Monday 28 January 2019

"Countering Looting of Antiquities from Syria and Iraq (CLASI)" Project

Countering Looting of Antiquities from Syria and Iraq (CLASI)
The Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TracCCC) at George Mason University in Washington DC (US) received the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism Grant for 'Research and Training on Illicit Markets for Iraqi and Syrian Art and Antiquities'. To create this 'Countering Looting of Antiquities from Syria and Iraq (CLASI)' project, TraCCC assembled a diverse team of experts that attempted to understand the illicit trade of antiquities from this region and offer practical solutions to law enforcement.
TraCCC conducted research to understand the illicit trade of antiquities out of Syria and Iraq with particular focus on links to terrorism and threat finance. This understanding was used to develop instructional materials and deliver training to international partners on the nature of the trade, investigating and dismantling it and combatting sources of terrorism funding. This work was done by a large and diverse group of experts in crime, antiquities, trade and terrorism; and across several language specialties.

The project took place from September 2017 to January 2019 and focused on the following activities:
1. Conduct 3 month survey of the online antiquities market, including the dark web to determine what can be known of the size of the market and who the players in the market are, as well as, values and locations as much as these variables can be established. Research will be conducted in English, Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic.

2. Produce a report on the state of the global trade of illicit antiquities for the U.S. Department of State.

3. Create training materials that can be used in training exercises on understanding the trade, how to combat it, links to terrorism, and case and financial investigations.

4. Deliver first round of training to international partners, as determined by the State Department.
The report is now available (dated Jan 7th 2019): 
Countering Looting of Antiquities in Syria and Iraq

It's all very interesting and informative, but the underlying premise is not examined. The whole escapade is financed by a grant from the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism to look at "terrorism funding" through antiquities. In the US, as has been pointed out by other writers, most notable Michael Press in recent months, it seems the definition of "terrorism" is very broad and unnuanced, has been politicised, and frequently misapplied. Conflict antiquities are funding violence in general, and not just actual terrorist activities. The problem here is that antiquities looting and commerce do not exist in a vacuum but are part of a wider reality. If someone sets out to study the antiquities by (instead of first examining the context properly), a priori imposing a single fits-all explanation of that reality, they are not only going to produced distorted research results, but also be powerless to provide real solutions to the problem they declare they are interested in solving. Basically what results is poor policy, the main result of which is not in fact to stop antiquities looting but simply further US foreign policy (see Michael Press How Antiquities Have Been Weaponized in the Struggle to Preserve Culture Hyperallergic  December 7, 2017)

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