INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FORCULTURAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
Reposted from the Evening Standard
The Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit, disbanded in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, has been re-formed after fears London was at risk from an increase in the theft and fraud of cultural items.
Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire on June 14 the entire art crime squad was disbanded and seconded to help with the inquiry.
Now the unit’s detective constables Ray Swan and Sophie Hayes have returned to the department joining new supervisor, detective sergeant Rob Upham. A third detective constable is due to join the team in the next few months.
Upham, speaking to Antiques Trade Gazette said: “We’ve already started instigating investigations, have already yielded one arrest and from another investigation have recovered two paintings, previously reported stolen.”
Upham recently joined from the Met’s Homicide and Serious Crime Command. The art crime squad had been without a lead since Claire Hutcheon left in March 2016.
A Met police spokesman confirmed that the “Met’s Art and Antiques Unit has been reformed” and a third team member will join as soon as possible.
Specialising in tackling the theft and fraud of cultural items, art and antiques, the unit is responsible for the London Stolen Art Database - cataloguing the details of 54,000 stolen works.
The unit has been temporarily closed in the past, for instance following the July 2005 bombings. However, this year there were fears it would be permanently closed due to budgetary pressures on the Met.
Speaking during the summer, former Met Police art crime detective Dick Ellis raised concerns of a "vacuum (being) left in Europe's largest art market".
He said the effective investigation of crimes relating to the “burglary of art and antiques, international cultural property theft, fraud and money laundering” are all directly impacted by the lack of a dedicated police unit. He highlighted that in contrast to the UK, the US had trained 400 officers since 2007 and the FBI has 16 special agents on its art crime team.
Six months on from the fire that claimed 71 lives, the Grenfell inquiry began a two day hearing this week to examine issues such as witness statements and timetables. The hearing of evidence will begin next year.
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Reposted from Computer Weekly
The new generation of cyber criminals increasingly resembles traditional mafia organizations, requiring a new approach to dealing with it, according to a report by security firm Malwarebytes.
Cyber criminals have the same professional organization as mafia gangs of the 1930s, but they also share a willingness to intimidate and paralyze victims, the report shows.
Malwarebytes’ analysis also shows that, in spite of acknowledging the severe reputational and financial risks of cyber crime, many business leaders greatly underestimate their vulnerability to such attacks.
The report calls for businesses and consumers to fight back by acting as “vigilantes” through greater collective awareness, knowledge sharing and proactive defenses. This includes a shift from shaming businesses that have been hacked to engaging with them and working together to fix the problem.
Businesses must also heighten their awareness of cyber crime, and take a realistic view towards the likelihood of attack. The vast impacts of these attacks, the report said, mean that cyber crime must be elevated from a tech issue to a business-critical consideration.
Malwarebytes’ data demonstrates the urgent need for such a shift in approach by highlighting the capacity of these fast-maturing gangs to inflict greater damage on businesses.
The new cyber mafia, the report said, is accelerating the volume of attacks, with the average monthly volume of attacks in 2017, up 23% compared with 2016. In the UK, the report said 28% of businesses had experienced a “serious” cyber attack in the past 12 months.
Ransomware attacks detected by Malwarebytes show that the number of attacks in 2017 from January to October was 62% greater than the total for 2016.
In addition, detections are up 1,989% since 2015, reaching hundreds of thousands of detections in September 2017, compared with fewer than 16,000 in September 2015. In 2017, ransomware detections rose from 90,351 in January to 333,871 in October.
“The new mafia, identified by our report, is characterized by the emergence of four distinct groups of cyber criminals: traditional gangs, state-sponsored attackers, ideological hackers and hackers-for-hire,” said Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of Malwarebytes.
“Through greater vigilance and a comprehensive understanding of the cyber crime landscape, businesses can support the efforts of legislators and law enforcement, while also taking matters into their own hands.”
Crime comes ‘full circle’
Malwarebytes argues that the growth of cyber crime and a lack of clarity over how best to police it is damaging victim confidence, with those affected by cyber crime often too embarrassed to speak out.
This is true for consumers and businesses alike, the report said, and can have dangerous ramifications as firms bury their heads in the sand instead of working to reduce future incidents.
The report suggests that the answer lies in engaging and educating the C-suite so that CEOs are as likely as IT departments to recognize the signs of an attack and be able to respond appropriately.
