NBC New York Segment on Combating Looted Antiquities

NBC4

Last week, Wale Aliyu of NBC News 4 of New York City  presented his investigation showing what Homeland Security and law enforcement and prosecutors in New York are doing to combat looted art and antiquities and return these objects to their rightful owners. You can view the 2:40-second video via this link.

With so many places around the world currently experiencing political and military unrest or attempting to rebuild from recent events, this is a significant problem that show no signs of slowing down in the near future.

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Document Thief Sentenced in Buffalo History Museum Case

Last week, Daniel J. Witek was sentenced for his role in the theft of several documents from the Buffalo History Museum, bringing the case to a close more than four years after the crime was carried out. In May 2013, Witek, of Buffalo, New York, was arrested and charged with mail fraud after he attempted to sell materials in his possession to autograph dealers in New York City and New Jersey. The documents were stolen from the Buffalo History Museum’s A. Conger Goodyear papers. Goodyear, a Buffalo native, was a member of the industrialist Goodyear family and was among the founders of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In the 2013 complaint, the US Attorney for the Western District of New York stated that Witek had been accused of stealing at least five historic documents from the Buffalo History Museum. According to another source from the time, it was closer to 40 documents. Witek then passed the documents off as his personal property and attempted to sell them to two dealers. One dealer was suspicious of the offer and contacted the Museum to confirm that the sale was not illicit. This contact alerted the Museum to the theft, leading to Witek’s arrest.

After the arraignment in 2013, not much news was made about the case for two years. Then, in September 2015, Witek was brought up on new charges of mail fraud and interstate transportation of stolen goods. In an interview with the Buffalo News earlier in 2015, Witek defended himself by pointing to the Museum’s past lost and missing items (this article contains a photo of Witek for reference).

Fast forward two years to this past July, when Witek pleaded guilty to one charge of mail fraud for stealing the Goodyear letters and attempting to sell them to dealers in New York and New Jersey. Four month later, on November 8, Witek was sentenced. While the maximum sentence for the mail fraud plea was 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the recommended sentence was incarceration for up to 10 months, although prsecutors were hoping for something closer to a three-years prison term. The judge ultimately opted to hand down a sentence of six months time served, two years probation, and a fine of $2,100 in restitution.

Among the most important lessons from this case is that it was the autograph dealer who brought this crime to light. Had the dealer been less knowledgeable, less suspicious, or had less scrupulous, Witek’s theft may never have been brought to the attention of the Buffalo History Museum. The relationship between dealers and collectors, on the one hand, and archives, libraries, and museums, on the other, is extremely important if we are to combat crimes against objects of enduring cultural value.

A second lesson for cultural heritage institutions is to be vigilant with employees and volunteers. As was reported at the National Conference on Cultural Property Protection earlier this month, 80% of theft in museums is committed by staff or those with whom the staff has placed confidence, such as a volunteer like Witek. We can assume the the number is similarly high for archives and libraries.

Archives Security in the Cyberage

SAA Security Section member Jim Havron pointed us to two recent articles about a facet of security that we don’t often think about, but could have massive implications for archives and special collections libraries – cybersecurity.

The first, from Security Week, notes that simply running out-of-date software puts a wide variety of firms, including archives and similar cultural heritage institutions, at risk of a data breach. And many of us, upwards of 50% according to the article, are running software that is not up-to-date. A simple fix of updating software is a great first step in securing your electronic assets.

Havron noted in his correspondence that more and more “non-computer” technologies are integrated into the internet of things and one must be aware of the fact that the unpatched software of fire alarms, electronic locks, and other security technology could render those items vulnerable to an attack. As he asked rhetorically, “does your institution have controlled access or fire alarms as part of its security?”

A second article, from info security, mentions the threat of ransomware attacks sent through e-mail. As Havron noted is his correspondence, “It isn’t just for ‘digital archivists’ or ‘electronic records’ anymore. Access points on the first Wannacry attack [the massive ransomware attack in May 2017 that infected over 230,000 computers] included security cameras, refrigerators, baby monitors, and thermostats. If you have any of these things (e.g. environmental controls), there is risk.”

When thinking about security at your institution, it isn’t only about keeping thieves from pilfering dog tags or returning old manuscripts to their rightful owner, it is also about protecting all of your electronic assets from the wide array of cyber threats that exist. If you have any specific questions for Jim Havron about cyber security in archives and cultural heritage institutions, feel free to e-mail him: havron@cyberculturalheritage.com.

Historian Caught Stealing Dog Tags from National Archives

Historian Antonin DeHays was charged in Federal court this week with stealing dog tags of deceased WWII veterans from the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. He sold many of the dog tags on eBay. He even passed off a stolen dog tag that belonged to a Tuskegee Airman as being from his personal collection and donated it to the Military Aviation Museum in exchange for a chance to sit in the cockpit of a Spitfire airplane.

Two weeks after DeHays visited the National Archives at College Park on May 12 this year, staff discovered that dozens of dog tags were missing from the box DeHays had looked at for nearly a half-hour earlier in the month. On June 9, investigators executed a search warrant at his home and found six dog tags along with other documents that belonged to the National Archives.

If convicted, DeHays faces up to ten years in prison for his crimes.

You can find the official U.S. Department of Justice press release about this case here and you can read more about this story from the Washington Post. For more about the NARA Archival Recovery Program, follow their Facebook page.