EPISODE 42

INSIDE NAMBLA

INSIDE NAMBLA

Bob Hamer had a colorful career as an undercover FBI agent. He’d posed as a contract killer, a drug dealer and an international arms dealer. Hamer loved the adrenaline rush that came with the cases - the thrill of the chase - but nothing had prepared him for infiltrating NAMBLA, the North America Man/Boy Love Association. If he was going to succeed and put this group of pedophiles behind bars, Bob would have to sublimate his hatred and disdain, even if it ripped at the very fabric of his being.
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True Spies: Episode 42: Inside NAMBLA

WARNING: This episode of True Spies contains graphic details related to the sexual abuse of children that listeners may find disturbing. 

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would YOU do in their position? This is True Spies.

BOB HAMER: Walking away, I literally thought that it would be much better for me to go back in there with a grenade and just pull the pin and just blow all of us up in that room. I had to fight those urges. I had to understand the importance of putting this case together and that I was going to have to sublimate my hatred and disdain for what they were espousing if we were going to make this case successful.

NARRATOR: There are many, surprising places that a life undercover might take you.

BOB HAMER: I posed as a contract killer, a drug dealer, both as a high-roller drug dealer and a street-level drug dealer. I was a white collar criminal. I spent six months at the racetrack investigating men who were fixing the races. I’ve been an international arms dealer.

NARRATOR: In his 26-year-long career as a street agent in the FBI, Bob Hamer was thrown more than a few curve balls.

BOB HAMER: I’ve been shot at. I’ve shot people. I’ve had a contract put out on my life, I’ve had a gun put to my head, but never anything that I guess ripped at the fabric of my soul …

NARRATOR: Until, that is, he found himself walking through Manhattan one evening, shoulder to shoulder with a new type of target.

BOB HAMER: We assembled about 25 or 30 of us, and we began to walk from Grand Central Station to Times Square.

NARRATOR: This stroll through the big city is Bob Hamer’s first face-to-face contact with the organization he has been stalking for more than a year.

BOB HAMER: As we were getting a little closer, I could sense the excitement. It was almost like when you go to the big game and, as you know, the game is about to start and you’re walking through the turnstiles, and you hand in your ticket, and you begin to find your seat, and you could just sense this excitement. I could sense the excitement that these men were feeling and I didn’t understand it.

NARRATOR: To the casual observer, they might be a group of businessmen, on their way to dinner to blow off steam after a day at a dull conference. But their destination was no restaurant, no theater.

BOB HAMER: And then we walked into Toys R Us. And they literally ran to a 60-foot indoor Ferris wheel. They ran to a railing and they looked over the Ferris wheel and they watched these little boys that were in the Ferris wheel going around on this ride. I sat there and I listened to some of these men talk about what they wanted to do to little boys.

NARRATOR: A warning. To hear the story of Bob Hamer’s infiltration of this group of men is to follow him down a rabbit hole to a dark and depraved place - one that parents will recognize as the setting of their very worst nightmares. This assignment would see a consummate professional - a man with decades of experience inside criminal organizations of the most violent ilk - redefine his entire understanding of evil.

BOB HAMER: Now up until this time, I had communicated with members that had been in prison, I had been shocked by some of the images that they described in their letters to me, but I guess I naively assumed that all the bad ones were in jail. But they weren’t. They were right there at the railing, talking about some of the most graphic things they wanted to do to these little boys.

NARRATOR: You do not have to come with Bob Hamer on this journey. If you choose to do so, like him, you may find yourself disturbed by the enemy that lurks in plain sight.

BOB HAMER: Had I just been a regular FBI agent walking past and hearing these guys, I probably would have thrown them over a railing, but now here I was, an undercover agent listening to this and I realized that they were amongst us. These men, they were out in society, walking amongst us, and wanting to do things to children that were reprehensible and vile and evil, and that’s when it really hit me that I’ve got to take this investigation much more seriously and we’ve got to do something about the men that were in this organization.

NARRATOR: The name of the organization is NAMBLA. They are the North American Man Boy Love Association. Bob Hamer is about to walk out of the Toys R Us in Times Square, New York, and devote the remaining years of his career to putting them behind bars. But before he does that let’s retrace the steps that brought him here.

BOB HAMER: Okay. Hi, I’m Bob Hamer. I spent 26 years as an FBI agent, all of these years as a street agent.

NARRATOR: If you’ve listened to True Spies before, you’ll know that the agent’s pathway is often winding. For Bob, it was no different.

BOB HAMER: I spent four years on active duty in the marine core and I was an attorney. I was a judge advocate. What I realized was that I really did not enjoy being an attorney. There was no excitement in the courtroom for me, so I was looking for something a lot more exciting than being in the courtroom.

NARRATOR: The siren call came buried near the back of his morning paper. He was 29 years old.

BOB HAMER: I was surprised to find an ad in the sports section of the Los Angeles Times. The CIA was looking for case officers, so I applied. My very first meeting I went into a room at the federal building in southern California. It was a small room, there were two chairs in the room, I sat down. All of a sudden, this man walks in and he’s got a scar from ear to ear, and I’m thinking this is the excitement I’m looking for. This guy’s got to have stories to tell.

NARRATOR: More interviews followed. Cryptic assignments to demonstrate his chops as a potential spy …

BOB HAMER: Fly under an assumed name. Pay cash for everything and you will be reimbursed once you arrive in Washington, DC. 

NARRATOR: Then came the tests - language aptitude, current affairs - Bob was getting close. He could tell.

BOB HAMER: I flew back to San Diego. I told my wife. I said: ‘Honey, We’re gonna be spies! This is really cool. This is so much neater than being an attorney.’

