Sounds of the Sahel

Sounds of the Sahel


Cultural heritage lies at the heart of the Sahel region, home to “the world’s largest collection of prehistoric art,” as French archaeologist and explorer Henri Lhote remarked in the mid-20th century [1]. More recently, the United Nations has described the Sahel as “[p]otentially one of the richest regions in the world with abundant human, cultural and natural resources.”[2] These include  Algeria’s famed Tassili-n-Ajjer rock art, just one location amid an estimated ten million prehistoric paintings and engravings throughout the Sahara.

A belt of dry grasslands located between the dunes of the Sahara to the north and tropical Savanna to the south, the Sahel region stretches across the African continent, and from east to west includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and parts of Southern Algeria. Far from a barren desert, the Sahel is home to ancient and diverse cultural wonders, including rich artistic and musical traditions and myriad UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Tomb of Asia, Mali. Photo copyright: OUR PLACE The World Heritage Collection via UNESCO.
Tomb of Asia, Mali. Photo copyright: OUR PLACE The World Heritage Collection via UNESCO.

Unfortunately, this region has also seen the determination and endurance of extremist groups and transnational criminal networks that extend far beyond one city or country and which have proven tenacious throughout the Maghreb, Sahel, and Sahara. While this piece is by no means an exhaustive look at the Sahel, it is intended as an important reminder that this region is threatened by the very extremists that have destroyed lives, culture, and heritage throughout the MENA region.

Showcasing stunning bucolic landscapes, exceptional ancient Malian adobe architecture, and the cultural vibrancy of the Sahel region, Oscar-nominated 2014 film Timbuktu explores the devastating effects of extremism on local communities. The film follows the story of a cattle herder and his family during the Islamist occupation of Mali around the year 2012. This juxtaposition of brutal violence amid pastoral idylls illustrates the tragedy that has befallen the Sahel and the ability of these groups to shatter livelihoods and destroy the tangible and intangible culture that breathes life into the region itself.

Niger has increasingly become a major crossroads in the renewed fight against extremism, as it is home to large-scale French and American military operations. In 2016, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) killed 30 people in an attack in Burkina Faso. Boko Haram continues to terrorize communities throughout Nigeria and in parts of Burkina Faso. Mauritania is another potentially upcoming hotbed of conflict and is a country to watch as the conversation expands beyond Niger, Mali, Tunisia and into other countries. The growing instability and terrorist threat in this region have not been lost on those in the counter-terrorism and foreign policy communities.

French soldiers patrol Timbuktu, Mali. Photo: Phillippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images.
French soldiers patrol Timbuktu, Mali. Photo: Phillippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images.

Keïta in the Capital

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta recently visited Washington, DC, where he gave a speech at the Brookings Institution on fixing fragility in the Sahel. President Keïta struck a positive tone on the country’s outlook, touting his years of experience in politics and diplomacy as an assurance that Mali would survive this trying period. Nevertheless, the country continues to rank among the world’s poorest, and instability, internal displacement, and the return of foreign extremist fighters threaten to prolong conflict throughout the broader Sahel region. Inherent in the President’s remarks, however, were countless mentions of the cultural fabric that stands to unite this region.

President Keïta was quick to mention the Timbuktu Renaissance Initiative, a heritage festival of sorts founded in the wake of a 2012 al Qaeda regional takeover that saw the banning of books and music–a profound tragedy in the country known as the birthplace of the Blues. The French military presence, along with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), were ultimately successful in regaining coalition control of the area in 2015, although terrorist attacks still occur after the peace deal. In October 2018, two U.N. peacekeepers were killed and eleven were injured in an attack in Mali.

Trafficking in the Sahel

From human trafficking to wildlife trafficking, in recent years this region has made international headlines as a hub for illicit trades. In 2015 during the attempted Islamist takeover of the country, Mali saw a significant uptick in elephant poaching. A recent study found that conflict in the Sahel had increased over 565% since 2011 and was in turn devastating the region’s biodiversity, a resource the Sahel cannot afford to lose.

Crime in the Sahel has skyrocketed since 2016. Source:
Crime in the Sahel has skyrocketed since 2016. Source:

The existence of established trafficking networks, combined with a significant rise in extremist groups and terrorist cells, could signal enduring risks to the region’s cultural heritage, which ranks among the world’s most unique [3]. Jeremy Keenan warned back in 2006, “there is scarcely a corner of the Sahara which has not been looted or vandalised…Extensive areas of the Sahara have been subjected to what can best be described as systematic ‘vacuuming’ by professional looters to such an extent that the archaeological landscape of much of the Sahara has not simply been damaged, but ‘sterilised’.” With the proliferation of armed ideologues throughout the region, we should care now more than ever about protecting cultural heritage and promoting peace in the region.