“The most damaging cyber attacks to businesses are the ones that go undetected for long stretches of time. In spite of high-profile occurrences over the past year, this report shows that many business executives may still have some knowledge gaps to fill,” said Kleczynski.
“CEOs will soon have little choice but to elevate cyber crime from a technology issue to a business-critical consideration,” he said.
The report concludes by looking at the future of cyber crime, arguing that the internet of things (IoT) will enable crime to come full circle, so that rather than a downtown shooting, executions can be enacted digitally – for instance, by hacking an internet-enabled pacemaker.
However, Malwarebytes believes that if such attacks can be foreseen, governments should be able to legislate against them.
The report concludes that knowledge, awareness and intelligence are the best weapons against the new gangs of cyber crime, and that individuals and businesses have to play an important role alongside law enforcement agencies governments and other bodies.
“Rather than sit back and minimize the blow from cyber crime, individuals and businesses must take the same actions that previous generations of vigilantes once did against the fearsome syndicates of their day: fight back,” the report said.
The report, The new mafia: gangs and vigilantes – a guide to cybercrime for CEOs, features original data and insight taken from a global panel of experts from a variety of disciplines including PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Leeds University, University of Sussex, the Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling in India and the University of North Carolina.
Reposted from Mail & Guardian
The national museum of the Central African Republic has seen better days.
Located on one of the diagonal dirt roads that bisect the boulevards in Bangui, the museum is housed in a ramshackle double-storey building that used to be the residence of Barthélemy Boganda, the country’s first president.
Today, the building is falling apart. The walls are cracking, the window frames are warped, and the cream and mud-brown paint job is peeling off. Worst of all, the roof leaks, endangering thousands of priceless historical artifacts.
It’s Abel Kotton’s job to preserve and, eventually, display those artifacts. He is the director of the museum, with a mandate to catalogue the collection, and turn the museum once again into a proud showcase of Central African history.
It is a daunting task. “This museum is the country’s ancestral heritage. It’s meant to bring the country together. But right now, it’s closed,” he said.
His office is on the ground floor, his simple wooden desk perched in front of a stone wall. The wall itself, patterned to resemble leopard print, is a relic of an altogether more ostentatious era.
Opened in 1966, the museum brought together items of artistic, cultural or archaeological significance from all 16 of the country’s provinces. But in 2014, as civil war broke out — an ongoing conflict — the exhibits were hastily boxed up to prevent looting or damage. The museum was shuttered and has yet to reopen its doors, despite the fading sign outside that proclaims that opening hours are from 9am to 3.30pm.
Kotton has a lot of work to do. “First, we have to fix the leaks. Then secure the windows. Eventually, we want to build a new foyer to welcome visitors, maybe a coffee shop for refreshments and a souvenir shop so you can buy something on your way out.
“And we need a website. Museums must be virtual these days. Have you ever heard of a museum without a website?”
Kotton estimates that the complete overhaul will cost 70‑million CFA francs ($126 440). “We’re looking for partners who can help us rehabilitate the museum,” he says.
The crates in which the collection was so hastily stored are upstairs. They look like oversized wooden coffins, and there are dozens and dozens of them. Many of the pieces inside have lost their labels; it will be difficult, if not impossible, to catalogue them again.
The few that have been unpacked, however, reveal an extraordinary wealth of history.
The artifacts include Puehl milk containers, traditional handmade rifles, a collection of cooking utensils from the marginalized Pygmy community and all kinds of traditional jewelry. There are one-of-a-kind tools, decorations and souvenirs from all over the country, and from each of its many ethnicities, all gathering dust and in danger of decay from being exposed to rain and humidity.
In one corner, a taxidermied gorilla stands tall; in another, the official imperial emblem of Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa leans casually against the wall.
“That’s why I won’t authorize you to take photographs up here,” says Kotton. “To have the imperial emblem on the floor like that strips the emperor of his dignity. We are working here to restore the dignity of our history.”
Outside, in the museum’s unkempt, untended garden, Kotton dares to imagines what his museum could become. “In time, this will be a proper museum,” he says. “People will be coming here from all over the country. Muslims, Christians — it doesn’t matter; they will come here to learn.”
But now, with so much work still to be done, Kotton’s vision feels far from reality. “The museum itself is a display case,” he says. “A display case for a country.”
As it stands, the national museum’s display is disorganized, damaged and in grave danger of further deterioration. It’s an all-too-apt metaphor for the country itself.
