WikiLeaks is all the rage nowadays—that is, if you can actually reach it online. One good thing, the term “wiki” is now surely well known if probably still not really understood by the general public. I hoped that the cache of documents dealing with the Iraq War might provide some insights regarding the plight of the archaeological heritage of Iraq and esp. the way US and Iraqi authorities and law enforcement might have dealt with it. The search function on the wikileaks.org site though seems disabled, I guess the denial-of-service attacks are taking their toll. Fortunately, some people were able to get some relevant information before the DoS attack:

  • Larry Rothfield (U. of Chicago), ”Wikileaks Provides Evidence Linking Illicit Iraqi Antiquities to Weapons Sales,” in The Punching Bag blog:

More proof, on top of what Matthew Bogdanos has reported, that looted antiquities were part of the revenue stream for the same folks that were/are supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq: (FRIENDLY ACTION) RAID RPT : ___ INJ/DAM

The actual text of that document is:

(FRIENDLY ACTION) RAID RPT : %%% INJ/DAM  —  2007-12-07 00:00:00  —  A FORCE FROM THE NATIONAL SECURITY ALONG WITH A FORCE FROM THE CRIMINAL %%% ONE OF THE HOUSES AFTER RECEIVING SOME TIPS THAT THEIR IS SOME ILLEGAL %%% ( SELLING WEAPONS AND ANTIQUES) THE HOUSE LOCATED AT %%% KUT – BAGHDAD %%% ROAD THEY ALSO FOUND A , %%% ,FOUR MORTAR , AND TWO GRENADES FOR ATTACKS.THEY ALSO CAPTURED %%% SUSPECTS.

  • Larry Rothfield (U. of Chicago), ”More from Wikileaks on Looted Antiquities Recovered in Operations Against Insurgents,” in The Punching Bag blog:
… there are 1020 documents in the WarLogs that mention smuggling (and many of these are duplicate reports, so the actual number of anti-smuggling operations is probably closer to 500); that is out of a total of almost 392,000 total reports posted to WarLogs. The total number of reports in which antiquities are reported found together with weapons, then, is very low, in the neighborhood of 1-2% (only 6 or so out of something like 500 smuggling incidents).
… the WarLogs do not contain all reports made during the war; missing are reports of smuggling of any kind before 1/1/2004.
2004-10-28 23:40:00  —  … The INFO-OPS, which started yesterday, carried out by Task force MSU joint with provincial archaeological local guard in , , %%% and %%% (located north west of ( %%%)) ended this morning. The op. Aim was to oppose and repress the illegal trade of archaeological stolen finds in %%% province. As result of the op. several vases, statues and tools dated %%% bc. All finds were given to archaeological authority of %%%.
2005-06-03 11:14:00  —  … AND 31X ARTIFACTSRECOVERED. ARTIFACTS WERE STOLEN FROM THE BAGHDAD MUSEUM.
  • Owen Jarus, “Statues, Vases and 120 mm Rounds – Wikileaks documents tell harrowing stories of Iraq’s antiquities,” in Heritage Key:
The documents indicate that the Iraqis took great risks to protect their past. On November 2, 2008 officers from Iraq’s “Antiquities Protection” service participated in a dangerous operation in Karbala. Working with the “Establishment Protection” service, they “found and cleared” a weapons cache containing an astounding amount of firepower.
One of the documents reveals that on February 19, 2004 an entire missile was found at an archaeological site. …

I was able to access one more document not yet mentioned, for what it is worth:

RAID BY WOLF BDE IN BAGHDAD(ZONE ): %%% DET, %%% INJ/DAMAGE  —  2005-07-18 23:50:00  —  %%%, WOLF BDE CONDUCTS RAID TO DETAIN AIF %%% FOR STEALING ANTIQUES VALUED AT -,%%%. MISSION COMPLETE: %%% DETAINED AND ANTIQUES RECOVERED NO INJ/DAM

Others mused on the topic and related issues touching on archaeological research:

  • Colleen Morgan (UC Berkeley), ”Wikileaks, Radical Transparency, and Archaeology,” in the Middle Savagery blog:

Sadly, [my students'] eagerness to interact with these past materials is often met with serious resistance from the local archives. While the individual archivists may be sympathetic, the archive often has stipulations that the materials cannot be shared. At all. This mystifies and frustrates the students, and this makes me both sympathetic (I have been through this constantly during my tenure at UC Berkeley) and grimly determined. I truly believe that institutions that house collections need to make these collections available to the public that pays for them. Period. The students can sense this and it leads to a process of negotiation in the classroom.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? The Getty museum is talking about destroying their collection of 100,000 study slides. Why? Because when they decided to digitize them several years ago, they discovered that the original vendors who sold them the slides made the Getty promise to never scan them. They don’t have slide projectors anymore and the last time a slide was checked out was a year ago. The only thing they can do is trash them. They will probably do it.

Finally, here’s one more article referencing one of the documents from the diplomatic cables cache on WikiLeaks that has archaeological importance:

  • Giles Tremlett, “WikiLeaks cables: Art looted by Nazis, Spanish gold and an embassy offer. Spain rejected attempt to tie together claim on coins found by US firm and row over painting in Madrid museum, cables show,” in The Guardian:

In a conversation with the Spanish culture minister, César Antonio Molina, the US ambassador in Madrid, Eduardo Aguirre, sought to tie the treasure found off the Iberian peninsula by Odyssey together with attempts by an American citizen, Claude Cassirer, to recover a painting by Camille Pisarro that hangs in a Madrid museum. ”The ambassador noted also that while the Odyssey and Cassirer claim were on separate legal tracks, it was in both governments’ interest to avail themselves of whatever margin for manouevre they had, consistent with their legal obligations, to resolve both matters in a way that favoured the bilateral relationship,” the embassy reported in a cable on 2 July 2008. The offer was made after the Spanish government claimed ownership of half a million gold and silver coins found on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean by Odyssey’s underwater robots. The company had provoked Spanish fury by landing the treasure at Gibraltar and flying it straight to the US. … Molina refused to tie the Odyssey case to the Pisarro painting, …

Spain claims that the Black Swan treasure find comes from a Spanish galleon, the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which sank off Portugal’s Algarve coast in 1804. The vessel had just returned from Montevideo when it was attacked by four Royal Navy ships, and was carrying half a million coins that had been minted in Peru. Descendants of the 249 Spanish sailors who went down with the ship joined the Spanish government’s case against Odyssey in a court in Altanta, Georgia. The court ruled that the cargo belonged to Spain; Odyssey has appealed.

The leaked cables reveal that the US embassy had the previous year handed over to Spanish authorities the customs documents filed by Odyssey when it flew its hoard of coins into the US in mid-2007.