Who are the Players?

A diverse assortment of terrorist cells exist throughout the region, varying and vacillating in rhetorical extremes. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which itself has roots in the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s, is mostly composed of former foreign fighters from Afghanistan, Algeria, Libya, and elsewhere. AQIM currently maintains terrorist cells throughout the Sahel region; each cell often takes on its own localized character. Another major player in the region is Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin’ (JNIM), or “Group to Support Islam and Muslims.” This jihadist group operates throughout the Maghreb and into parts of the Sahel. JNIM was formed out of the unification of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and is the official branch of al Qaeda in Mali. The number and endurance of these groups is gravely concerning.

Foreign Fighters Return

8,000-year-old ancient Ennedi cave paintings in Chad, which have been defaced with graffiti. Photo: BBC.
8,000-year-old ancient Ennedi cave paintings in Chad, which have been defaced with graffiti. Photo: BBC.

While Daesh (ISIL) has lost much territory in Iraq and Syria, its dissolution there has presented myriad of problems in other regions, including the Sahel. One major problem is that the group’s foreign fighters are returning to their home countries, where they continue to sow seeds of instability, in some cases forming their own extremist groups. This includes groups affiliated with al Qaeda, such as the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM), Libyan Islamist Combatant Group (GICL), al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and other, often small groups. The return of foreign fighters again underscores the need for strong community ties to withstand the return of disillusioned militants, and expansion of existing sources of employment, such as tourism and cultural heritage initiatives. Such projects not only provide economic resilience, but also unite a diverse region often controlled by nebulous and shifting terrorist groups.

Another problem in the region is fluctuating support for al Qaeda versus Daesh. A recent policy brief, published by Morocco-based OCP Policy Center, on the birth of a third generation of terrorism finds that support for al Qaeda versus Daesh has vacillated over time, and that this period could be one in which local populations solidify their support for one group over the other. In other words, it remains to be seen whether the return of foreign fighters will help strengthen Daesh or bolster al Qaeda throughout the Maghreb and Sahel.

Working with Local Leaders

At a recent at-capacity event held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, international policy experts discussed the inclusion of religious extremists in peace and conflict dialogues in the Maghreb, which offers many valuable takeaways for the neighboring Sahel region. These takeaways underscore several important lessons for those fighting cultural racketeering and the exploitation of rich cultural heritage by extremist and terrorist organizations.

First, conflict transformation through religious bodies and influencers is key, as leaders possess three crucial tools within local populations: access, authority, and legitimacy. In other words, having a “credible voice” on the ground can help engage across generations, religions, and peoples. Implementing this seemingly intuitive advice to partner with a “credible voice” would also benefit those combating looting and destruction in conflict zones.

Another issue endemic to the Maghreb that is also present in the Sahel is enduring unemployment and joblessness, which are often among the highest factors fueling extremism. As this World Bank study illustrates, lack of economic opportunity perpetuates the ability of extremist organizations to recruit members. However, despite the high social standing of religious leaders in communities, religious leaders rank among the lowest individuals for helping youth find employment. Therefore, partnering with religious leaders should be a space for cultural heritage professionals to help encourage jobs in this domain, thus reducing risks for future conflicts.


A rock painting dating back 12,000 years at Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria. Photo © Mohammed Beddiaf.
A rock painting dating back 12,000 years at Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria. Photo © Mohammed Beddiaf.

Daesh has repeatedly made headlines in recent years for its involvement in cultural racketeering. Not only did the group systematically destroy some of the world’s most heralded heritage sites, but it engaged in the large-scale looting of national treasures. In Iraq and Syria, the extremist group pillaged and plundered museums and sold ancient artifacts to acquire arms and prolong the region’s conflicts. This piece, far from an exhaustive look at the Sahel, is intended as an important reminder that this region is threatened by the very extremists that have repeatedly destroyed lives, culture, and heritage throughout the MENA region. The international community must remain diligent to ensure that the same systematic destruction does not occur throughout the Sahel.