Reposted from St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A cybersecurity audit of five major St. Louis cultural institutions announced last year is facing delays due to, well, security concerns.
The board of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District approved moving forward with the plan in August 2016. It would test the vulnerability of each member institution — the Missouri Botanical Garden, the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Art Museum and the St. Louis Science Center — to cyberattacks by would-be hackers.
Private and public institutions globally are increasingly focused on the threat of cyberattacks, but testing their defenses presents its own security issues. Missouri Botanical Garden spokeswoman Katie O’Sullivan said information about deficiencies in an institution’s security systems “is highly confidential and could subject the Garden to hacking of our systems if generally distributed.”
The audit would evaluate the institutions’ information technology systems, the software already in place and current safety policies. But doing so would require a consultant to access information and systems that the institutions say could make them vulnerable if not handled properly.
“We’re happy to help and support this idea, but these are complex organizations,” St. Louis Science Center President and CEO Bert Vescolani said. “We just want to make sure we’re protecting everyone’s privacy in the appropriate way and doing all due diligence to get everything done that needs to get done.”
That includes protecting information on donors that the institutions wouldn’t want leaked, as well as information on the strengths and vulnerabilities of each of their cybersecurity systems. These and other issues have led to roughly a year of talks with consultant BDO USA, the five institutions and the ZMD Board, which divides $70 million in St. Louis city and county property tax money among the five institutions annually.
A final contract hasn’t been hammered out, but Zoo Museum District board chairman Thomas Campbell said it could be done before the end of December. On-site visits by the consultant would be made in the first months of 2018 and reports might be finished by midyear, Campbell said.
Some of the terms requested by the member institutions include limiting who has access to the results of each audit and terminating the consultant’s contract immediately once the work is finished. Representatives say these changes would cut the risk of leaks.
“We requested that the deliverables only be supplied to us so we can ensure they remain confidential,” Missouri History Museum spokeswoman Leigh Walters said. “Information related to our cybersecurity could be misused. If they present the information in a ZMD meeting, we asked that it go into closed session.”
O’Sullivan and Walters said Zoo Museum District staff informed the Botanical Garden and the History Museum that their requested changes were acceptable.
“We are awaiting a revised copy of the agreement from the ZMD which we plan to sign,” O’Sullivan said.
Most of the institutions already do their own cybersecurity assessments at least once a year, those interviewed said. Zoo spokesman Billy Brennan said the organization has cyber consultants testing their systems “on a regular basis.”
Brennan said the zoo is concerned about whether the ZMD audit unnecessarily duplicates services the zoo now gets from its consultants , but did not elaborate.
“We’re currently working with the ZMD to negotiate this agreement and since that’s where it’s currently at, it would be premature to talk about any details at this time,” Brennan said.
The St. Louis Art Museum would only provide one sentence in response to questions about its concerns with the cybersecurity audit: “The Museum regularly monitors its systems and is continually working to ensure the security of its data.”
Campbell said he expects the final contract to allay the institutions’ concerns. He said even the Zoo Museum District board will only see some of the findings by the consultant, while detailed reports on each member will be distributed solely to those institutions.
“We’ll have some information, it’ll be limited,” Campbell said. “But again, the interest is making sure these organizations are in no way inadvertently compromised.”
Reposted from SATPR News
Following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities (CPAA) group, in coordination with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DANY), three marble statues originally excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in Lebanon were repatriated to their home country. The Consul General of Lebanon in New York accepted the return of the artifacts on behalf of Lebanon.
“These three pieces have travelled through the underworld of art, being recovered here in New York. Now it is time that they are returned to Lebanon, their rightful home,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York. “The trafficking of cultural property and art is a lucrative criminal enterprise that transnational criminal organizations seek to partake of to make a profit; nonetheless, the cultural significance and worth of these returned treasures is beyond any monetary value.”
This year, HSI New York’s CPAA group, in a coordinated effort with DANY, seized several artifacts pursuant to search warrants and an ongoing joint investigation with partners in local and international law enforcement into the trafficking of stolen antiquities, including:
All of the items were seized pursuant to judicially authorized warrants, but were thereafter forfeited once the owners were presented with evidence that the artifacts had been stolen from Lebanon.
HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, specializing in recovering works that have been reported lost or stolen. HSI’s International Operations, through its 62 attaché offices in 46 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations.
