Former Army Ranger fought the Taliban, despises traffickers even more

Jeff Tiegs, left.

By Michael Ashcraft –

Ironically, they call it Skull Games.

Infamous pimp Iceberg Slim coined the term “skull games” for the psychological manipulation he used on prostitutes to maintain their submission. His mind games usually alternated between abuse and flattery.

Now a group of volunteers is hunting sex traffickers under the name “Skull Games.” To outwit a psychopath, they’re using online skull games to trick and trap them with some “counterinsurgency” internet detective work.

Skull Games – a non-profit group of ex-law enforcement, military and other civilians – meet up for training and tasking, both live and online. They stage hackathon-like events around the country for intelligence-gatherers to scour the internet to identify victims, whom they hope to free, and human traffickers, whom they hope to bust. The intel they glean they turn over to police.

“I fought the worst of the worst – Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban,” says former Delta Force commander Jeff Tiegs, who now leads Skull Games. “But the adversary I despise the most is the human trafficker.”

Tiegs is a Christian, as are a lot of the people on his team. But Skull Games is not an overt or exclusively Christian group; anyone with a heart to help victims, and the required skill set, can join. And people are joining fast; their last call for applications was deluged – 200 in 24 hours – and had to close.

Since starting in June 2023, Skull Games has trained 2,000 volunteers and poured more than 5,000 labor hours into internet sleuthing. The outcome so far: nine victims have been freed, 73 predators arrested and five missing children recovered. One predator was sentenced to 249 years, the group’s impact report states.

It’s serious business, but the marketing genius behind it dresses it up like a game. Volunteers are awarded points for making positive identifications: 15 points for unearthing a high school diploma or a sonogram image of a target, 300 for recognizing the same tattoo on multiple women, according to The Intercept.

Jeff Tiegs addresses a group about the harrowing realities of sex trafficking.

Volunteers use Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) tools to facilitate their work. Police and counter-terrorism use these same tools to detect and trace threats, as well as make arrests. This is why so many of the Skull Games volunteers hail from law enforcement and military. They have a heart to lend their expertise to track down sex traffickers, who by and large are eluding under-resourced police departments.

“Just as we tracked and understood ISIS and Al-Qaeda, we track traffickers. They’re hiding in plain sight,” Tiegs says. “The amount of information that can be pulled off of the open-source internet is enough to break the crime apart. Wherever there’s an online commercial sex economy where women and children are being exploited, we can see it and map it and identify it. We interdict these crimes.”

They can monitor social media, watch chat rooms and even track cell phone pings. Typically, they scan ads for sex and try to identify the women listed there with powerful tools like Cobwebs and facial recognition software, like Clearview AI or PimEyes. To get past the alias and find the real name, they pair the face with mugshots or sometimes even a driver’s license posted online, according to The Intercept.

It appears from reports that Skull Games doesn’t make these tools available to volunteers, but one must have access through their day job or an intelligence clearance.

Senior leaders of Skull Games

Such internet dragnet work is maddeningly time-consuming, like searching for a needle in a haystack. So most police departments don’t have the resources to track down every runaway. Without police hot on the heels of runaways, pimps can easily find them in the streets, sidle up to them, win their confidence, and start pimping them.

Jeff Tiegs founded Skull Games in an effort to ramp up his own war on sex trafficking by getting qualified people to help him.

Tiegs spent over five years in actual combat against terrorists, mostly in Afghanistan. He crept around buildings looking for terrorists to kill, while leaving innocent bystanders alone. When chasing a vehicle on the ground using a helicopter, he asked his comrades to “shoot around the children,” an extraordinarily difficult task that has become standard operating procedure of the Delta Force.

At home in America, he read the New Testament. While on duty in the Middle East, he read the Old Testament because its almost constant state of warfare resonated and ministered to him. He saw David as the Bible’s sniper. He points out that the New Testament ends with war in the Book of Revelation.

Jeff Tiegs in the gear you can buy to support Skull Games.

At some point during his unusually long stint in combat, Tiegs realized America was never going to win the war against terror; it would grind on inexorably and interminably. Was he comfortable with that? he asked himself. Yes, he was. Today, he’s still fighting an unwinnable war – against the traffickers. Nevertheless, it’s one that must be fought.

Some of the volunteers at Skull Games are former victims of sex trafficking. They went from being pimped to hunting pimps. One such lady, who writes her story anonymously on the All Things Possible ministry website, says she was trafficked from 2012 to 2016. Her pimp took her across state lines to avoid arrest and wouldn’t let her talk to her children.

Once, he got enraged and beat her for 15 minutes, leaving her with black eyes, fractured ribs and a split left ear. Finally she reached out to ATP ministries of Colorado Springs and became a collaborator with Skull Games. (ATP is no longer associated with Skull Games).

“The ability to recruit and groom victims is at an all-time high,” Tiegs told Channel 10 Tampa Bay news. “Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are riddled with predators. They are all over Minecraft and Roblox. They use mediums where you can share photos and videos. They are on Whisper and Scout, and they are on all the dating sites.”

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Michael Ashcraft teaches journalism at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. One of his students, who asked not to be named, helped research this article.