[1] Lhote, A la De ́couverte des Fresques du Tassili (Paris: Arthaud 1958, 1973); translated as The Search for the Tassili Frescoes: the Story of the Prehistoric Rock-Paintings of the Sahara (London: Hutchinson 1959).
[2] UN Support Plan for the Sahel. May 2018. United Nations CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Johannes Zielcke.
[3] For a more in-depth look at the parallels between wildlife trafficking and the illicit antiquities trade, see our blog.

SmartWater Leads to First Jail Sentence Under Indian Arts and Crafts Act

Since its inception, the Antiquities Coalition has championed the fight against cultural racketeering, which is the looting and trafficking of ancient artifacts to fund crime, conflict, and terrorism. One way the Antiquities Coalition counters the illicit trade of artifacts is by promoting creative and innovative solutions. That is why the Antiquities Coalition is a proud supporter of the SmartWater Foundation, an organization that provides new technological solutions to safeguard cultural heritage.

The Suspect

In early September 2012, Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Russell Stanford intercepted a shipment of counterfeit jewelry bound for Albuquerque, NM. Authorities suspected this jewelry would be sold as Native American-made, even though the jewelry was produced in the Philippines. Instead of seizing the counterfeit artifacts, Special Agent Stanford applied a few dabs of SmartWater to the illicit jewelry, a forensic countermeasure to the trade in fake cultural heritage objects.

Two months later, Special Agent Stanford discreetly entered Gallery 8, an Albuquerque jewelry shop owned by Nael Ali. Agent Stanford, posing as a wealthy buyer, purchased two pieces of Native American jewelry. Little did Mr. Ali know, those two artifacts were among the items marked with SmartWater.

What is SmartWater?

SmartWater is an internationally accredited liquid ‘nanotechnology’ that is odorless, colorless, and invisible to the naked eye. This traceable liquid is coded with a patented forensic technology that contains a unique signature, when brushed or sprayed on, is completely undetectable except by ultraviolet (UV) light. When applied to artifacts, SmartWater provides information to law enforcement about an artifact’s place of origin. Law enforcement can then use this provenance information in court, as SmartWater evidence is both Frye and Daubert compliant.

Counterfeit Native American necklace, marked with SmartWater, under normal light compared to under ultraviolet (UV) light. Photo courtesy of the SmartWater Foundation.
Counterfeit Native American necklace, marked with SmartWater, under normal light compared to under ultraviolet (UV) light. Photo courtesy of the SmartWater Foundation.

Operation Al Zuni

In March 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began using SmartWater in Operation Al Zuni, the most extensive federal investigation into Native American art fraud ever conducted. Over a period of three and a half years, federal agents uncovered an elaborate network involving Filipino jewelry manufacturers and U.S. importers. After purchasing the counterfeit jewelry from the Philippines, U.S. importers—such as Nael Ali of Gallery 8—illegally sold the artifacts as Native American-made.

The illicit network of counterfeit Native American jewelry uncovered by Operation Al Zuni. Map from National Geographic.


Falsely representing artifacts for sale as Native American-made is a federal crime according to the 1935 and 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties of up to a $250,000 fine and a 5 year prison sentence. However, up until the conviction and sentencing of Nael Ali, the Act was rarely enforced.

Congress enacted the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to bring attention to the fact that many Native Americans rely on their arts and crafts for economic and cultural reasons. The sale of Native American crafts, such as jewelry, provide livelihoods for thousands of indigenous people and brings in more than a billion dollars annually nationwide. These arts and crafts also provide cultural benefits. One Navajo jeweler, Liz wallace, said: “Our arts and crafts give us a really concrete way to stay connected to our culture and our history. All this fake stuff feels  like a very deep personal attack.”

The Sentencing

In October 2018, U.S. District Judge Judith C. Herrera of the District of New Mexico sentenced Nael Ali for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Ali, who plead guilty, was sentenced to six months imprisonment as well as a $9,000 fine. This sentencing marked the first time in which an individual was sent to jail for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a milestone made possible by SmartWater technology.


SmartWater serves as a forensic deterrent for more than fraud. Throughout the 21st century, SmartWater has been applied to a vast array of cultural heritage sites, from Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon to Syrian museums threatened by civil conflict. Each SmartWater application strengthens precedent that those who engage in the looting and trafficking of antiquities will be caught and prosecuted, a mission the Antiquities Coalition and the SmartWater Foundation share as partners against cultural racketeering.

