The FBI agent who helped recover $300 million worth of stolen art explains what Hollywood gets wrong about art heists

Robert K. Wittman, author of the book “Priceless,” founded the FBI’s Art Crime Team and has helped recover more than $300 million in stolen works.
There are many art heist movies involving elaborate schemes like “Ocean’s 8” and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” but these films aren’t very accurate.
Insider asked Wittman how the real life heists he’s witnessed compare to those made up by Hollywood.

Narrator: They’re popular in Hollywood, and we’ve all seen them before. The art heist film. The movies involve elaborate schemes to steal priceless paintings, jewelry, and artifacts.

Debbie Ocean: It’s over six pounds of diamonds.

Narrator: But they’re not very realistic.

Robert Wittman: I think they’ve glamorized it to the point where people may think it’s sexy.

Narrator: This is Robert Wittman. He spent twenty years with the FBI’s National Art Crimes Team, helping to recover more than $300 million worth of stolen pieces. He told us that these heist films are far from how these heists go down in real life.

While each of these movies has its own twists and turns, films like 1999’s “The Thomas Crown Affair” and 2018’s “Ocean’s 8” follow a pretty similar formula. A mastermind decides what to steal from where. They may act alone, or assemble a team of specialists perfectly suited for their mission. The glamorous criminals crack an uncrackable safe or cleverly sneak past the guards to remove the valuable items. The thieves butt up against the law enforcement officers trying to track them down or stop them.

Turns out, these movies get every single one of these aspects wrong.

Let’s start from the beginning: the location of the heist.

Movies like “Ocean’s 8” aren’t all wrong. Oftentimes, heists do take place at museums, just not usually the big ones like the Met. Art theft is more likely to take place at smaller museums or historical societies where security isn’t so tight, and the success rate is higher.

Robert: It’s much more difficult to get through the security system at the Met or at the Louvre than it is to get in through a small house museum. It’s a whole different situation.

Narrator: So, while there have been thefts in the past from these places, they are rare.

Who are the the thieves?

Robert: And we found that 90% in the United States were done in-house. In other words, someone who had access to the collection. Could have been a worker there, or a curator, or even an expert going in and doing their research.

Narrator: So they’re not typically the Thomas Crown-type. No sharply dressed billionaire with a passion for art and a lot of free time on their hands. Just someone who has easy access on a daily basis.

How they pull off the heist.

In heist films, you often see thieves hacking security systems, weaving through laser beams, or lowering themselves down from the ceiling. But this is a bit extreme.

Robert: Usually it’s a crime of passion, or a crime of opportunity. It’s quick-in, quick-out, usually breaking doors. Not going through security systems, not turning things off.

Narrator: …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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