Monday, May 18, 2009

Goosed by UNICRI

If to steal a book is an elegant offense, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I have just been goosed in public by UNICRI.

Looking for estimates of the value of the global illicit antiquities market, I found a paper presented by the Director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), in Turin, Italy. The Director presented a UNICRI paper on frequency and figures... (also published on the director's website), at a UN-run, international conference on organised crime in art and antiquities(1). Then I found out that the junior speech writer had plagiarised work I had published in a post on this research blog.

I thought it was a strange quirk of grammar or style when the speech writer (2008: 1) noted that,
Quoting the Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research: "The single largest source of destruction of the archaeological heritage today is through looting - the illicit, unrecorded and unpublished excavation to provide antiquities for commercial profit",
without giving the full citation for Colin Renfrew's observation.

When I checked, however, I realised that she was not quoting Renfrew's oft-quoted book:
The most significant cause of destruction of the archaeological heritage today is looting: the illicit, unrecorded and unpublished excavation of ancient sites to provide antiquities for commercial profit (Renfrew, 2000: 15).
She was copying and pasting, probably from either Saving Antiquities For Everyone (SAFE) or the BBC (but definitely not from the University of Cambridge's press release, because that contained a typo ('the most single source...')). Still, at least that was a limited quotation, presented as such, and the speech writer cited his/her source (albeit poorly); that would have been perfectly fine as a verbal citation in a speech (where allowances must be made for smooth, engaging speaking).

Unfortunately, there was worse to come. I knew some of the speech writer's (2008: 2) lines were eerily familiar, but I couldn't quite place them when I read them.
During the past several decades, however, the illegal market in art and antiquities has become transnational in organization. There are a number of major transnational markets in illegal goods, including drugs, weapons, sex slaves, illegal immigrants, precious gems, and automobiles.... For example, according to the U.S. Customs Service, the dollar value of time crime theft is exceeded only by drug sales; Scotland Yard in London estimated art theft around the world at £3 billion in the early 1990s; the Federal Bureau of Investigation which calculated the size of the illegal art market (including both art and antiquities) at about $5 billion in the 1990s, currently gauges the art theft market at about $6 billion.
They had been hiding in the light. When I checked, I confirmed that those words were copied and pasted from David Lane et al's (2008: 243-244) article on the transnational organization of art and antiquities theft, which I had been reading shortly before I found the UNICRI speech and, indeed, still had open in Adobe Acrobat. We might judge the speech writer lazy for copying and pasting that much material from other people's work, but we should acknowledge the effort she made to delete Lane et al's own citations from the passage. There was no hint that these were not her own findings, in her own words.

Yet it was only when I read her (2008: 9-10) exploration of the links between the illicit antiquities trade and terrorism that I was certain that something was very much amiss (and went back and checked the passages cited above):
In some places, however, at the higher levels, the illicit antiquities trade funds war, oppression and terrorism directly, through its own profits, and indirectly, through its facilitation of drug smuggling and its laundering of money from drug smuggling, gun running and people trafficking. Looting and smuggling are run by paramilitaries, militias and extremists, allied with elements within states' bureaucracy and military, and it will not be stopped by rescuing the looters from poverty, because the paramilitaries' and extremist groups' illicit activities require illicit funding. They cannot practically or morally be provided with an economic alternative and they will continue to supply the antiquities market as long as there is a demand....

U.S. investigator Colonel Matthew Bogdanos had already explained that 'as we pursue leads specific to the trail of terrorists, we find antiquities', but recently reiterated that the Iraqi illicit antiquities trade funded extremists, that 'the link between extremist groups and antiquities smuggling in Iraq was "undeniable"': "The Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan.... Well, they don't have opium in Iraq," he said. "What they have is an almost limitless supply of... antiquities. And so they're using antiquities." Antiquities smuggling is necessarily a secretive business, all the more so at the higher levels, where the smugglers are paramilitaries, militias and extremists, so finding out who is smuggling what, where and how is obviously very difficult. The antiquities trade, however, is tied to the drugs trade, so if we can identify the drug traffickers and follow them, we can identify the antiquities' routes and the antiquities trade's contribution to war, oppression and terrorism.

The primary transit-and-market countries 'laundering' illicit antiquities and receiving the stolen goods, thus ultimately funding the entire process are the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Switzerland; moreover, because they provide tax deductions for donations of private objects to state collections, the states themselves subsidise and underwrite the market with public money.
It was copied and pasted from my blog post on the illicit antiquities trade: source, transit, market, mafia.

As for the paragraph I cut out in the middle, the speech writer had copied and pasted that from an article I had cited elsewhere in my post. I would say that it had been cited (albeit very poorly, by title alone), but for the fact that she cut off the end of the sentence that revealed the source of the quote, '[blah blah blah], experts have told GSN [Government Security News]' (de la Torre, 2006: 1; 10).

Googling various passages, it is apparent she also copied from Alex Barker, Blythe Bowman (repeatedly), the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre (IARC) (repeatedly), INTERPOL, Lisa Jardine, SAFE, UNESCO (repeatedly). In fact, "her" paper (more than 4,300 words long, perhaps taking half-an-hour to read to an audience) was effectively entirely other people's work, her words only joining together other people's paragraphs and pages.

What can I say? I'm honoured to have my work so highly valued by such a distinguished authority? At least, I am honoured to be in such distinguished (if numerous) company.
  1. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has a Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme (CCPCJP), which has an International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council (ISPAC), based in Milan, Italy.
De la Torre, L. 2006: "Terrorists raise cash selling antiquities". Government Security News, Volume 4, Number 3, 1; 10; 15. Available at:

Hardy, S A. 2008: "Illicit antiquities trade: Source, transit, market, mafia". Human rights archaeology: Cultural heritage and community [weblog], 20th May. Available at:

Lane, D C, Bromley, D G, Hicks, R D, Mahoney, R S. 2008: "Time crime: The transnational organization of art and antiquities theft". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Volume 24, Number 3, 243-262.

Renfrew, C. 2000: Loot, legitimacy and ownership: The ethical crisis in archaeology. London: Gerald Duckworth and Co. Ltd.

UNICRI. 2008: "Frequency and figures of organised crime in art and antiquities". Paper presented at the ISPAC International Conference on Organised Crime in Art and Antiquities, Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy, 12th-14th December. Available at:

[This post replaced another (on the 3rd of July 2009), after I got more information.]

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