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Art Crime Team Training

Agents on the Art Crime Team meet each year for a weeklong training seminar. This year's session was in New York City.


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Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, FBI Art Theft Program: The FBI has worked on art theft cases, cultural property crimes, for many, many years. It far precedes the creation of the Art Crime Team.

In 2003, when the Baghdad Museum was looted, the U.S. government generally and the FBI in particular noted that there was a real need at that instant to have a rapid-deployment set of law enforcement personnel who could go in and know something about art, how to handle it, cultural property crime and how to investigate it.

Indeed, having a national investigative team has been very valuable in the successful investigation and prosecution of these cultural property cases.

[sounds of city traffic]

Slate 1: The Art Crime Team support agents on cases and provides annual training.

Slate 2: The most recent training was in December in New York City.

Magness-Gardiner: Once a year we bring them all to New York. And the nature of art crimes, cultural property crimes, is that they tend to be national and international. Thus it’s important for two reasons to get the agents to a single place once a year for training.

First, to provide them with some background in the business of art and art handling, conservation, art history, analytical techniques. But also to allow them the opportunity to speak to each other about their ongoing cases.

David Kice, Special Agent, FBI Santa Fe: So I’m learning not only how other agents have worked these cases from start to finish and taken them to prosecution. But then I’m also learning from experts in the art world about authentication and curation, both in terms of an art historical perspective and a scientific perspective.

Magness-Gardiner: There is a very profound cultural significance to these works of art. Sometimes they are Native American artifacts that need to go back to their tribal owners. In some cases they are masterpieces of art that have come from private collections and they go back to those private collections.

Geoff Kelly, Special Agent, FBI Boston: For the last eight years I’ve been the case agent for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery investigation.

There were 13 works of art that were taken. There were 11 paintings, a beaker, and the finial off a Napoleonic flag. Included in the 13 works of art was a Vermeer, which is one of only 35 Vermeers in existence, so that is an extremely valuable painting in and of itself, along with some Rembrandts, some Degas sketches.

Magness-Gardiner: Art crime has a special allure for the public. It may be because so many of these major heists have been visualized formally in the movies and there’s this glamour of Cary Grant or Pierce Brosnan as the thief who is highly cultured and gorgeous and has beautiful clothes and moves in a very high social setting. The reality, of course, is quite different. They tend to be burglars with no particular interest in art.

Special Agent Kelly: These items that are taken are part of our cultural heritage, and as such it’s important that we try and expend all available resources to get them back.