Recently, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis, published a report titled "Assessing the illegal trade in cultural property from a public policy perspective." The paper's aim is to explore new ways of curtailing the illegal trade in cultural property. While it is refreshing to see a global policy think tank publish on the topic of the illicit trade in cultural property, I found that its authors could have investigated further in order to contribute new and innovative ideas to the international dialogue. Unfortunately, the paper's conclusions are really summaries of analyses that have been previously formulated by other scholars. To illustrate my point I have included comments along with RAND's conclusions in the following:
- (RAND) A coordinated international effort, with coherence across national legislation and policies, is necessary to combat the illegal trade. The existing differences in national policies are frequently exploited by criminals not just to transfer and eventually legitimise stolen property, but also to escape punishment and sanction. This point has been raised frequently in the past. The Conference on Organized Crime in Art and Antiquities sponsored by ISPAC, the Courmayeur Foundation and UNODC, which took place in Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy, on 12 – 14 December 2008 concluded that it is "crucial to foster high quality criminological research, economic studies devoted to the interfaces between licit and illicit markets, as well as coordination and sharing of national experiences and operational information." Also, the Conference participants called for "enhancing international cooperation in the prevention of these criminal activities, targeted attention should be devoted to judicial cooperation, money laundering and the liability of legal entities, as well as confiscation and harmonization of criminal offenses in this specific area." I raised similar points related to interagency and international coordination and cooperation in my paper titled "Art Theft Statistics: Valuable Tools in Need of Reliable Measures" in American Society of International Law's Cultural Heritage and Arts Review, Fall/Winter 2010, 56-63. From November 29 to December 2, NATO hosted an interagency Pilot Cultural Property Protection Course in Vienna, Austria with lectures by Dr Joris Kila, Chairman, International Military Cultural Resources Work Group (IMCuRWG); Karl von Habsburg, President, Association of National Committees of the BlueShield (ANCBS); and Dr. Laurie Rush, Cultural Resources Program Manager, and the CEMML Cultural Resources and ITAM Teams at Fort Drum, among other international leaders in cultural property protection.
- (RAND) The level of security for artworks in museums, galleries and public properties has been characterised as a major contributing factor to the existing levels of theft. This issue of security must be addressed in any reasonable response to the illegal trade. A few months ago, I reviewed a draft of an academic paper that led the reader to believe that museums were extremely vulnerable to art theft. Such a view on art theft is misinformed, unfounded, and likely perpetuated by heist films such as The Thomas Crown Affair and Entrapment. The art theft data I have compiled clearly indicates that museums, galleries, and public properties are less likely to be burglarized than private residences - when one considers how much better secured museums are than private residences (remote historic houses and local museums do tend to be more vulnerable to art theft than the well funded, urban situated museum). Museums typically have better defensive measures to protect against the risk of theft than archaeological sites and storage magazines. Looted and illicitly excavated archaeological artifacts constitute a much larger percentage of the illicit cultural property trade than objects stolen from museums. Accordingly, this policy conclusion appears to be inaccurate and misleading.
- (RAND) There is a pressing need for further research on the links between art crime and organised crime, terrorist groups and the drugs trade, which are all widely hypothesised in the literature but unsupported by concrete evidence beyond a small number of individual cases. The difficulties of establishing a robust empirical or theoretical basis for the connection between the illegal art trade and other illegal activity are in part due to the inadequacy of resources on and research into art crime more generally. This point has been examined and analyzed extensively by Mackenzie (2005), Tijhuis (2009), McCalister (2005), Proulx (2010), Chappell and Polk (2011), and me, among others.