NARRATOR: There is just one final hurdle to hop over.

BOB HAMER: I went back for my third and final interview and during the course of my interview they had given me a personality test, and apparently they graded you from a zero to a 10. A zero could be caught on a deserted island and spend the rest of his life there and be perfectly content, and a 10 had to be constantly surrounded by people.

NARRATOR: Your classic psych evaluation. Bob Hamer knew exactly what these people were after. Like the future professional he knew himself to be, he played the part perfectly.

BOB HAMER: I’ve got to admit I kind of skewed my answers. I mean I thought they were looking for some guy they could drop behind enemy lines. He shoots the third world dictator, and then they extricate him by helicopter. But when the psychologist came to interview me after the results of the test, he looked at me and he shook his head and he said: ‘I’ve never seen a zero personality.’

NARRATOR: As it turned out, Bob might have overcooked his answers somewhat.

BOB HAMER: Apparently they were looking for threes and fours. They wanted somebody who essentially could sidle up to people at embassy parties and convince them to betray their country. To this day, my wife will still remind me that I’m the only person declared a zero personality by the federal government.

NARRATOR: So the CIA didn’t pan out. But Bob had also put in an application with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

BOB HAMER: I’d gone through the written, the oral exam, everything was looking real good for moving forward in the FBI and then they had a one-year hiring freeze.

NARRATOR: With his tenure in the Marines all but over, and a young family to support, Bob had to resign himself to the reality that a life of excitement might not be on the cards.

BOB HAMER: I’d taken a job with a firm in Los Angeles. It was a Monday night and I literally prayed to God. I said: ‘Look, you’ll get more money if I take this job in Los Angeles, but I wish that the CIA or the FBI would call.’ And the very next morning I received a phone call and the FBI said: ‘Look, we just had somebody drop out of our September class. Can you come back to Quantico Virginia to the FBI academy within the month and begin your term as an FBI agent?’ 

NARRATOR: Prayers answered, Bob Hamer began his life as an FBI street agent. He was not disappointed by his first days on the beat.

BOB HAMER: I loved being out on the street. I loved investigating crimes. My first assignments involved kidnappings, bank robberies, extortions. It was real FBI work, just like the stuff you see on television.

NARRATOR: But there was one angle to the job that he was keen to get some experience in.

BOB HAMER: I had met with several people back at the FBI academy who had worked undercover. I guess I had seen enough television too that the undercover work seemed pretty exciting to me. So I was looking for an opportunity to work undercover, and within about six months of being a street agent the opportunity arose where I could assume an undercover role.

NARRATOR: Bob’s first undercover assignment was to cozy up to the Italian-American mafia via his target Dave.

BOB HAMER: Dave was a high-line residential burglar who had hit some of the biggest homes in the southwest stealing jewellery, art, gold, anything of value in these homes. At one point we flew over to Scottsdale, Arizona. I met with some mob guys at a restaurant. After we’d had dinner we went into the back room of the restaurant and the owner of the restaurant, who was a mob guy, pulled out a tray and started cutting lines of cocaine.

NARRATOR: A moment torn straight from the script of a late-night crime movie: the undercover cop, the mobsters, the mound of cocaine. But this wasn’t TV. This was real and Bob Hamer had to think on his feet.

BOB HAMER: So they started cutting the cocaine and I’m thinking: ‘Man this is getting real, now what do I do?’ And when it came to me I shrugged my shoulders like: ‘Nah, I’m gonna pass.’ And all of a sudden Joe, one of the targets of this investigation, opens up a drawer and pulls out a gun and puts a gun to my head and says: ‘If you don’t do a line, you must be a cop.’

NARRATOR: This is your very first assignment as an undercover agent, and you have not been prepared for a moment like this. There’s a gun to your head, a line of cocaine under your nose, and you’re surrounded by enemy targets. What would you do?

BOB HAMER: I said: ‘Look, I’ll do your line but I can’t do caine products. I’m allergic to caine. I can’t even do novocaine at a dentist. My heart’s gonna stop and good luck trying to explain to the paramedic why I’m in need of emergency assistance.’ Fortunately, Dave, the guy who I’d been running with, who was the other target of our investigation, turned to Joe and said: ‘Hey, I’m not gonna do this either.’ So Joe put the gun down.

NARRATOR: It was Bob’s first taste of the excitement he’d been so desperate for in the Marines ... and it was far more addictive than any drug he turned down that night. Over the next 26 years in the Bureau, Bob Hamer would chase that high time and time again. He lived to look his targets in the eye, to teeter close to the brink, to almost get caught. 

BOB HAMER: I have a lot of respect for the sniper, these guys that sit on the rooftops and sight in their target and pull the trigger when necessary. But also I like the idea of getting close to my target. That was the difference between being an undercover agent and being a case agent. Many times the case agent will sit back and do the investigation. He will gather all the evidence that is needed for a successful investigation and may not even have contact with the target until they’re ready to make the arrest. But with an undercover agent, now you’re face to face.

NARRATOR: Bob developed his own personal philosophy for undercover work – one that he borrowed from the Native Americans of the Great Plains.

BOB HAMER: The Plains Indians in American had something called ‘counting coup.’ They would have coup sticks. The idea was to sneak up close enough to the enemy and to touch him with your coup stick and then successfully ride away. And they would take this coup stick and mark on it. That’s kind of how I felt as an undercover agent. I had this coup stick, kind of an invisible coup stick, and I was able to get close enough to the enemy that I could touch him with my coup stick and not be captured, not be harmed, but would eventually take down my enemy.

