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Non-State Actress #7: Crafts, Cakes, and Crimes
Antiquities Trafficking, Transnational Criminal Networks, Terrorism, and Opera Cake. And also Hobby Lobby (but that part comes later!)
Review: In Chocolate Bars and Crocus, NSA dipped its toe into a bit of its own origin story with a reflection on a recent trip to Dachau Memorial Site, the structural and cultural impacts of World War II, and linked to one of the most communicative pieces of music ever written.
National security is like a trifle. Or, if you’re classy, like an opera cake. Both opera cake and national security have a ton of layers, a kadrillion variations, and if you just shove a piece of it in your mouth without at least being *aware* of the individual components, you’ll miss out on the delicious nuance/ingredients you are allergic to.
Plus, Paul Hollywood will give you The Stare.
Over the next few issues of NSA, we’re taking a bite out of transnational criminal networks and terrorism - specifically the financing of both via antiquities trafficking!
Is this kind of niche? Yup. But it is a wonderful way to start outlining a whole chonk of the natsec universe we haven’t even touched yet…and use a bunch of great GIFs (especially Great British Bake Off, because spot on).
This week, Non-State Actress is defining antiquities trafficking and lay(er)ing out the super rad Opera Cake analogy. It doesn’t sound like much, but according to Substack just this much gets us to the 10 minute mark.
Taking a note from the Afghanistan Discussion - the next several issues will map out antiquity trafficking’s relationship to transnational criminal and terrorist activity - listing the various agencies, departments, offices, and organizations involved in combatting it, how this long-acknowledged crime became a national security concern, and why its something to care about.
In addition to a delicious baking adventure, we’ll navigate this chaos going forward with help from a pretty well documented and crafty case study…but we’ll get to that later.
WOW did I want to just add links to various Hobby Lobby store Spotify playlists…But I take pride in my creativity, so here we go. As always, some real bops.
Antiquities Trafficking: Not the Same as Museums!
People have been stealing stuff from each other since (probably) the beginning of time. Countries have also been stealing stuff since pretty much forever.
Stealing, including stealing to put things in a museum, is not what we’re talking about here though. Well, there are examples of museums being involved, but what I mean is that we’re not focusing on the antiquities being taken from one place and put in a museum under ‘normal activity.’ We’re talking about antiquities trafficking and specifically as a national security issue. I'm making this distinction not because the former isn't important, but because Non-State Actress is a national security-focused project AND it is in this specific context that antiquities trafficking is an important issue for most Americans.
Antiquities trafficking is the illegal (not infrequently secretive) procurement of goods for the explicit purpose of trade or sale for profit. We are focused on when the proceeds of these trades are used to fund terrorist or criminal activity or the actual transactions are used to mask illicit behavior. Important to note that antiquities trafficking frequently involves goods flowing from poor or relatively poor countries to rich or richer countries.
This is bad, but something being bad doesn’t inherently make it a national security issue (ex: poorly executed calf tattoos are bad, but not a matter of national security). Despite the activity being a tale as old as time, the US’ consideration of antiquities trafficking as a crime worth stopping and as a national security issue is relatively new. The evolution is the result of a few different factors. As tempting as it is to jump there now, we’ll get to what those factors are later. I promise.
But, first - let us make cake.
Opera Cake is Edible Antiquities Trafficking!
If eating the metaphorical opera cake is understanding the crime of antiquities trafficking, its national security impacts, and the entities involved, then the cake is a representation of the crime.
Ingredients Make a Cake…and a Crime
In the next issue of Non-State Actress, I’ll be sharing some pictures and video from my upcoming attempt at Mary Berry’s Opera Cake… And I’ll be sharing a complimentary recipe for antiquities trafficking! The videos will be available for paid subscribers who I hope will be willing to give me some feedback as I plan for future videos and podcasts!
The who, what, where, when, how, and why of antiquities trafficking are like the individual ingredients in an opera cake - flour, sugar, pistachio, raspberries, coffee syrup, etc. This analogy makes sense not only because the various crime parts have value and relevance independently, but also because their sum is greater than their individual impact. Just like the reaction of baking soda and vinegar is more than the two things sitting next to each other on a table, stealing cuneiform tabletsand funding terrorist activities are utterly separate…unless you steal the tablets, sell them, and use the proceeds to fund terrorist activities!