HSI’s specially trained investigators assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also train investigators from other nations and agencies to investigate crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace. Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to 20 years, fines and possible restitution to purchasers of the items.
Since 2007, more than 8,000 artifacts have been returned to 30 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.
Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations →
Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.
Reposted from The National
The ancient marble sculpture had made its way from Lebanon to New York, via a well-trodden path of dealers and collectors.
And there it might have remained if it were not for a tenacious Manhattan prosecutor who spotted it in an old copy of House & Garden magazine dating from 1998 which featured homes built to show off art collections.
The caption described how the master bathroom was decorated with a “breathtakingly beautiful” marble torso.
A search warrant issued last month describes it in different terms: stolen property, a treasure excavated from a Phoenician temple.
It is now in the possession of prosecutors in New York awaiting repatriation to Lebanon.
It marks another success for Matthew Bogdanos, a real-life monuments man who spotted the photograph. His work as assistant Manhattan district attorney draws on experience gained in the US Marine Corps Reserves when he led an operation to recover thousands of antiquities looted from the National Museum of Iraq in the aftermath of the American invasion.
Then, he would tell journalists that he always kept four things in his rucksack — his weapon, ammunition, water and a copy of the Iliad, Homer’s epic account of the Trojan war.
It is an apt metaphor for a warrior trained in law and the classics who stands at the center of efforts to thwart the global trade in stolen antiquities.
And it was a copy of the Iliad, given to him at the age of 12 by his mother, that set him on his chosen course.
“It was identification with the Bronze Age Greeks and their values that led me to take up boxing, to join the Marines, to become a prosecutor,” Mr Bogdanos writes in his memoir, Thieves of Baghdad.
At the time, he was waiting tables at his parents’ diner in Manhattan, doing his homework in spare moments and eating leftover dinners.
He joined the Marines after school but was directed to attend college first so that he could become an officer.
He paid his way to a bachelor's degree in classics by learning how to count cards and then cleaning up at blackjack in the casinos of Atlantic City, before adding a master's degree and a law degree from Columbia University.
During his time at law school he interned for Harold Rothwax, a New York judge famous for his harsh tongue and matching sentences.
“From the moment I stepped in his courtroom, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Mr Bogdanos said in a 2003 interview.
He left the Marines after a decade in 1988, to join the Manhattan district attorney’s office. His stocky build and tenacity in prosecuting murderers and celebrities (including Puff Daddy) earned him the nickname “pit bull” in local newspapers.
He returned to the Marines after 9/11, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq, as part of a counter-terrorism unit, using forensic skills to trace banned weapons and track terrorist funding.
When he got wind of the damage done to the national museum in Baghdad he immediately offered to lead an investigation.
His senior officer told him not to worry if his inquiries led him to point the finger at US forces. “That pit bull thing you do in New York? You do that in Baghdad, and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
Among the missing items were some of the world’s most important archaeological treasures. They included the sacred Vase of Warka, a 5,000-year-old carved alabaster stone vessel.
Mr Bogdanos instituted an amnesty, promising a cup of tea but no questions for anything returned. That worked with amateur looters who felt entitled to anything left behind by Saddam Hussein’s vicious regime, but he also put together raids to recover objects stolen by organized gangs.
The Vase of Warka was returned after two months by three young men who lifted it from the back of a red Toyota.
Reporters beat a path to his digs inside the museum as they looked for a story that illustrated the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq and its reconstruction.
They found a captivating character, as likely to quote Cicero as a Samurai warrior in blunt, New York tones.
Back in civilian life and the work continues. Manhattan’s museums, auction houses and collectors put it at the center of the legal trade in antiquities, which also means it is frequently at the center of the illegal trade.
Some of the artefacts were removed from their country of origin decades ago; others have entered the market more recently, as ISIL sold looted treasures to fill its coffers.
In the past three years, at least $150 million (Dh550m) of treasures have been recovered, of which $3m have been repatriated.
In recent weeks, Mr Bogdanos and his team have seized a plundered Persian artefact valued at $1.2m from a British dealer at an art fair, a Roman marble torso of Cupid from Christie’s days before it was to be auctioned, and taken possession of a 2,300-year-old bull’s head sculpture from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Often the current owner believes they have lawful possession, only to discover later that they have unwittingly bought stolen property.
The bull’s head, for example, was stolen from Lebanon during its civil war. It was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon in 1967 but disappeared when storerooms in Byblos were looted in 1981.