NARRATOR: Bob never lost the taste for that contact, that danger. In fact, when the job wasn’t living up to the excitement of a gun to the head, he had a few tricks up his sleeve to liven things up.

BOB HAMER: I was always trying to get that adrenaline flowing, and I would just see how far I could push the envelope without being caught. Oftentimes I would play music. I think my favorite, I was involved in an international weapons deal, and there was this song by the country and western artist Charlie Daniels, called Uneasy Rider, and there was a line in that song, and every time the target of our investigation got into our undercover car, and I turned the ignition to the car on, the first line you heard on every tape was that song and Charlie Daniels singing: ‘Don’t you know this man’s a spy? He’s an undercover agent for the FBI.’

NARRATOR: How’s that for counting coup? Bob Hamer played dozens of roles in his time as an undercover agent - mobsters, contract killers, degenerate gamblers - but the one that left its biggest mark, the one that would deliver him to that gut-churning encounter with evil in a children’s megastore, came near the end of his career. Like most of his assignments, it began with a phone call from a colleague, an FBI case officer.

BOB HAMER: And he said: ‘Look, Bob, we have an undercover operation available, it involves sex tours to Thailand.’ And I kinda laughed and said: ‘Hey sign me up.’

NARRATOR: Anything to get out of the office, right?

BOB HAMER: If I figured your tax dollars are paying for me to get massages over in Thailand I’m gonna go ahead and do it. And he said: ‘If you like, I can provide a little more details.’

NARRATOR: Ah, those pesky details, always bursting the bubble. The case agent filled Bob in on the background to his assignment.

BOB HAMER: An individual was arrested back in Knoxville, Tennessee. And during the arrest and the search of his laptop computer they found that he had child pornography on the computer and videos.

NARRATOR: Videos filmed by the man himself featuring unspeakable crimes committed against children on foreign soil. 

BOB HAMER: During the interrogation he admitted that he went to Thailand and it was set up by a travel agent that was based in Hollywood, California.

NARRATOR: The Bureau wondered how many like this man were traveling overseas to fulfill their darkest impulses.

BOB HAMER: They decided they needed to take a real hard look at a travel agent that was putting together these overseas travel excursions for ‘Boy Lovers’, or BLs is what they call themselves.

NARRATOR: This was Bob Hamer’s first introduction to a term he would grow sickeningly familiar with over the course of the next three years. He began his research into so-called Boy Lovers and found himself running into the same five letters, scattered across dark corners of the internet, time and time again: NAMBLA. The letters stood for the North American Man/Boy Love Association. 

BOB HAMER: NAMBLA began in 1978. There had been a problem in the Boston area where some men had been arrested for luring boys into their home, showing them pornography, engaging in alcohol and drug abuse and then engaging in sexual promiscuity with these boys. There was a law enforcement effort and these men were arrested. Now there was an uproar about this whole situation and people got together saying it was wrong because the boys had agreed to consensually engage in sex with these men. There was a meeting in a church and during that meeting, this group of NAMBLA was formed.

NARRATOR: As unbelievable as it may sound, this group of self-declared Boy Lovers were a First Amendment protected organization. Their stated purpose was to abolish the laws of consent that rendered any sexual contact between an adult and a child statutory rape.

BOB HAMER: When the organization first started, it was actually pretty open. They participated in gay pride parades. You can find photographs on the internet of men marching with NAMBLA, holding up their banners.

NARRATOR: But that transparency came to an end in the late 1990s, with a horrific news story that shook the nation.

BOB HAMER: There was a little boy called Jeffrey Curley who was killed by a NAMBLA member and an associate. The child was horribly tortured, disfigured and raped. His body was stuck in a container and thrown off a bridge. During the course of this investigation, they learned that, just prior to the assault, the NAMBLA member had been in a public library and gone on the NAMBLA website. And the charges were that, essentially, he received the type of accolades and enthusiasm that he needed in order to move forwards to solicit sex and to attack this child.

NARRATOR: Jeffrey Curley’s murder brought a great deal of exposure to NAMBLA, but the organization still claimed to be nothing more than an advocacy group. Bob Hamer wasn’t buying it.

BOB HAMER: It was clear from my research that NAMBLA was something more than just a political lobbying organization to abolish the age of consent law. In fact it was an opportunity for like-minded men to get together and share stories of their sexual conquests, of where they could go to find boys, of what they could do and how they could seduce boys.

NARRATOR: So, in 2001, he took his first step into an unsettling new world.

BOB HAMER: I ended up joining the organization as part of this undercover operation on the travel agent. I just figured to add to my credibility I should become a member of NAMBLA. It only took submitting an application and $35 and within a week or two I received a letter back announcing my membership to NAMBLA.

NARRATOR: The travel agent case ultimately fell apart, but Bob had already begun to embed himself in this disparate community of pedophiles and sex offenders. 

BOB HAMER: I was a member of the organization and began getting solicitations from them to start sending Christmas cards and participate in a pen pal program for the NAMBLA members that were in prison. I contacted our assistant at the United States attorney and said: ‘Hey I’ve got this opportunity. I’d like to go ahead and pursue it.’ She gave me permission to send out Christmas cards and begin to engage in a pen pal program. What we were trying to find out was if anyone was aware of any more of these travel agents that were putting together overseas sex tours.

NARRATOR: Bob’s plan was to infiltrate NAMBLA and smoke out the predators who called it home, locking up as many as he possibly could in the process. But to do that, he would need to create a cover unlike any other in his career.

