Collecting Cultural Intelligence

The Tactical Value of Cultural Property

Published in: International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, v. 24, no. 2, 2011, p. 217-238

Posted on on January 01, 2011

by Erik Nemeth

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The tightening interrelation of cultural property and international security--cultural security--creates a need for the collection and analysis of specialized intelligence. "Cultural intelligence" enables assessments of the tactical and strategic significance of antiquities, fine art, and cultural heritage sites to national and regional security. This paper defines a framework for the collection of cultural intelligence as a fundamental asset in countering threats to cultural security. Looting of antiquities as a tactic in campaigns of cultural cleansing, trafficking in antiquities as a source of funding for insurgents, and targeting of historic structures and religious monuments in political violence represent distinct threats to regional security. A critical initial step in countering the threats includes marshalling appropriate sources of information. Publications that report on the art market and cultural property globally and players in the antiquities trade offer opportunities as sources of cultural intelligence. Ultimately, the development of tactical and strategic cultural intelligence can reveal trafficking networks and assess risks to cultural heritage sites. As a starting point, this paper indentifies viable sources of cultural intelligence. Conflicts in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) provide examples in retrospect, while volatility in Mali presents an opportunity in the context of an emerging security risk. In conclusion, the paper speculates on the applications of cultural intelligence in regional security.

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