Shutting Down ISIS’ Antiquities Trade

April 19, 2016

by David A. Grantham, Ph.D.

Chairman Fitzpatrick and members of the Task Force, thank you for the opportunity to submit written comments about the ISIS antiquities trade. I am David Grantham, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. We are a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization dedicated to developing and promoting private alternatives to government regulation and control, solving problems by relying on the strength of the competitive, entrepreneurial private sector.

The attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, reminded the world that the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is at war with western civilization. The U.S. government desperately needs a more comprehensive strategy for combating this threat than simply drone warfare and piecemeal deployments of “specialized expeditionary targeting forces.” And a top priority of a new, broader campaign should be the destruction of ISIS’ financial networks.

ISIS and Antiquities. ISIS poses a national security threat to the United States primarily because of the resources it commands. The organization boasts an impressive network of revenue streams, ranging from oil proceeds and racketeering profits to money seized from local banks. But ISIS also profits from its lucrative trade in pilfered Roman, Greek, and other antiquities found in Syria and northern Iraq. This lucrative operation presents a national security dilemma because it helps fund ISIS’s international war machine.

The U.S. government and international bodies have tried in the past to undermine the global trade in looted antiquities by international conventions that disallow signatory countries from participating in the theft and transportation of looted antiquities. But the illegal antiquities market remains notoriously difficult to regulate. Moreover, officials often treat the illegal antiquities trade as a victimless crime run by criminal organizations. Few acknowledge the definitive links between illegal antiquities and terrorism. The challenges of enforcement and lack of attention keeps the market for illicit antiquities strong.

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