BOB HAMER: What I found with NAMBLA, and what I found in this particular undercover operation, was that it was far different to anything else I had engaged in. Clearly, if I’m posing as a contract killer, you don’t really care whether I’m a Republican or a Democrat, whether I like cricket or baseball, or whether I like the opera or country and western music. All you care about is whether I had the ability to kill the person that you want killed. Drug dealing, it’s the same way. As long as you think I’ve got the money to purchase the drugs you care very little about my likes and dislikes. But in NAMBLA this was a complete change of character for me in that I had to be 100 percent a NAMBLA member. I had to be a Boy Lover, I had to think like them, I had to talk like them, I had to walk like them and it was going to be 24/7.

NARRATOR: Bob had been accepted as a member of NAMBLA. He had paid his dues and began corresponding with Boy Lovers. But actually meeting them, face to face, was going to prove difficult.

BOB HAMER: Because of the law suits that arose out of Jeffrey Curley NAMBLA was afraid of exposure. It was no longer open in its membership. It was no longer marching in parades with NAMBLA members. They were no longer having open meetings in libraries and public meetings. They had essentially gone underground and I was told that it would take three years before I could be invited to one of their meetings.

NARRATOR: In the meantime Bob got to work infiltrating the group from afar in whatever capacity he could.

BOB HAMER: I had been participating in their Christmas card program and their pen pal program. I even wrote for their magazine. They have this magazine called the NAMBLA Bulletin and I wrote for that.

NARRATOR: Given the organization’s secrecy, he was surprised when, after just 18 months of membership, he was invited to the NAMBLA annual conference in New York City.

BOB HAMER: Apparently because of my participation in the pen pal program - and because NAMBLA members in prison had complemented management about how good I was about corresponding - and because of my efforts to write the articles in the magazine, they viewed me as a true believer and invited me back to New York City for that first face-to-face meeting with NAMBLA members.

NARRATOR: This was the moment Bob had been waiting for. It was time to finally give Robert Wallace, the alias under which he’d joined NAMBLA, his first public outing since the failed travel agent case.

BOB HAMER: When we began the travel agent case, I was fearful that I kind of looked too much like a cop, that I smelled like a cop, and that I needed to come off with a softer image. So, I literally went to the Salvation Army and bought a walking stick. And I affected a limp and told the travel agent that I had a medical condition. And I kind of liked that idea, so I just kind of kept up with that as I pursued this NABLA investigation.

NARRATOR: With his walking stick on the airplane seat beside him, Bob Hamer flew from California to New York, where he would meet the group he had been circling for more than a year. He knew that winning their trust would not be easy. 

BOB HAMER: It was interesting. This was the most paranoid group that I had ever infiltrated. I had worked gangs in south central Los Angeles for five years. I had worked some major drug organizations. I had worked international criminal organizations. I infiltrated the La Cosa Nostra, the Italian mafia, but never in any of these infiltrations did I meet a group as paranoid as NAMBLA.

NARRATOR: NAMBLA were so paranoid, in fact, they wouldn’t reveal details of the conference’s location.

BOB HAMER: So my initial meeting with them was at Grand Central station. I put on my best Boy Lover face and hobbled down to the lower dining concourse. Now keep in mind that I didn’t know any of these members. We had some grainy photographs, some possible members, but as i said earlier NAMBLA was a First Amendment protected organization so the Bureau didn’t have a folder of NAMBLA members or photographs. So I’m going down to the lower ramp to the concourse and I’m thinking: ‘How am I going to identify these guys?’

NARRATOR: As it turned out, Bob needn’t have worried.

BOB HAMER: All of a sudden, I look over and there’s a group of men huddled in a circle and it was like: ‘Holy smokes, central casting send me some perverts!’

NARRATOR: But as Bob approached the group, he noticed something that surprised him.

BOB HAMER: As I got closer and began to talk to some of the guys, I realized that not everyone looked like a central casting character. Some of them looked normal. They could have been your son’s baseball coach, his school teacher or the guy next door.

NARRATOR: You already know what happened next. The surprise excursion to Toys R Us. The Ferris wheel. The impulse to hurl each and every NAMBLA member present from the railing to the floor 60 feet below. There’s one aspect of Bob Hamer’s experience as an undercover agent that I haven’t told you about. It’s a big part of what drew him to this line of work in the first place.

BOB HAMER: I have to say that my favorite course in college was called ‘deviant behavior’ and I have a laugh as I look back on it because I either portrayed everyone that we studied in that class or I arrested everyone that I studied in that class. But as a result of that I’ve had an interest in people that are different. I’ve always enjoyed sitting down with someone that maybe I didn’t agree with politically or religiously or culturally and just learning from them.

NARRATOR: As far as Bob can tell, this is what separated him from most of his colleagues at the Bureau.

BOB HAMER: What I found in the FBI was that most law enforcement officers saw the world in black and white, and either you violated the law or you didn’t violate the law. But if you’re going to be an undercover agent, you have to see the gray. You have to understand that there is something in between that violation of the law and that adherence to the law, and to me that’s the gray area.

NARRATOR: It was this willingness, this capacity to ‘see the gray’, that allowed Bob to thrive on any assignment he was placed on.

BOB HAMER: Bad guys can smell fear. They can smell hatred. If you go into a situation where you are appalled by the behavior of your target and you hate that person for what they’ve done, they’re gonna pick up on that. So you, as the undercover agent, have to find the gray. You have to latch onto some good quality of that person and be able to deal with that good quality and set aside all of the evil that they’ve been doing. We used to kind of laugh and say: ‘Other than being a serial killer, the guy’s a pretty nice guy.’

NARRATOR: Serial killers are one thing but Bob Hamer had just watched a group of adult men gather in a toy store and describe, in graphic detail, the things they wanted to do to the innocent children around them. Surely this was about as black and white as cases come?

