Friday 13 June 2014

National Geographic and the Terrorists

The National Geographic twitter feed is announcing darkly "New evidence ties illegal antiquities trade to terrorism", with a link to Heather Pringle's recent article"New Evidence Ties Illegal Antiquities Trade to Terrorism, Violent Crime" mainly based on research by the Glasgow-based Trafficking Culture project into Cambodian statue theft and so on. She writes "blood antiquities may well be helping to finance terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere". They may well be, but this seems at the moment to be mainly journalistic hyperbole. It would seem some hope to link the fight against antiquity trafficking with the nebulous idea emanating from Bush's America of the "fight against terrorism" to give it "relevance". I am not 100% convinced this is a useful tactic, the evidence for such generalizations is rather thin on the ground - which does not of course mean it's not taking place. The antiquity market and its allies stubbornly resist even the notion that this might be the case.

Readers of the blogs of the dugup dealers will remember the excitement caused in such circles when at a Committee for Cultural Policy's roundtable on "Reform of Cultural Property laws" at the National Press Club on April 30th 2014,  former senior Homeland Security Agent Jim McAndrew stated that while in government service, he did not see any real, actionable connection between terrorism and the antiquities trade. That Mr McAndrew found nothing "actionable" taking place in the US however does not negate the model, we all know that the US authorities generally focus on seizing objects and sending them back after a photo-op on the special repatriation ICE tablecloths, rather than investigating the criminal networks which led to them arriving in the USA. If they neglect such investigations, then Mr McAndrews really does not know the first thing about who the money from their sale has been going to.

I am a bit dubious about the claim made in this article from the logistic point of view.  The research by the Glasgow Project folk emphasised how the money is made only higher up the chain of commerce in illicit antiquities. I do not know where terrorists buy their guns, but a used AK74 seems to go for between $600-$1000 over here, let alone an RPG, some explosives for an IED or anything like that. This raises the question of at which stage (IF they do), terrorist get their gun-money and from whom. Is it really at the lowest rung of the network, where one whole statue (as in the example used) might get at the most two used semi-automatic rifles? Most of the 'evidence' cited in this chatty NG report is the same old stuff discussed (including on this blog) ad nauseam in the past few years, but none of it terribly conclusive. Nice propaganda, but I am beginning to wonder what it really means. 

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