Mark Durney points out that the Lopez hypothesis about a lack of evidence that organized crime is involved in art theft "runs counter to what a number of other cultural property law enforcement investigators, including former members of the FBI's Art Theft Program, have suggested to me".
The article "The FBI Art Theft Program and Its Impact on Collecting: A Report from FBI Special Agent Robert Wittman and the Editor," which was published in the The American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin 93 (2005), supports the claim that organized crime's involvement in art theft is not limited to only a few isolated cases. The Editor, who was furnished with a description of the FBI Art Crime Team
operations by former Agent Wittman, writes, "Russian officials have advised the FBI that over forty Russian organized crime groups have been identified as dealing in stolen art and cultural property." It continues to describe an "isolated case" from 2002 that involved the recovery of $50 million worth of art and the arrests three men, who were seeking to sell the art to an Eastern European criminal organization. Accordingly, I am interested to know who is floating the "fanciful theories regarding the methods and motives behind art theft"?
He then refers to my earlier blog post (I may regret the use of the phrase "the art of antiquities theft") and points readers to Neil Brodie et al. 2000 for more information.
Finally, for an in-depth, criminological study of organized crime's links to art crime I suggest reading A.J.G. Tijhuis "Doctoral Thesis: Transnational crime and the interface between legal and illegal actors: the case of the illicit art and antiquities trade," Leiden University, 2006.Tijhuis has a brief article "trafficking in stolen art, antiques and cultural property" in Shanty et al. 2009 (pp. 223-5).
Coming back to antiquities, the involvement of organized criminal groups in the trade in Chinese antiquities (and the fake antquities of varying egrees of sophistication produced in 'industrial' quantities) has long been a commonplace of discussions on the seedier side of the trade. The same goes for other Asian countries, such as in Cambodia where temple looters sometimes operate in large well-equipped groups. In Iraq too the involvement of organized criminal groups in looting museums and archaeological sites has been posited.
See also S. Manacorda (ed) Organized Crime in Art and Antiquities. Milan: International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme. I am sure there are a lot more considerations of this topic in the literature, these are just a few that come to mind at the moment.
One can understand the "art" trade's discomfort of having these links pointed out. Nevertheless it is going to take more than a single interview with a single FBI officer to "debunk" this issue. The no-questions-asked collecting of portable antiquities is deeply embedded in a network of links to all sorts of distasteful practices and groups which the money from indiscriminate collectors is going to finance.
Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Peter Wilson, 2000. Stealing History – The illicit trade in cultural material. Cambridge: Mc Donald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Gregory Elich 1994. Spoils of War: The Antiquities Trade and the Looting of Iraq
Centre for Research on Globalization
Frank Shanty, Patit Paban Mishra eds. 2007. Organized crime: from trafficking to terrorism part 1. ABC-CLIO.