BOB HAMER: For me, up until that point, it really was black and white: you harm a child, you go to prison. That was my attitude. I still had that attitude but now I realized that to work undercover I was going to have to see the gray. I was going to have to find that characteristic in each of these men that at least I could latch onto, that I could kind of separate the Bob Hamer from the Bob Wallace. I had to become that Boy Lover just long enough to engage with them and see whether we could put together some prosecutable cases.

NARRATOR: After the sickening shock of the Toys R Us expedition, the rest of the New York conference was ... well, relatively pedestrian.

BOB HAMER: The meetings talked a lot more about the NAMBLA agenda, the NAMBLA mission statement, NAMBLA history. But during the meeting there were never any types of discussions about where we can go to find little boys, where we can go to seduce little boys, what we can do to seduce little boys or what type of sex acts that we can do on children. None of that took place in the meetings. Those kinds of discussions took place during the breaks.

NARRATOR: One weekend in New York was enough to confirm Bob’s suspicions. NAMBLA was less an advocacy group than it was a networking opportunity for sexual predators. During the breaks and evenings of the conference, the men around him readily discussed their desires, their preferences – but, as a new member to NAMBLA, there was a limit to the access that Bob was afforded. His main aims were to bed in with the group, to not blow his cover and to make contacts.

BOB HAMER: I didn’t do a lot of probing but I did develop a couple relationships at that first meeting. One of them was an individual who was an ordained minister, who was a chiropractor, who lived in California and he and I exchanged email addresses and talked at various times during this three-day weekend. It was this ordained minister, called Jeff, who provided the first opening to the inner circle of NAMBLA in the months after the New York conference. We were exchanging emails and phone calls and getting together for meetings. I was trying to see if there was anything there that could help us move forward at least with this one person that I had met at the conference [who] was a Boy Lover, [who] admitted to me on several occasions of having sex with underage boys and traveling to have sex with underage boys, all in violation of federal law.

NARRATOR: As Bob got closer to Jeff, he gained valuable insight into the psyche of his target.

BOB HAMER: He said that he was going through a 12-step program, trying to up his age of preference beyond the criminal age and was seeking to get away from pedophilia, but in fact he wasn’t. He would tell me about the email exchanges he had with a 14-year-old and how he was hoping he could have sex with the 14-year-old and how he was willing to travel to Canada to meet with the 14-year-old. Even though he was trying to get away from this aberration, he moved forward and would bring up something and it was just like: ‘Okay, we gotta continue to target this guy.’

NARRATOR: Eventually, he saw his moment to strike.

BOB HAMER: I told him that I had lost my entire collection of child pornography. My computer crashed and I lost everything. At one point he invited me to lunch. When we went to lunch, he said: ‘I think I have something here you’re going to like.’ And he handed me a thumb drive. When we got back and reviewed the thumb drive it had 125 images of child pornography and eight videos of men having sex with boys.

NARRATOR: This prosecutable offense was the first pay-off after two years investigating NAMBLA. Bob Hamer had his first taste of blood and he wanted more. Fortunately, the opportunity for a bigger catch was about to present itself.

BOB HAMER: I get invited to the next meeting which is going to be in Miami, Florida for another general conference with selected members of the organization.

NARRATOR: Now that Bob had established himself as an active, trusted NAMBLA member it was time to amp up his infiltration. 

BOB HAMER: Getting ready for the Miami conference, we decided we’re going to push this a little bit further, that I have the opportunity now to probably be more open since I’ve successfully got through that first meeting in New York without being caught, without being questioned and they invited me to the second meeting.

NARRATOR: With his case agent, he devised a plan.

BOB HAMER: We had set up a phony travel agency and I was going to go down there and tell them that I was aware of a travel agency who was putting together overseas sex tours for Boy Lovers.

NARRATOR: Bob was to float the idea of a trip to his new friends in NAMBLA, somewhere exotic, accommodating. Somewhere they could let loose. If he could convince the members of the group to commit to that kind of plan, the FBI could nail them. The charge would be conspiracy to travel to engage in sex with a minor. Bob Hamer arrived in Miami, at a bed and breakfast called the Miami River Inn, fully prepared to take a more active role in discussions and steer conversations in the direction he needed to.

BOB HAMER: I had only been there a few minutes when someone I had not met at the previous meeting walks in with Peter Herman. And Peter, essentially the head of NAMBLA, introduces me to David and we begin talking.

NARRATOR: As it turned out, Bob wouldn’t need to steer any conversations to get what he was after.

BOB HAMER: Before we get very far into the conversation David brings up the fact, asking me if I like to travel. And I said: ‘Yeah I go to Atlantic City every once in a while.’ And he said: ‘Well I am an international flight attendant and I have gone to Thailand and to Mexico and Thailand is great.’ And he begins to talk about the sexual encounters he has had in Thailand.

NARRATOR: From a legal perspective, David was making Bob’s life a hell of a lot easier.

BOB HAMER: In my mind I am thinking: ‘He is initiating. I didn’t bring this up. He’s the one that initiated going to Thailand. He’s the one that talked about Mexico.’ So from a legal perspective he’s taken away the entrapment argument because he’s bringing it up.

NARRATOR: This set the theme for the rest of the conference. As in New York, the meetings themselves were full of dry, procedural details about the operation of NAMBLA. But the breaks between meetings, where David took an active role, were much more interesting to our undercover agent.

BOB HAMER: So during one of our first breaks the next morning he was talking about travel, a few of the other members - one had talked about going to Amsterdam, one had talked about going down into the Bahamas - and all of these men had admitted to travelling overseas and to having sex with boys while overseas.