- (RAND) In order to prevent situations whereby individuals or galleries purchase stolen art in good faith, there is a need for a legal mandate for all prospective buyers to consult a central registry of stolen art. Although a number of different databases of stolen art are in existence, there is no one central registry used by all parties in the legal art trade. By ensuring greater diligence in the maintenance and use of a central international database, the number of good faith purchases of stolen art could be reduced. This would also have the additional effect of making it more difficult for illegal traders to sell stolen works of art, making the enterprise less attractive overall. Likewise, this point has been raised by a handful of other scholars. I eagerly await the publication of an article that actually proposes a viable method for regulating the art market and implementing a central database. Someone should explain how the development and enforcement of such a system would be designed (e.g. through harmonization of national and international legislation as well as the coordination of international and national law enforcement agencies), financed (e.g. how would a taxation system be introduced and who would oversee it?), and maintained (e.g. how would the regulatory body operate?).
In their additional "Research Conclusions," RAND's authors claim that the field of research is limited in the following ways (again I have added my comments in italics):
- (RAND) The majority of the empirical literature dates back to the 1990s. As I stated in a recent Art Theft Central post, despite what some scholars have suggested the amount of empirical literature on the topic has grown rapidly over the past decade (refer to the post here for specific references). Currently, I am finishing an academic article that definitively debunks art crime's famous figures: the $6 billion estimate for the size of the annual illicit trade and the claim that it is the third or fourth largest illicit industry.
- (RAND) The majority of empirical research takes a regulatory approach to the matter, and less of a policy approach (looking, for example, at the role of training, databases, and so on). In reality, the most recent research has examined the role of training and databases (refer to my research for more information). In its annual "Attivita’ Operativa," Italy’s Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale regularly assesses its performance over the past year; examines the effectiveness of the preventive measures it took, which include training domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies, inspecting the security systems installed at museums, galleries, and archaeological sites, and monitoring the activities of the art market; and it contributes theft and recovery data. Similarly, refer to Davis, T. (2011). Supply and demand: exposing the illicit trade in Cambodian antiquities through a study of Sotheby’s auction house. Crime, Law, and Social Change, 56(2), 155-174 for an additional case study.
- (RAND) Given the international nature of this kind of criminal activity, research data are difficult to obtain due to the difficulties of dealing with multiple jurisdictions, differing attitudes to what constitutes art and inconsistent approaches to keeping statistical evidence on art crime. I would suggest referring to the Carabinieri's annual reports, Interpol's data gathered from its yearly poll, and my quantitative research for statistical evidence on art crime. Rather than highlight the dearth of statistics for art crimes, I have often utilized the point as an opportunity to call on law enforcement agencies to maintain and report statistics.
- (RAND) It is also hypothesised that art crime data are compromised by a lack of reporting due, for example, to the reluctance of museums and public properties to expose the vulnerability of their collections or the inadequacy of their in-house policies regarding the legitimate acquisition of cultural property. As more thorough research on the part of the authors would have indicated, this hypothesis has been made in countless publications before, including by Mackenzie, who examines how publicizing thefts can inspire more art thefts (2005). Also, I would argue that museums, galleries, and others are more likely to report art thefts today than they were in the 1970s when IFAR published its groundbreaking research on the topic and in the 1990s when Conklin published his book Art Crime.
Chappell, D. and Polk, K. (2011). Unraveling the “Cordata”: Just How Organized Is the International Traffic in Cultural Objects? In: Manacorda, S and Chappell, D (Eds). Crime in the Art and Antiquities World, New York: Springer, 99-11
Durney, M. (2010a). An examination of art theft, analysis of relevant statistics, and insights into the protection of cultural heritage. (Master’s Thesis). London, UK: University College London.
Durney, M. (2010b). Art theft statistics: a need for reliability. American Society of International Law Cultural Heritage and Arts Review Fall/Winter, 2010, 13–16.
Mackenzie, S. (2005). Criminal and Victim Profiles in Art Theft: Motive, Opportunity and Repeat Victimisation. Art Antiquity and Law, X(4), 353-370.
Manacorda, S. (2009). Organised Crime in Art and Antiquities (pp. 95–108). Milan, Italy: International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme.
McCalister, A. (2005). Organized crime and the theft of Iraqi antiquities. Trends in Organized Crime 9(1): 24-37.
Proulx, B.B. (2010). Organized criminal involvement in the illicit antiquities trade. Trends in Organized Crime, pp. 1-29.