Govaert Flinck, until recently attributed to Rembrandt: Landscape with an Obelisk (1638). Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston on March 18,1990.

The FBI’s National Art Crime Team is a specialized unit dedicated to the investigation and recovery of stolen art and cultural property. Composed of 16 special agents, the team works tirelessly to combat the theft, looting, fraud, or illegal trafficking of art and cultural property.

Art crime has shifted from a relatively innocuous, ideological crime into a major international plague. Over the last 50 years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has ranked art crime behind only drugs and arms in terms of highest-grossing criminal trades. Fundamentalist terrorist groups rely on looted antiquities as a major funding source.

Hundreds of thousands of art crimes reported per year. However, many incidents go unreported, making the true scale of art crime much broader and more difficult to estimate. Many art thefts are actually lootings from institutions or archaeological sites, sometimes from churches; they don’t even know what’s missing and therefore it is very hard to evaluate.

A Brief History

Since its inception, the Art Crime Team has recovered more than 14,850 items, valued at over $165 million. This impressive feat is a testament to the team’s dedication and expertise in the field of art crime.

The team has been involved in numerous high-profile recoveries. For instance, they have recently recovered 22 historic artifacts that were looted following the Battle of Okinawa. These artifacts had been missing for almost 80 years. In another case, they recovered a rare sixteenth-century manuscript and repatriated it to the Peruvian government.

A collaborative effort involving the FBI, the U.S. Military and the Smithsonian Institution resulted in the restoration of 22 artifacts to Okinawa, which had been missing since World War II. (Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation).

The National Stolen Art File

In addition to their investigative work, the Art Crime Team also maintains the National Stolen Art File (NSAF). The NSAF is a database of stolen art and cultural property. Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad submit stolen objects for entry to the NSAF. When an object is recovered, it is removed from the database. The NSAF is accessible to the public, and anyone with information on a work of art in the NSAF can report it via the tip line.

The FBI’s National Art Crime Team plays a crucial role in preserving cultural heritage by recovering stolen art and cultural property. Their work not only brings justice to those affected by art crime but also ensures that future generations can appreciate these invaluable pieces of our shared history.

National Stolen Art File App

The National Stolen Art File App, developed by the FBI, is a powerful tool in the fight against art crime. It provides access to the NSAF database, enabling users to actively participate in the identification and recovery of stolen art and cultural property. It is available free for Apple® and Android® mobile devices.

The app boasts a range of features designed to aid in the search and recovery of stolen items. Users can utilize the free search function to find stolen objects based on location, description, type of art, and more. Additionally, the app allows for filtering of stolen art by category, including drawings, watercolors, paintings, tapestries, and more.

One of the key features of the NSAF App is the ability to save entries of interest for future reference. This allows users to keep track of specific pieces and monitor their status. Furthermore, users can share entries via text, email, or social media, broadening the reach of the search and potentially aiding in the recovery process.

Interpol ID-Art App

In 2021, Interpol made a significant stride in the fight against art crime by launching the ID-Art app. This mobile application provides public access to Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art database, serving as a powerful tool to identify stolen cultural property, reduce illicit trafficking, and increase the chances of recovering stolen items.

The ID-Art app is equipped with several key features that enhance its effectiveness. It allows users to search the Interpol database of Stolen Works of Art, enabling them to check if an object is registered as stolen. In addition, the app provides the functionality for users to create an inventory of private art collections, which can be invaluable in the event of theft.

The app empowers users to report an item as stolen if their manual or visual search matches objects in the database. It also enables users to report cultural sites that are potentially at risk or subject to illicit excavations, thereby playing a crucial role in the preservation of cultural heritage.

One of the standout features of the ID-Art app is its use of cutting-edge image-recognition software. This technology allows the app to match photos against items recorded in the database, significantly enhancing its ability to identify stolen works of art.

The ID-Art app is available for free for Apple and Android mobile devices, making it widely accessible. Since its launch, the app has introduced new audiences to Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art database, which contains more than 52,000 objects from 134 member countries.


FBI National Stolen Art File

Interpol Stolen Works of Art Database

By Eugene Nielsen

Eugene Nielsen provides intelligence and security consulting services. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California. His byline has appeared in numerous national and international journals and magazines.

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