Lynda Albertson, 'Policeman, Antiquities Smuggler, Black Market Cigarette Bootlegger, Arms Trafficker, Terrorist: A Snapshot of the Many Faces of One, Greek, Organized Crime Cell', ARCA blog January 25, 2015) has an interesting post on the problems of investigating organized crime links with art crimes components.
Sometimes researchers are able to draw detailed maps of criminal enterprise that fuels the illicit art and antiquities trade and other times investigations lead us down windy roads to nowhere, or at least to places where gathering further evidence is not likely and possibly dangerous.She discusses in a well-referenced story full of fascinating detail reports in the Greek news bureaus discussing a series of startling arrests, some involving suspects who allegedly "liked to mix a little art and culture with their organized crime activities". Her purpose is to illustrate that organized criminal enterprise can have many diverse elements and sometimes significantly and sometimes casually art crime plays its own part. This does not necessarily mean that these organizations are actually funded by antiquities smuggling.
My point is merely to underscore, in a thought provoking way, the complexity of criminal behavior and that traffickers, especially art traffickers, are not always tie-wearing antiquities dealers with glossy Geneva free ports and warehouses. Some art criminals are simply opportunistic criminals. They are incentivized to smuggle whatever illicit commodity has a willing buyer. The type of “merchandise” isn’t important. The contraband could be art and antiquities, or drugs and weaponry. The sole criterion is that the enterprising criminal has access to a willing buyer and a steady supply stream of merchandise that supports his market’s demand. I mention this because I think it is important, when examining organized crime and terrorism and its potential connection to antiquities smuggling, that researchers not to fall into the trap of feeding the media’s insatiable desire to see actuarial percentages that calculate the risk, size, percentage, threat, motivation or impact of a specific subset of organized crime, be it terrorism, arms trafficking, cigarette bootlegging or antiquities looting. When we do, we allow the media to skim over the complexity of the subject in exchange for scary headlines that superficially skim the surface and are often based on estimates. By the same toke art crime researchers should be more comfortable with admitting to journalists “I can’t answer that” or "there is not enough evidence to confirm links between art smuggling and terrorism" in cases [...] when there is not enough proof available to satisfy the hypothesis.She gives a link to an online text by criminologists on the complexity of quantifying organized criminal behavior which also sadly underscores that "despite having been written more than ten years ago, we are still wrestling with the same problems where organized crime information gathering is concerned":
The sad truth is that even today conclusions are too-often drawn based on too few cases and estimates rather than harder-to-actually-substantiate data giving the media tantalizing conjecture rather than providing much in the way of concrete evidence regarding a specific subset of criminal enterprise. Part of the reason for this is that researching the mechanisms behind organized crime and any illicit trafficking market is a potentially risky endeavor. Global Initiative estimates that 35% of the journalists killed in the last ten years were reporting on organized crime or corruption. And no matter how firmly experts researching organized crime disclaim unrealistic estimates or over-reaching assumptions it will always be, at best, an imprecise science by its very nature. Measuring something as complex and elusive as organized crime, or specifically organized crime with art-related offenses would require law enforcement to develop a conceptual and theoretical framework that permits the police to gather data on and then measure the types of art crimes in a more meaningful way.