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Hunting Warhead review

Production company – CBC

Rating –

A lot of the true crime podcasts out there are gripping tales of crime cartels and grizzly murders. Hunting Warhead is about neither of those things. It is, however, very gripping indeed. If I’d have seen this in the recommended list on my podcatcher, I would have passed on it. At the time I wasn’t listening to true crime shows. To be honest, I certainly wouldn’t have listened to a show about this subject. When I heard the trailer for it though I subscribed straight away.

What’s it about?

Hunting Warhead follows the story of Einar Stangvik. He’s a Norwegian white-hat hacker (an internet security expert) who accidentally discovers a network of people trading child abuse pictures. He joins forces with journalist Håkon Høydal to uncover the largest child abuse site on the dark web. Now obviously, this story will not be to everyone’s tastes and that’s fine. If you are upset by such things, and later on it does go into some very unpleasant details, this is really not the podcast for you.

From Einar’s initial discovery and meetings with Håkon, the journey takes them to Australia. There they meet with an international task force who are also trying to infiltrate the site and arrest those involved. This leads to some awkward moments early on. The two Norwegians have basically stumbled upon an ongoing investigation, and by wanting to go public are at risk of blowing the whole thing.

They soon realise they can work together to try and find the the ringleader of the whole network . A person known only as “warhead”. Obviously due to the nature of these people, they operate with the utmost secrecy. They also use very clever security measures so that should a breach occur, the members can escape without being caught. This means that the operation needs to work on multiple fronts all at once and the trap needs to snap shut with great timing and precision to maximise the damage to the network.

Is it any good?

I’m not sure if “good” is the right word to use. The story is truly gripping and is a real binge worthy series, despite what you may think at first. You find yourself really rooting for the people who spend their time trying to arrest those who distribute the most horrific material online, and who suffer psychological harm from willingly exposing themselves to this material in order to make arrests.

One of the main things you’ll take away from this series is the ethics of some of the methods that law enforcement use. Whilst the distribution of these images should obviously be stopped, the nature of the security these groups use mean that the only way in for the police is to share the exact material that they are trying to stop. That is one choice I’m glad I don’t have to make. Even though it’s for the greater good, I don’t think I could live with myself for doing it. Not that the task force were producing the images, but even so, just being part of that would be more than I could handle.

After the identity of “Warhead” is established and is subsequently arrested, there are interviews with him and his friends and family. It is at this point that the series takes a poignant and harrowing turn. Up until now it has been easy to imagine this faceless, evil figure looming over the dark web. This is the figure usually portrayed by the media for ratings and to provoke gut reactions. These interviews show the human side of him though. This isn’t done for any pity, or to gloss over the crimes. They do show though that you can never really know someone, and that is the really scary part. It also shows how little regard he had for anyone in his life and the depths he was prepared to sink to to satisfy his own needs.

Final thoughts

Obviously this series goes to some very dark places indeed. The subject matter is never glorified though, and the victims are treated with great sensitivity. This couldn’t be further from ambulance chasing or tabloid sensationalism, and is a testament to the professionalism of CBC and VG, who could easily have catered to that crowd. The sobering thought here is how easily people can seem to be one thing, even to family members, whilst being another entirely.

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