T. Albert Fujii is a Research Analyst at the SmartWater Foundation. To learn more about the SmartWater Foundation, visit If you would like to learn more about SmartWater applications for cultural heritage protection, please contact Colette Loll at

For the Promise That Is Culture

On November 7, 2018, the Antiquities Coalition attended the Middle East Institute’s 72nd Annual Gala, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the Middle East. Attendees included an esteemed range of ambassadors and other diplomats, distinguished scholars and professionals, as well as individuals and students interested in Middle Eastern affairs.

This year’s dinner honored two awardees, the American University of Beirut (AUB) and H.E. Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo. AUB received the Issam M. Fares Award for Excellence, which Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, the 16th president of AUB, accepted on behalf of the academic institution. The venerable university was founded in 1866. Dr. Khuri emphasized that the University is the American University of Beirut, not in Beirut, underscoring the institution’s legacy of contributing to thought leadership throughout and beyond the region.

H.E. Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo accepted the Visionary Award for her “unquantifiable contribution” to the cultural fabric of the United Arab Emirates, including her appointment to the board of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage. She has also been a champion of culture outside the Gulf region and has contributed to arts programs in Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Spain, and beyond, where she has received numerous distinguished awards. Upon accepting MEI’s award, H.E. Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo explained, “I accept this award in the name of all those who believe hope is stronger than fear. For each person who has stood their ground in preservation of our heritage to keep our history intact.” She also accepted the award “for the promise that is culture.”

The Antiquities Coalition is honored to be a close partner and friend of the Middle East Institute, with whom we convene leaders at conferences, roundtables, and other events throughout the year. We thank the Institute for recognizing the fundamental importance of art and cultural heritage in building and maintaining a peaceful, prosperous world.

Looting and Laundering Art, Antiquities, and Financial Crimes

The Illicit Art Trade

From plundering during the Crusades to Napoleon’s loot of Egypt, antiquities have long been symbols of worldliness and status. In today’s world, antiquities have become go-to investments for art consumers and market speculators. However, individuals with certain statuses, including those blacklisted and on sanctions and lists, can use art and antiquities to launder money and commit other financial crimes. Buyers, as well as institutions that facilitate sales and acquisitions, should beware.

Cultural racketeering, the looting and trafficking of art and antiquities, can eliminate paper trails of criminal activity and facilitate a wide range of financial crimes that even includes financing conflicts. Cases of looted and trafficked antiquities continue to make headlines across industries and around the world. Thomas Christ, a board member of the Basel Institute on Governance, told the New York Times, “The art market is an ideal playing ground for money laundering.” Let’s explore in more detail how that is the case.

Examining Art-based Money Laundering

In a joint European Commission-UNESCO study, Switzerland-based professor Marc-André Renold establishes the inherent susceptibility of art markets to money laundering:

Money laundering involves disguising the fact that assets have been derived directly or indirectly from crime. As far as cultural property is concerned, money laundering refers either to the very act of buying art objects with criminally earned money (purchasing valuable assets helps to convert such ‘dirty’ cash into an asset that gains value and can be sold later), or to cleaning the tainted money through an art deal whereby an artwork is bought by an accomplice of the seller with money provided by the seller (fictitious auction).

In an industry so easily exploited by nefarious actors, it is important to establish clearer guidelines for professionals both within the industry itself as well as within auxiliary sectors.

The Numbers

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 35 percent of the global GDP is laundered each year, totaling some $2 trillion. Compounding these already worrisome statistics is that global art market grew to $63.7 billion in 2017. The U.S. remains the world’s largest art market, valued at $26.6 billion and accounting for 42 percent of the global total in 2017. The European art and antiquities market, a close second, accounts for nearly $23 billion annually. The scale of the international art market, combined with the staggering annual percentage of money laundered, is disquieting.

Most high-profile, art world money laundering cases are concentrated in modern and contemporary sales. Recent high-profile examples of financial crime in the art market include a scheme to launder $50 million in part through a Picasso painting. Another high-profile case that saw Leonardo DiCaprio return several pieces involves the Malaysian Prime Minister and his family, who purportedly embezzled $1 billion through a Basquiat and other fine art. These cases will continue to make headlines in the absence of stronger financial industry awareness and government action.

Antiquities face similar susceptibility to financial crimes as modern and contemporary art. Antiquities often fetch prices that make them desirable to wealthy criminal elites. The Guennol Lioness sold for over $57 million at Sotheby’s in 2007. That same year at Sotheby’s, Artemis and the Stag, a Roman-era statue, sold for $28.6 million. In 2010, a Qing Dynasty vase, famously found in an attic after having been neglected for decades, sold privately for $80.2 million in what was the highest-ever price for a Chinese antiquity at auction. The opacity of the vase sale again underscores the need for increased transparency, particularly within the financial transactions side of the art market.

