By John Kleberg
When I received my December issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, an excellent publication and always of interest, I was surprised to see a front page lead headline:
The illicit animal trade is surpassed only
by drugs and weapons trafficking.
Having operated on the premise and understanding that the theft of art and cultural property was the third most significant illicit trade, I wrote the publication on December 4:
“I was particularly interested in the story in the December issue on "Stolen Wildlife" by Professor Bergman. The cover headline "The illicit animal trade is surpassed only by drugs and weapons trafficking" caught my attention however, I was curious about the documentation to support the observation. The Department of State CRS Report for Congress, International Illegal Trade in Wildlife: Threats and U.S. Policy, updated August 22, 2008, notes "...at least $5 billion and potentially in excess of $20 billion annually..." It doesn't seem to mention that it is the third most significant category of illegal activity.
The US National Central Bureau of Interpol, Department of Justice reports, "The annual dollar value of art and cultural property theft is exceeded only by the trafficking in illicit narcotics and arms." This is broadly considered the case in the law enforcement community.
Is there another reliable source of the information in the article?
In response, I received the following:
Dear Mr. Kleberg:
Thank you for your recent letter regarding our article "Wildlife Trafficking" by Charles Bergman, which appeared in the December 2009 issue of SMITHSONIAN magazine. As requested, here is source for our cover line regarding illicit animal trade:
We greatly appreciate your taking the time to send us your comments and are forwarding them to Mr. Bergman and his editors.
If one looks at the noted United States Department of State site and the Department of Justice at the US National Central Bureau for INTERPOL web site:
it is evident that there is some lack of clarity as to the “real picture.” Noah Charney recently commented on that at the ARCA web site after we shared this detail. The point once again provides emphasis on the need for better and more comprehensive data on the frequency of art, artifact and cultural property crime.
It would be helpful if local law enforcement agencies in the United States would establish appropriate theft designations under NIBRS (National Incident Based Reporting System) for the theft of art, religious artifacts, cultural property and similar items and that the data be collected at the national level. In Ohio, under the OIBRS system, there is a classification under theft for Art Theft.
The opportunity for academic research is evident. The data collected would be most useful as efforts are made to combat this illicit trafficking in cultural property.