Figure out what you can do.” I just came from Maloo Foundation. They make high end, you know, bedding and whatnot. They had a Harriet Beecher Stowe experience. And they didn’t say, “Tim, tell me what to do.” They just did it. They started by… They hosted a screening of one of our documentaries, brought the whole community, rented out a theater. And then, from there, they got all this interest and they said, “Okay, now we’re having… Now we’re going to do a fundraiser, and we’re going to fund a mission.” They raised $30,000, gave it to us. We used that money to arrest a bunch of bad guys down in Haiti, which was the ending of the documentary Operation Toussaint. Which everyone should be watching on Amazon live. It’s on Amazon right now. So we just basically sit back, and we’ve become their partners, not their bosses.

Ken Krogue: Everybody, let’s get involved. Tim, thank you for being here with us. We want to talk… Our next episode, we’re going to talk about some of the things that have just been happening in the last year and a half as you two have been working together, and some of the plans going forward. So thank you everybody. Ken Krogue, Thom Harrison with Tim Ballard. Thanks for being here. We’ve got a couple more things with filming so be ready. We’re going to share a few more things. And some things Tim usually doesn’t share, we’re going to have him at our event on March 29th and 30th at the Little America hotel, EternalCore. Go to eternalcore.org, and we’ll see you there.

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