The Market Recognizes Its Money Laundering Problem

The market itself has increasingly recognized its own vulnerability to financial crimes. Industry leaders have called for and implemented measures to enhance industry transparency. The Basel Art Trade Guidelines warn, “In comparison with other trade sectors, the art market faces a higher risk of exposure to dubious trade practices,” including antiquities trafficking, fraud and money laundering. They attribute this to “the volume of illegal or legally questionable transactions, which is noticeably higher in this sector than in other globally active markets.” Despite market cries for increased transparency and more robust best practices, government legislation has been slow to catch up.

Art and antiquities transactions often occur under opaque circumstances.

Money Laundering via Blood Antiquities

Beyond being used as tools by which to launder money, in some cases antiquities themselves can have dubious or illegal origins, including having been looted or stolen during instability to finance and prolong conflict. As the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has warned, art and antiquities are particularly vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing, which often go hand-in-hand.

Across the world, auction houses, museums, dealers and private collectors have made news for possession of such “blood antiquities”. The Green Family, who owns Hobby Lobby, have made international headlines this year following their acquisition and then repatriation of thousands of illicit antiquities looted from Iraq during recent conflicts in the region. Daesh (“ISIS”) had looted and sold the cultural objects as part of a scheme to access Western cash.  

Failing to practice due diligence risks incurring government fines or having property confiscated. Hobby Lobby’s Green family was forced to forfeit $3 million, nearly double the $1.6 million they paid for clay cuneiform tablets and other items smuggled into the U.S. While the fines incurred in this case related to stolen objects, it is time to increase prosecutions for art-related financial crimes.

Global Governance

In terms of government recognition of the problem, terrorist financing through cultural property has received significant attention, while other financial crimes have remained comparatively under-addressed. The U.S. government, European Commission, the U.N. and UNESCO have each identified illicit art and antiquities as problems that threaten global cultural heritage, economic development, and national security.

In December 2015, then-Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew took the unprecedented step of calling together the Ministers of Finance from U.N. Security Council members. Blood antiquities were identified as a means of funding for terrorist organizations, and the finance ministers committed to take necessary steps to prevent these goods from entering their countries. In 2017, the U.N. Security Council passed unanimous resolution 2347, calling on all member states to prohibit the cross-border trade in cultural property when the property originates from an armed conflict zone or lacks certified provenance. The international recognition of the implications of illicit cultural property trade underscore the importance of the issue but do not adequately address the role of financial institutions in facilitating money laundering in the art market.

The Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Prevention Act (H.R. 5886), currently in the U.S. House of Representatives, proposes amending the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to address some of the opaque areas of the art trade. This legislation would end the art market’s exemption from otherwise standard regulations and mundane money laundering rules. While this bill represents progress in the U.S., American legislation on money laundering and the art trade remains less robust than elsewhere, particularly in Europe, which has adopted six related provisions in the wake of the Panama Papers.

A Transparency International report on money laundering risks in global markets notes that the Panama Papers revealed a considerable number of cases of art held in shell companies. The report also referenced a Swiss government taskforce report, available in German, which argued, “While the most important economic financial sectors have become subject to stronger anti-money laundering regulations, lawmakers have paid surprisingly little attention to the art market.”


By facilitating the acquisition of an Egyptian papyrus, a Cambodian statue or a Mayan vase on Madison Avenue, financial institutions may be putting money into the pockets of nefarious actors, including terrorist networks. Enhanced levels of transparency, increased knowledge of the problem within the financial sector, and targeted action from governments will help ensure that art and antiquities acquisitions are not undermining the very laws we have designed to make the world a more transparent, prosperous place.

Building Bridges: A Symposium on Global Cultural Heritage Preservation

Last week on October 23 and 24, 2018, federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, and the private sector came together at the Smithsonian Castle for “Building Bridges: A Symposium on Global Cultural Heritage Preservation.”

The Antiquities Coalition participated in this two-day event, which explored how the U.S. government can better safeguard culture around the world. It included presentations, lightning talks, moderated panels, breakout discussions, and Q&A sessions. While invitation only, it was followed by a panel discussion open to the general public in which leading U.S. diplomats discussed the important role cultural heritage plays in foreign policy.

