FBI Art Crime Team Marks 10-Year Anniversary
Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, manager of the FBI's Art Theft Program, discusses art theft, the National Stolen Art File, and the Art Crime Team, which was formed in 2005 to investigate thefts of art and cultural artifacts.
Over the last 10 years that I’ve been here we have dealt with literally everything, fossils to collectibles, including fine art, manuscripts, letters, archives, textiles, pre-Colombian to modern materials. Everything that you can imagine that has a cultural meaning is subject to theft or to fakery.
Here in the U.S. we are a market for all sorts of art. There is a big community of collectors, of museums, of individuals who collect art. But because we’re such a big market for legitimate art, we’re also a market for illegitimate art—illicit art—that is being brought in from other countries.
There’s a certain amount of glamour that’s been projected by Hollywood over the years. Looking at it as some very sophisticated thief going after some hugely important Renoir or a Matisse and spiriting it away from a museum or an important collection or a collector and then somehow magically being able to sell it. Whereas the reality is even if it is stolen, a famous painting that’s stolen is almost impossible to sell because everybody recognizes it’s stolen.
I think far more often and certainly in the United States, theft of a work of art happens when a regular burglar enters a home and takes anything of value he can see in the drawers, in the safe, on the walls. And he has no idea of its value, sometimes no idea how to get rid of it. He simply takes it because it’s worth something.
Having the National Stolen Art File online has been very, very helpful in two ways. First, the art that has been entered into the National Stolen Art File has been entered into it since 1979. So it has a depth in it.
The other one is it actually has generated a lot more interest in art theft, generally, and in due diligence in having dealers, collectors, individuals who are looking for art or are looking to sell art actually consult the file. And if they see a problem they call me or they e-mail me and we can try and resolve it.
My role has really been a supporting role. I provide information, training, I’m a conduit to expertise. I can find experts for the agents.
But really all credit to the agents. They are the ones who follow the leads. And I have to say they are the most dogged, determined, and persistent set of people I have ever met. Once they get their teeth into one of these investigations they will follow it to its logical conclusion.
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