Even further, the combination, preparation, and cooking of the ingredients - how the actors communicate and travel; their other behaviors; where the crime takes place (one country? internationally?), dictates the kind of crime we’re talking about and what elements of the national security apparatus are involved.
-Almond sponge is certainly adequate and delicious on its own just like stealing and selling an item is a crime on its own
-Adding coffee syrup to that sponge brings in another dimension, just like stealing an antiquity and selling it illegally to an international buyer adds another dimension to the crime!
And with each layer of the cake, I mean crime, more and more organizations and departments get involved.
It’s one thing to rob a tomb in Egypt and informally exchange the items for currency- it’s another to rob a tomb in Egypt, smuggle them to France with fake documentation, sell them via auction to a buyer in New York, use the funds to purchase cryptocurrency, send that cryptocurrency to a wallet in Russia, exchange it for euros, and use the income to buy explosives for ISIS or fund transnational criminal networks in Latin America. One is a domestic problem for Egypt, the other is an international conspiracy and from the US perspective alone involves INTERPOL, DOD, FBI, Treasury, CBP, HSI, State Department .
It’s true you can shove an entire opera cake slice in your mouth and think “This is decent.” Similarly, you can hear the sentence “Antiquities trafficking finances terrorism,’ and say “This is not so decent.”
But to truly enjoy, understand, and appreciate a cake, or a crime, we should know what we’re eating.
Institutions, agencies, departments, and offices are more complicated than we like to admit - especially when they exist in the national security ecosystem. There’s often a lot of subject area overlap and collaboration that somehow exists within bizarrely specific silos and lanes. Rather than rely on org charts alone (I do love org charts), let’s learn about all the pieces by diving into specific nuggets. Antiquities trafficking and its role in funding transnational criminal networks and terrorist organizations takes something most of us are not familiar with (antiquities trafficking), lays out its connection to a few things most of us are somewhat familiar with (mafias, cartels, and terrorist organizations like ISIS). We get to learn about a whole new crime - and better yet, one that is an ongoing example of how context is crucial to determining if an issue is one of national security…or ‘just bad.’
The below resources are big, sweeping, summary-type options. In the coming weeks, I’ll share resources themed around the specific focus of the NSA Issue. There are so many aspects to antiquities trafficking and its relationship to terrorism and transnational criminal networks…even the National Institute of Health is focused on it!
Nikita Lawani’s ‘How Cultural Property Became a National Security Priority',’ Yale Law Journal
Douglas Farah and Marianne Richardson’s ‘The Growing Use of Cryptocurrencies by Transnational Organized Crime Groups in Latin America ,’ Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
Independent Investigations and Reporting
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Report on Trafficked Pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC
Tessa Solomon’s Summary of the ICIJ Report, ArtNews
US Government Documents and International Agreements
FBI Factsheet ‘ISIL and Antiquities Trafficking’
State Department ‘DipNote,’ Tackling Illicit Trafficking of Antiquities and its Ties to Terrorist Financing
US Congressional Research Service, ‘Transnational Crime Issues: Arts and Antiquities Trafficking’
Destruction of Memory, (2016). Based on the book by the same name (Robert Bevan).
Art Trafficking: A Grey Market, (2019).
Stolen Blood Antiquities, (2020).
More than 1,000 pieces at the Met were recently linked to trafficking…which is not at all comforting.
Really, truly. The context around antiquities trafficking has evolved to the point where it is now a national security priority. That’s super interesting, and part of why I realized this needed to be a multi-issue topic.
If you’re looking to actually make a cake, might I suggest this one from Mary Berry https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/opera_cake_04536
WOW The Library of Congress is so freaking cool. https://www.loc.gov/collections/cuneiform-tablets/about-this-collection/
We will also talk about this later, too. I swear!
Desperation is one of the most powerful motivators, always. https://www.thedailybeast.com/egyptian-tomb-robbing-market-explodes-on-ebay
Treasury - United States Department of Treasury, includes lots of stuff like Secret Service, US Mint, and a ton more. Has a whole section on terrorism financing.
CBP - Customs and Border Protection, part of the United States Department of Homeland Security . Responsible for keeping ‘terrorists and their weapons out of the United States…and facilitating lawful international travel and trade.
HSI - Homeland Security Investigations, part of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Responsible for combatting transnational criminal networks.