NARRATOR: And, of course, they did so on tape. Throughout his entire investigation of NAMBLA, Bob Hamer was wearing a wire. Each admission was recorded and saved, waiting to be deployed as evidence in the prosecution that Bob longed for. All he had to do was pull together a little NAMBLA field trip and convince these predators to sign up.

BOB HAMER: I had happened to mention that somebody that I knew had gone down to a place in Mexico and that I was going to research that, and David said he was gonna research a couple places in Costa Rica that he’d heard about. And so the idea was as we’d left, that we would begin researching and try to come up with a location where we could all get together for what actually we called a BLT: a Boy Lover Tour.

NARRATOR: Remember, Bob’s colleagues at the FBI have already set up a fake travel agency – one that would be willing to pull together exactly the kind of trip that NAMBLA members would be interested in.

BOB HAMER: Now that we’ve got the travel agency, now that we’ve got a couple people on board wanting to take the trip, obviously as a federal investigation, we wanted to expand anyone that was willing to go on the trip and invite them.

NARRATOR: The first two willing tourists that Bob signed up were David, the international flight attendant, and a dentist called Todd. To win their confidence, Bob Hamer had to put a lifetime of seeing the gray to good use.

BOB HAMER: Fortunately, and I do mean fortunately, each of the people we were targeting had some sort of, I guess you could call it a redeeming social value. David, the international flight attendant - that we eventually learned was a PhD psychologist that worked at two Chicago-area hospitals - was a funny guy. He was just humorous and so you were able to laugh at him. One of the other guys was a dentist and he was a nice guy. He had a boat. He flew from Dallas to Miami in his own airplane, but he was someone that you could actually sit down and converse with. So I was able to kind of latch onto that gray quality that I needed to continue to convince them that I was one of them.

NARRATOR: As he won their trust, Bob furnished his new friends with more and more details of the once-in-a-lifetime trip he was planning. The destination was to be Mexico.

BOB HAMER: I had made up the fact that this BB&B - a Bed, Breakfast & Boys - was just below Ensenada and that it was a boat that would pick you up in Los Angeles and San Diego, and we could get a discount if we had 10 people, so trying to use that as a ploy to get them to invite people so that we could save money on the trip.

NARRATOR: Bob encouraged David and Todd to invite others from the NAMBLA network to jump on this opportunity.

BOB HAMER: One of the persons that Todd and David wanted to invite was Paul, and Paul was a bodybuilder, a fitness trainer, one of those guys that if you saw, he would not be your central casting Boy Lover. You would not have picked him.

NARRATOR: There was also a new face at the Miami conference that had caught Bob’s attention, a guy named Sam Lindblad. Sam, it turned out, had been convicted previously on at least two occasions of solicitation or having sex with little boys and, in fact, at the Miami meeting admitted that he’d only been out of prison a little over a year where he’d served seven years for sex with a minor.

BOB HAMER: So that was a guy that I was interested in, and wanted to pursue him probably more so than anyone else because here he was a convicted sex offender that was still interested in pursing the Boy Lover agenda.

NARRATOR: Bob knew there was no seeing the gray with a character like Sam Lindblad. He’d done it before, and he would do it again. He couldn’t let him slip through his fingers.

BOB HAMER: While we were at the conference I’d mentioned to Sam that I had written for the NAMBLA Bulletin. Because he had been in prison, I thought that it might be a good idea if we wrote an article about Boy Lovers in prison and how we could protect ourselves if we were incarcerated.

NARRATOR: After the conference, with travel plans for Mexico in full swing, Bob flew to Albuquerque to interview Sam, ostensibly for the NAMBLA Bulletin.

BOB HAMER: I’d done a little research on the internet and I’d found what I thought to be a great restaurant in Albuquerque, a five-star restaurant. It wasn’t coming out of my pocket, it was tax dollars, so I was going to, kind of, eat big or go home. I invited him to meet me at this restaurant.

BOB HAMER: Man, we had a great meal. It got my undercover Yelp review that I would recommend it to anyone.

NARRATOR: Sam was edgy at the start of the meal. Local police had been rummaging through his trash; he was certain he was being watched. 

BOB HAMER: So he was talking about his specific paranoia and his fear and at one point I said: ‘Well you know that’s why I picked this expensive restaurant, because I know no cop could afford to eat here.’ And he just smiled and he said that he appreciated that. Well he didn’t know that there were two FBI agents sitting about two tables away that were watching us.

NARRATOR: Bob’s tradecraft in drawing Sam out of his paranoid shell during that meal was nothing short of exemplary. Listen and learn.

BOB HAMER: I told him that I was writing an article, and I brought a notebook and had questions laid out, and because of my condition, it was hard for me to write - you know I still have this cane - and because of the medical condition it was difficult for me to always write. ‘So is it okay for me to record his answers while I still try to write some rough notes?’ And he said: ‘Sure, that was okay.’ So I had a little recorder and I would put it on the table and I would press the record button and then I would ask the questions. And they would be relatively innocuous questions. And then at one point I turned off the recorder and he saw that the recorder was off, and I said: ‘So how many boys did you really molest?’ And he began to tell me the number of boys that he groomed.

NARRATOR: All of which was caught, of course, on the second recording device strapped to Bob’s torso.

BOB HAMER: As we began to get to the end of the meeting I said: ‘Okay, what is the one thing that you want us to warn the membership?’ And I will never forget this. It was, kind of, one of those production moments when you’re making a big film and he balled his fist and he closed his eyes and he said: ‘There are so many sting operations out there. I didn’t know it before, but just be careful.’ And it was like:‘Cut, print, we got it.’ Here he was right in the middle of a sting operation and he didn’t understand it.