It was Met museum staff who alerted authorities at the start of this year. It had been offered for display by its owner, who bought it from Lynda and William Bierewaltes, collectors in Colorado, who in turn purchased it in good faith for $1m in 1996. They bought it from a London dealer, Roger Symes, who was later unmasked as a key player in the illegal antiquities trade.
That trail led Mr Bogdanos to the 1998 special issue of House & Garden which included a photographic feature of the Bierewaltes’ home. There, in the tranquility of the designer bathroom, stood the marble statue of the calf bearer.
Both items are expected to be returned to Lebanon.
Reposted from Artnet News
At around 5:30 a.m. CET on November 20, firefighters and police were called to Santander and Cantabria’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Spain due to smoke billowing from the top of the building.
The blaze broke out on the top floor of the museum. Thankfully, none of the artworks in the collection—which includes Francisco de Goya‘s 1814 portrait of King Fernando VII—were damaged as the museum is currently undergoing renovations and works are temporarily stored in a bunker in the basement.
At around 10 a.m., Santander’s mayor, Gema Igual, tweeted that the blaze had been contained, writing: “The fire at MAS declared at dawn is under control. No one was hurt and the worker who was guarding the art collection is well. Firefighters are working on the inside on ventilation and searching for hotspots.”
About a dozen apartments in the block adjacent to the museum on Rubio street were evacuated, but residents have since been able to return to their homes.
As a precaution, the collection will also be moved to another safe location as soon as possible, while the rest of the museum is being examined. The cause of the blaze is as yet unknown but is being investigated by the city’s criminal police.
The museum has been closed to the public since February, while it is undergoing a €585,980 ($690,000) renovation project which includes roof repairs and the installation of an elevator to improve accessibility.
Reposted from The Washington Post
The gunman who killed more than two dozen people inside a Texas church this month lied when he registered as a security guard earlier this year, according to records released this week.
Authorities have said the gunman, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, was able to buy firearms because the Air Force failed to tell the FBI that he was convicted of domestic violence at court-martial. Because the Air Force never notified the FBI, Kelley was able to pass background checks needed to purchase weapons, which should have been prevented by his conviction.
Records released Monday show that Kelley also bypassed an application process that involved asking him to be forthright about his personal history, showing that in some cases involving people who seek firearms or employment, the systems rely in part on their honesty — and that lies are not always easy to catch.
Kelley’s life was full of red flags in the years before he attacked the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, using a semiautomatic assault-style rifle to kill 26 people gathered for Sunday morning services on Nov. 5. According to law enforcement officials and police and military documents, Kelley had threatened military superiors and relatives, escaped from a mental health facility, and had been accused of animal cruelty and domestic assault.
After the attack, Kelley exchanged fire with a local man who responded to the gunfire, then climbed into his car and fled, fatally shooting himself before police arrived.
In June, Kelley applied for an unarmed registration to be a noncommissioned security officer, according to his application. He was seeking work as a night security guard at a Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels, Tex., the company said. Kelley passed a Texas Department of Public Safety criminal background check before he was hired, a spokeswoman said.
His employment there was short-lived. Kelley was fired after a little more than five weeks — as the summer season was nearing its peak — because he was “not a good fit,” a spokeswoman said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which released the application, has described Kelley’s job as similar to a security guard at a concert. The duties included patrolling on foot and on a bicycle as well as providing security by standing at a post. The application released Monday shows that Kelley passed his background check, as Schlitterbahn said.
As part of the application, Kelley also was asked several questions about his personal history. Kelley wrote that he was not discharged from the military, which is untrue.
In 2012, Kelley faced an Air Force court-martial after he was charged with abusing his wife and her son, giving the toddler a serious head injury. He was convicted on two charges of domestic assault and served his time at a Navy brig in San Diego. (The Air Force does not operate prisons.) In May 2014, Kelley was given a “bad conduct” discharge with the duty title of “prisoner,” the Air Force said.
Kelley also wrote in his security officer application that he had not been convicted of a felony level offense or a Class A or Class B misdemeanor or equivalent offense. While military law does not classify crimes as felonies or misdemeanors, Kelley’s domestic-assault sentence was functionally a felony conviction, according to Geoffrey Corn, a former Army lawyer and professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston.