Building Bridges was organized by the Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee (CHCC), an interagency committee established by the 2016 Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act. Its legislative mandate is “to coordinate and advance executive branch efforts to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk from political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters.” Chaired by Marie Royce, the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, the CHCC is made up of 12 agencies, including the Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, among others.

The symposium provided an opportunity for the CHCC to report on its progress to date, as well as cultivate an open dialogue with the many stakeholders who can support its work.

Key takeaways included:

  • Interagency Cooperation is Improving

The CHCC was created by bipartisan legislation in April 2016, and first met in November of that year. It was initially plagued by skepticism and even criticism, including a September 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that despite some achievements, the CHCC suffered from a lack of clear goals, strategy, and agency participation. To its credit, the State Department immediately pledged to fix identified problems, and judging from Building Bridges, it has had much progress.

The growing support for the CHCC was demonstrated by the senior level of those speaking at the event, such as Assistant Secretary Royce, as well as senior officials from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the FBI, and other agencies, many of whom joined the program for its full two days. This increased support was also seen in the content of presentations about the CHCC’s work to-date, especially its three working groups, (technology, public awareness and outreach, and the illicit antiquities trade). Moreover, beyond the podium, the general consensus from participants was that interagency cooperation in cultural heritage is the best that it has ever been.

  • Money Laundering is a Growing Concern

While speakers, particularly those from the military and law enforcement, continued to stress the linkages between cultural racketeering and terrorist financing, their presentations also made clear that money laundering is a growing concern.

For example, Tim Carpenter, the Supervisory Special Agent of the Art Crime Team at the FBI, said that in a post-9/11 world, the “smart criminals are moving art” instead of money. This is because dealers and auction houses are exempt from U.S. laws such as the Bank Secrecy Act and Patriot Act. Joined by speakers from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, Special Agent Carpenter and others warned that law enforcement should be mindful of the risks to American financial institutions and on the lookout for financial crimes involving cultural property.

The same is true of legislators. The Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Prevention Act (H.R. 5886), currently in the U.S. House of Representatives, proposes amending the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to address some of the opaque areas of the art trade. This legislation would end the art market’s exemption from otherwise standard regulations and mundane money laundering rules. This bill represents progress in the U.S., but is one step the U.S. can take to catch up to other regions, where legislation on money laundering and the art trade is comparatively much more robust.

  • The U.S. Has a Major Problem with the Illicit Export of Cultural Property

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have made great progress in shutting the American market to illicit antiquities. However, agents and officials alike voiced frustration at the challenges they face in stopping illicit exports, particularly of Native American cultural heritage. Unfortunately, absent special circumstances, law enforcement only monitors what is coming into — not going out of — the country. Moreover, when Native American artifacts have been illegally exported, tribes have faced great and sometimes insurmountable difficulty in recovering them from overseas art galleries and auction houses due to unfavorable foreign legislation.

A new cultural heritage bill was introduced in the House in October. H.R. 7076, the Native American and Native Hawaiian Cultural Heritage Protection Act of 2018, aims at placing further regulations on the export of Native American and Hawaiian cultural goods.

Stronger legislation in the U.S. and elsewhere, as well as greater collaboration with tribes, will help to fill this gap.

  • Public-Private Partnerships

The importance of public-private partnerships was another key theme of Building Bridges. Presenters shared case studies of successful examples from throughout the U.S. and beyond. For example, Jane Zimmerman of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), which has partnered with the Antiquities Coalition in the past, spoke about how they successfully work with the private sector in safeguarding Egypt’s cultural heritage. Daniel Reid of the Whiting Foundation also spoke about their support of such partnerships and noted their proud support of the Digital Library of the Middle East (an AC initiative with the Council on Library and Information Resources).

  • Preserving Cultural Heritage is Good U.S. Foreign Policy

Throughout the two day conference, speaker after speaker emphasized how strong cultural heritage protection is strong foreign policy. This idea was hit home by the final session, which was the only panel open to the general public. To a packed room, current and former ambassadors spoke of how they strengthened U.S. relations with our allies through initiatives such as the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation and cultural bilateral agreements. In closing, it was clear that this cultural diplomacy allows the U.S. to reach wider audiences, show respect for other nations, facilitate dialogue and reconciliation, build local partnerships, and create sustainable jobs. In doing so, it plays an important role in furthering our national interests, including global security.

To keep up this collaboration and momentum, the Antiquities Coalition hopes that Building Bridges becomes an annual event.