NARRATOR: Bob left that meeting with a tape full of criminal admissions and a commitment from Sam Lindblad that he would join the NAMBLA party on their Boy Lover Trip. And, even better, he wanted to invite yet another NAMBLA member. With the addition of Sam’s friend, Dick, seven were now on board to travel to the BB&B in Ensenada. The problem was signing up for the trip, in and of itself, was not a federal offense.

BOB HAMER: One of the things that made this investigation different than anything I had worked in my previous investigations was that, at this point, only Jeff has committed a criminal violation by giving me child pornography. With the other seven, they haven’t committed a criminal offense. In this case, all we had was Jeff. We had seven people that were willing to go on the trip, that had committed a few overt acts in that they had contacted me. They had emailed me. They had contacted the fake travel agent. They had provided a down payment for the trip. But the statute was written in such a way that you had to travel in interstate commerce.

NARRATOR: All of this made Bob very nervous.

BOB HAMER: With any conspiracy if you withdraw from the conspiracy before it’s completed, oftentimes a prosecutor won’t go forward. So we were to the point in this case that until we actually had them traveling in interstate commerce. Until we had them on that particular day getting ready to board our boat, which is what was supposed to take us down to this Bed, Breakfast & Boys in Mexico, we probably didn’t have a violation.

NARRATOR: With seven predators unwittingly tangled up in the trap he had laid, Bob Hamer knew he had to finalize the details of his sting operation. He was busy organizing interstate flights, for his targets to arrive in San Diego or Los Angeles when he received a phone call from Dick, the Boy Lover that Sam Lindblad had mentioned in Albuquerque. Dick told Bob that he had some last-minute reservations about this trip to Mexico.

BOB HAMER: He was worried about the fact that this could be a sting operation. In no uncertain terms, he literally laid out our operations’ order. He told us that if he were running this case - and he reminded me that President Bush had signed legislation that made travel in international state and international commerce a federal violation, and he told me that if he were running the FBI or a federal agency - he would set up a sting operation where you would get people to deposit money, agree to travel and then when they showed up to travel they would be arrested.

NARRATOR: Put yourself in Bob’s shoes, here. You’ve spent more than three years infiltrating one of the most secretive criminal organizations on the planet. You’ve sidled up alongside a group of men whose very existence repulses you. You have meticulously plotted out an operation that will land multiple sexual predators where they belong, in prison. And you are hearing the exact details of that operation laid out before you by one of the sting’s targets. What would you do?

BOB HAMER: I know that while i was talking to him I was smiling because it was like: ‘This is the challenge. I’m not going to entrap him.’ I just kind of whet the whistle and explained to him that I understand, hey he’s cautious, that I’m cautious, that I’d looked into it and the person who had told me about the trip had already gone, that he had gone last year, that nothing happened. I explained to him that I had been a member for many years at NAMBLA, that I’d written for their magazine, that I was in good standing.

NARRATOR: Bob turned on that zero personality once again. Dick was placated. Everything was coming together. Bob had won the trust of NAMBLA’s inner circle, and that was crucial for an investigation like this one. You see, it was not enough for the NAMBLA members to commit to travelling to Mexico. They also had to outline what they intended to do once they arrived.

BOB HAMER: In this case I had to get them to admit that their primary purpose of travel was to have sex and specifically what sex acts they were going to perform, or that they planned on performing sex. So, in other words, they weren’t just coming to San Diego to go down to Mexico because the weather was warmer than what it was in Chicago.

NARRATOR: Bob and his colleagues at the FBI designed a kind of menu of services that the Bed, Breakfast & Boys would offer.

BOB HAMER: And I needed to know from each of these men what their age of preference was and what their sexual acts that they want to perform.

NARRATOR: If you were somehow in any doubt of the criminal intention behind this group of men, you will find all the proof you need on the tapes of those conversations. This was the final piece of the puzzle for Bob Hamer.

BOB HAMER: We’ve got the criminal admissions from everyone. We have the down payments for everyone. We have the travel reservations for everyone. So we have many elements that would be overt acts as part of conspiracy if we were charging a conspiracy in this case. We’re getting ready to rock ‘n roll.

NARRATOR: There are just days left until Bob Hamer springs the trap he has been carefully setting for the past three and a half years. Seven pedophiles are due to arrive in Los Angeles and San Diego to board a boat to Ensenada. In doing so, they are signing their own arrest warrant. Bob is excited and determined, but he’s also distracted.

BOB HAMER: At this time I’m working three separate undercover operations at the same time. I’m involved with an Asian gang that’s selling crystal meth and ecstasy. I’m involved in an Asian criminal syndicate that is involved in counterfeit goods, stolen cars, a $60m shoulder missile deal. We are discussing a conspiracy to build a meth factory in North Korea and I’m purchasing the super note, a North Korean manufactured counterfeit $100 US currency bill that is nearly undetectable by the naked eye, so I’ve got a lot of balls in the air that I’m trying to keep balanced.

NARRATOR: Just your average week at the office, then. But the stress of keeping three separate undercover operations moving, of living inside three distinct covers, was beginning to mount.

BOB HAMER: And within a week of the NAMBLA case going down, I ended up having an attack of ischemic colitis. I end up in intensive care.

NARRATOR: Bob Hamer is not the kind to dwell on the physical impact that a job like this can take on a person – and much less the emotional one - but his infiltration of NAMBLA had left him burnt down to a nub.