Kelley’s case has highlighted a problem with the FBI background-check system, which is missing millions of records of convictions and mental-health diagnoses that would keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands. As the security guard application also shows, these systems are fallible, asking people to submit honest information and then hoping any lies can be discovered. In Kelley’s application, he pledged that his information was accurate and agreed that he understood “any false statement made on this document or any other supplement . . . may result in criminal prosecution.”
As is the case with many teenagers, Kelley first encountered law enforcement officers through traffic stops. He received two tickets at age 17 for speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign, Comal County records show.
In August, John Donahue, a Comal County deputy constable, noticed an expired registration sticker on Kelley’s white Ford Expedition and pulled him over.
“The sticker had been expired for eight months, and then I found out he was uninsured,” Donahue told The Washington Post. “I towed his vehicle. He wasn’t happy about it, but he was just passive about it. It was kind of unremarkable.”
Donahue said Kelley used his cellphone to call a relative for a ride and declined to wait in the back of the patrol car, despite it being a “hot day in August,” Donahue said. He didn’t recall who picked Kelley up, nor does he know the family, though he lives nearby.
“He was not a happy camper,” Donahue said, “but he didn’t give me any cause for concern — no furtive movements, no verbiage, no threats.”
Donahue said the constable’s office doesn’t have in-car computers, so he would not have been able to see the county’s record that flagged Kelley for having psychiatric issues. Kelley cleared his tickets by bringing in proof of insurance and registration in September.
That Ford Expedition appears to be the same vehicle Kelley used to travel to the church and then flee after the massacre. According to court documents filed last week, after the church attack and the shootout that followed, law enforcement officials found the Expedition off the roadway.
Kelley had apparently toppled over after shooting himself, his head lying on the dirt outside his door while his legs remained on the floorboard inside the car. A pistol was found under his feet, while his iPhone was sitting nearby. Authorities have been unable to unlock the phone, but officials said this week that the FBI appears unlikelyto try to make a federal case out of forcing Apple to unlock the device.
Reposted from Niagara Gazette
From a student with an apparent obsession for his professor's Stradivarius to an art restorer with some very sticky fingers, members of an elite FBI squad scour the U.S., and even the world, to hunt down missing treasures.
Formed in 2004, the FBI's Art Crime Team, based in its New York City field office, has scored some incredible successes in the past dozen years.
"It's a very small percentage of what the FBI does," Special Agent Christopher McKeogh, told a gathering at the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University this past week. "But we have the support (of the bureau) to do what we have to do."
The FBI estimates that the losses from theft, fraud, looting and trafficking in art and cultural objects can reach billions of dollars annually. And those losses can range from hundreds or thousands of dollars for unsuspecting consumers looking to find a good deal on a painting or print online to millions of dollars for the victims of sophisticated thieves.
McKeogh recounted his involvement in the investigation of Robert Lui, who worked as a painter and art restorer for a large art wholesaler.
"So Lui retired (from working for the art wholesaler) and moved to Texas," McKeogh told his audience. "And shortly after that, (his former employer) found missing art work (from the wholesaler's collection) on Lui's eBay page."
The wholesaler estimated that he was missing about 150 pieces of art.
With evidence from Lui's web page showing that he may have taken the art, FBI agents prepared to raid his Texas home. McKeogh said his team went to execute a search warrant expecting to, probably, find more than 150 items.
"We brought enough supplies (to collect and seize) 300 items," McKeogh said.
Once inside Luiu's home, the FBI agents discovered 2,315 paintings, sculptures and other works of art taken from the wholesaler. The value of the stolen items reached close to a million dollars.
"Victims frequently have no idea of the scope of the thefts," McKeogh said. "Sometimes they don't keep good records or up-to-date inventories."
He suggested that folks who have a passion for collecting art, even if it's not of the multi-million dollar variety, use caution in their buying and maintain meticulous records.
"Here's a tip," he said. "When you hear 31 pieces of undiscovered art have suddenly shown up on the market, that means they're not real."
He said the art of modern painters, like Jackson Pollack, is more likely to be copied than that of Van Gogh or da Vinci.
"The old masters are rarely copied,"McKeogh said.
However, if your tastes run to older art works, McKeogh suggests you resist the urge to rely on forensic testing to determine authenticity.
"It tends to be very expensive and we've found that, if you spend enough, you can get someone to authenticate (the work)," he said. "Use the (paper records of the art work's origins and sales or transfers) instead. And beware anything you buy online. Don't buy (fine) art on eBay."
