ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She scrolls through photos online of women and girls in various stages of disrobe and degradation, apologizing now and then for the graphic nature of what I am seeing.
Their faces are contorted in what I assume to be expressions of enticement, but they seem more sad than sexy, more resigned, the eyes vacant and dilated.
Many of the photos show no faces, these women and girls reduced to body parts.
Kara Smith spends hours going through these photos and the social media sites from which they came. She knows some of the females by name, has followed some for years. She knows where they live, where they travel, what they eat, the slang they use, the tattoos they are branded with, the tattoos they have tried to cover.
She knows they are enmeshed in the dark, dirty world of human trafficking, and that the internet is a breeding ground for traffickers, who find their prey and ply their trade online.
For Smith, who tracks down these traffickers, the internet is her hunting ground.
Her dedication to her work has earned her the nickname Kara the Huntress.
“Some people say I’m like a bulldog at what I do,” said Smith, who is wearing a T-shirt that reads “I Eat, Sleep, Hunt Human Traffickers.” “I have a strong need to hold people accountable for their actions and that’s why I’m doing this.”
She is also doing this because underneath the tattoos and the tawdriness are human beings.
“Human trafficking should be an unbiased issue that everybody should care about because it’s slavery, yet it’s happening under our noses,” she said. “Who’s out there saying Me Too for these girls?”
Smith is the senior targeting analyst for DeliverFund, a nonprofit intelligence agency dedicated to fighting human trafficking by providing the intelligence and training needed by law enforcement officers to take down the traffickers.
The company was founded in 2014 in Albuquerque by former CIA special agent and Air Force pararescuer Nic McKinley.
Although it has since moved its main headquarters to Dallas – taking over the building once inhabited by Backpage, the giant online personal ad service it helped shutter because the service was found to be enabling prostitution and human trafficking of girls – DeliverFund still maintains an office in Albuquerque.
This is where I meet Smith, though she is often traveling across the country to assist law enforcement agencies. Earlier this month, she was in Miami assisting in a major anti-trafficking operation connected to the Super Bowl.
Smith has a unique skill set that makes her perfect for this unique organization. She served as an intelligence analyst in the Air Force for six years, deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq to track down terrorists. She also worked in a similar vein for the National Security Agency, then with the FBI monitoring the terrorist watch list.
“You wouldn’t believe the behind-the-scenes work it takes to keep this country safe,” she said.
She left the job to raise a family in Albuquerque. But after two years as a stay-at-home mom, she was ready to go back to work.
That’s when McKinley found her profile on LinkedIn.
“Nic says to me, ‘Do you want to hunt human traffickers?’ ” she recalled of their conversation in August 2017. “My response was, ‘Hell, yes.’ ”
Hunting traffickers is not that different from hunting terrorists, she said.
From her laptop, she uses state-of-the-art technology and software to hunt down identities and locations of the traffickers who exploit girls and women for sex. Among the arrows in her quiver is Platform for the Analysis and Targeting of Human Traffickers, or PATH, a program created by DeliverFund that can, in minutes, provide law enforcement agents with a CSI-style web of names, locations, past criminal history and connections to other cases in various jurisdictions using the largest database of human trafficking cases in the country.
“If you touch anything online, I can find you,” she said.
Smith and DeliverFund have worked with local law enforcement, including the Attorney General’s Office, Albuquerque Police Department, the Department of Homeland Security in Albuquerque and they are just beginning to work with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department.
Last summer, DeliverFund lent its expertise in busting a sex-trafficking operation at the Best Choice Inn on East Central, resulting in the arrests of three accused traffickers who had been making tens of thousands of dollars by selling drugs and as many as 17 women for sex.
Smith said she can leave behind her job when she is busy being a mom.
“I know how to compartmentalize,” she said. “And when I really need to clear my head, a quick trip to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe always does the trick.”
And then she is back to the hunt.
“I really enjoy my job,” she said.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.