Wednesday, 29 October 2014

US Brigadier General Urges Proper Antiquities Market Transparency

 "The antiquities market has always been difficult
to regulate, even in peaceful times, but with no effective 
law enforcement presence on the ground to discourage looting, 
this activity is sure to continue to rob the world of some
 of its richest cultural history—while funding one of the
 world’s most abhorrent terrorist organizations".

Now the US military is joining the academics in condemning the use of antiquities sales to finance armed aggression in the Near East: Brig. Gen. Russell D. Howard U.S. Army (retired), Jonathan Prohov and Marc Elliott,* 'How ISIS Funds Terror Through Black Market Antiquities Trade',  US Naval Institute News October 27, 2014

The authors write that ISIS has gone far beyond traditional sources of financing, such as private donors and money laundering, which has made U.S. and coalition efforts to target illicit financing activities less effective. ISIS enjoys a diverse income stream  and that "illicit trafficking of all kinds" in "humans, weapons, and commodities, such as oil" are more reliable and profitable than foreign donor money, and make ISIS financially self-sufficient. ISIS is trafficking in art and antiquities to finance its operations is potentially capable of raising tens of millions of dollars of revenue. While exact data figures concerning this clandestine market are difficult to come by the authors claim there is evidence (what?) that antiquities trafficking is now thought to be the group’s second largest source of revenue, after oil. The profits from antiquities sales may however become increasingly critical for ISIS because of actions by the U.S.-led coalition to target ISIS-controlled oil fields and refineries, and a crackdown on external sales.

The article goes on to detail how the looting is organized (local sources: "looting is now the second-most common occupation in areas under ISIS rule"). The khums tax is mentioned. As is the seizure of memory sticks before the collapse of Mosul and the 'al-Nabuk / $36 million revenue' case gets mentioned again. See my earlier comments expressing caution on such statements and Hardy recently on the 36 million.
These looting and trafficking operations are nothing new. Organized crime in Iraq has been profiting from the exploitation of antiquities since the early 1990s, and following the 2003 US invasion, extremist groups worked with looters to develop what became a massive illegal industry. Many of the earlier looters and trafficking networks are once again flourishing, some of which had direct ties to al Qaeda in Iraq—the group from which ISIS evolved. [...] Anecdotal evidence also indicates that ISIS is leveraging well-established organized crime networks to traffic artifacts to countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, where the items are exchanged for cash and weapons before being sold to international buyers. In Lebanon, ISIS takes requests for specific types of antiquities that are then looted and delivered
The 'cultural cleansing' of newly-occupied areas is another sinister but effective strategy for extremists
These demolitions occur only after a systematic looting of the goods found inside, which allows ISIS and others both to profit from selling the valuable artifacts and to advance their brand through the media coverage of these cultural atrocities.
There is a little bit of the military mentality here, unquestioning acceptance of what they've been told (the "second largest source" trope is especially suspect). I think however the respect that there seems to be in the US for men in uniform is a useful tool in getting the message across to the wider public. It is time do do something about the no-questions-asked antiquities market as this is not the first, nor will it be the last, time profits have been raised through it for  socially-damaging activities through illicit antiquities sales.

Russell D. Howard is the Senior Fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Jonathan Prohov and Marc Elliott are graduate research assistants at the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program (MonTREP) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Their research on the nexus between trafficking and terrorism is sponsored by the Bradley Foundation.

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