BOB HAMER: I spent four days in the hospital, two days in intensive care. At one point I’m laying in the intensive care room and I hear them call for a crash cart to room 26 and I’m literally thinking: ‘Boy, somebody’s in trouble.’ And the crash cart shows up in my room. They’re looking at me, and my pulse has gone down to 26.

NARRATOR: Even as he lay there, as close to death as he’d come on any of his many undercover operations, Bob only had one thing on his mind.

BOB HAMER: I literally prayed, and I said: ‘Y’know God, if it’s my time then it’s my time, but if I die you’re going to screw up three pretty good cases that we’ve got going.’

NARRATOR: It seems that someone upstairs was looking out for him. Bob was released from hospital on the Monday. On Friday, he was due to collect three NAMBLA members from the San Diego airport. He was worried that his silence over the days had left them spooked.

BOB HAMER: When I finally get home from the hospital, I email everybody and tell them that I’ve had a medical emergency but I’m doing okay and come hell or high water I’m gonna make this trip to Ensenada, so the trip is still on.

NARRATOR: David, the flight attendant, Todd, the dentist, and Paul, the bodybuilder, arrive in San Diego. The group of four tourists are to stay one night at an airport hotel, before embarking on a life-changing trip in the morning. In Los Angeles, four more NAMBLA members are to be picked up by Bob’s colleagues in the FBI and arrested on the docks. Now, Bob simply had to sit back, and watch the show unfold.

BOB HAMER: So now we’re playing the game. The boat was supposed to take off in Los Angeles early in the morning. The four of us, the three NAMBLA members and myself, had had breakfast in San Diego at the hotel. My case agent in Los Angeles called to say: ‘Okay, the four people showed up and we’ve arrested everybody.’ So, we’ve got four in custody now. They’ve fulfilled the elements of the offense by attempting to get on the boat.

NARRATOR: Four predators in cuffs 120 miles up the road. You have to imagine that Bob Hamer allowed himself a smile on receiving that call.

BOB HAMER: Now I tell the three - David, Todd, and Paul - that I just heard they got on the boat. The boat is heading down here. It should take three hours to get to the port here in San Diego.

NARRATOR: Bob and the three NAMBLA members nervously scratch away at the remaining hours of the morning. For Bob, these are the final moments of a three-year long investigation. For his guests in the hotel, it will be their final morning of freedom for a long time to come.

BOB HAMER: We waited about three hours, then I get a phone call. The arrest teams are in place down by the dock. I tell them that the captain called. The boat is going to be there in about half an hour. Let’s load up all the bags in my car and let’s drive.

NARRATOR: Three pedophiles and an undercover agent pile into a car for a short drive to the docks.

BOB HAMER: And now as the four of us get out of the car and we’re walking in the rain. As we’re walking toward the dock, I hear that sound that every undercover agent loves to hear: ‘Halt, FBI! Put up your hands, you’re under arrest.’

NARRATOR:
This is the moment you have been waiting for. Drink it in, Bob Hamer. You’ve earned it.

BOB HAMER: I’m gonna admit the truth here. I put on a show. When they said ‘FBI you’re under arrest’, I sort of threw out my crutch, sort of let out this unmanly scream, and acted like I was fainting, and one of my buddies from the SWAT team ran over and caught me before I fell on the ground. But once they put me in the back of the car and pulled away and I saw everyone else and I could see total dejection on their face and knew that they knew that this all had gone wrong and they’d been caught up in a sting Operation. They still didn’t know that it was me, but they knew that they’d been arrested by the FBI, and that they were in violation of the law and their lives were going to be changed.

NARRATOR: Bob Hamer’s infiltration of NAMBLA yielded eight convictions: the seven who conspired to travel to Mexico to engage in sex with minors as well as the ordained minister who supplied Bob with child pornography. All but one pleaded guilty. Only Sam Lindblad, the twice-convicted offender, went to trial, where he was sentenced to 30 years. Now, as Bob Hamer looks back on one of the final cases of a life spent undercover he realizes just how much of a toll this investigation took on his life. He spent three-and-a-half years alone amongst the wolves with no one to turn to.

BOB HAMER: My wife made it pretty clear from the beginning of this investigation that she didn’t want to hear about this. We’d see a psychologist every six months in the undercover program but I was fearful of telling the psychologist how this was affecting me or how I felt, because in reality I wanted to kill them all, and I knew that if they knew that, they were going to pull me off the investigation.

NARRATOR: But what’s most remarkable, perhaps, about this whole investigation was that Bob Hamer managed to cling to enough of himself to keep his spirit intact. He even had a little fun with it from time to time. Take the Christmas card he sent out to all his NAMBLA pals halfway through the investigation.

BOB HAMER: I actually had an FBI blanket, and one Christmas my wife took a picture of me. I’m sitting in front of the Christmas tree with my walker because I’m handicapped. I have the blanket over my knees but I have the FBI blanket folded in such a way that if you know the FBI seal you recognized this as being the FBI seal.

NARRATOR: Even in a world as depraved as this one, Bob Hamer wanted to look his enemy in the eye and feel the thrill of the near miss.

BOB HAMER: It was just one more opportunity for me, I guess one more notch on my coup stick, for me to get close to them, and touch them and they don't realize that they’re being targeted by the Bureau.

NARRATOR: I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join us next week for another brush with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former head of training at British intelligence, for free now at SPYSCAPE.com.


Guest Bio

Former FBI special agent Bob Hamer worked undercover for most of his 26-year career on cases involving organized crime, gangs, terrorism and child exploitation. He posed as a residential burglar, fence, pedophile, gambler, weapons dealer and white-collar criminal. Hamer’s infiltration of NAMBLA gave him the most pain and the most satisfaction, and led to the arrest of eight members.

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