McKeogh said his team has had great success in recovering and returning plundered art work from World War II. Part of the reason for that, he said, was that the Nazi's kept lots of detailed paperwork on the art they stole.
Sometimes, McKeogh, said stolen treasures are recovered when the thieves die and relatives go looking for an appraisal of their ill-gotten goods. That was the case when agents found a missing 1734 Ames Stradivarius.
The violin had been swiped from violinist and educator Roman Totenberg, the father of National Public Radio's Supeme Court reporter Nina Totenberg, after a 1980 concert. It remained missing for 35 years.
That was when the ex-wife of former Totenberg student, Philip S. Johnson, discovered the instrument among his possessions following his death. She took the violin to be appraised and it was instantly identified as the Totenberg Stradivartius.
McKeogh and his team stepped-in and returned the violin, estimated to be worth $5 million, to the Totenberg family.
It's been restored and has even been played again, in concert by another former Totenberg student.
During a question and answer period, the audience peppered McKoegh with questions about the still unsolved and infamous theft from the Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The four-hour theft of 13 works of art, valued at around $500 million, is not being handled by the Art Crime Team.
Agents from the FBI's Boston field office are continuing to hunt for the two suspects who committed the crime.
None of the art taken from the Stewart Gardner Museum has been seen, or offered for sale, in the last 27 years. That led to a final question for McKeogh — Why take stuff you can't sell?
"That's the $64 thousand dollar question," he said with a smile. "You have these valuable items but what do you do with them? You can't sell them and they're so well known, you can't just hang them on your wall. I hope some day they'll be recovered."
Reposted from Defense Web
The United Nations Security Council this week focused its attention on global efforts to stop the traffic in and destruction of cultural property, with the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) setting out steps to protect cultural heritage and ensure it serves “as a source of belonging and peace for all people in times of conflict.”
In her briefing, recently appointed UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, highlighted the Secretary-General’s first report on the adoption by the Council of resolution 2347 (2017), which, among others, condemns destruction of cultural heritage and the looting of cultural property.
The resolution also encourages Member States to take preventive measures to safeguard cultural property in the context of armed conflict and “take appropriate steps to prevent and counter the illicit trade and trafficking in cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific and religious importance originating from armed conflict areas, notably from terrorist groups.”
“The adoption of 2347 of 2017 is a breakthrough and testifies to a new awareness of the importance of culture to respond to conflicts, to prevent radicalisation and fight violent extremism,” Azoulay said adding she is encouraged by Member States’ strong actions to implement it and other Council measures that together provide key aspects in the response against terror and hatred.
“In a short time span, 29 Member States shared information on new actions to protect cultural heritage, strengthen tools and training of specialised personnel, reinforced international co-operation and information sharing,” she said.
Calling these “positive signals of deep change,” Azoulay noted that more needs to be done.
The UN cultural agency chief pointed out of 82 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Arab region, 17 are on the list of World Heritage in Danger due to armed conflict.
“Over 100 cultural heritage sites across Iraq have been damaged. All six Syrian World Heritage sites have been severely affected, including Palmyra and Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world, now reduced to rubble.”
“In all this, I pledge again UNESCO’s determination to support Member States with the necessary tools and policy advice,” she said.
Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office, explained how terrorists, particularly in armed conflict situations, destroy not only lives and property but in targeting World Heritage Sites, they attack historical roots and cultural diversity.
“The goal is obvious – to undermine national identity and international law, Heritage constitutes a source of identity and cohesion not only for particular communities but the world community.”
He linked looting and illicit trafficking of cultural objects with financing of terrorism, noting a number of resolutions and legal frameworks to address these crimes.
“Protecting our cultural heritage requires us to make every effort to implement this international legal and normative framework by strengthening international co-operation,” he said, suggesting an “All of UN” approach as key for effective action.
He advocated stronger focus on investigation, cross-border co-operation and exchange of information as well as including private and public-sector partners to promote supply chain integrity and stop the illicit sale of cultural property.
“We must take the opportunity to strengthen efforts to better safeguard vulnerable cultural property in conflict areas, as well as pursue longer-term measures to prevent terrorists and criminals profiting from trafficking,” he said.
There was a need to help countries detect stolen cultural property and improve international co-operation in investigation, prosecution and adjudication of trafficking in cultural property cases.
“Only in this way can we protect precious cultural heritage from being lost forever,” he said.
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