U.S. plunder blunder
may turn deadly
During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services took under its wing a specialized army squad called the Art Looting Investigation Unit. The intelligence unit's job was the identification and recovery of looted cultural property. Regular army units were briefed on the sensitive nature of art objects and instructed to guard and protect them whenever possible.
Even so, a vast number of art objects simply disappeared in the moil of Germany as the war came to a close.
The highly educated officers of the ALIU recognized that such cultural patrimony establishes a nation's cultural identity. But the other half of the equation was more pragmatic: Nazi cells planned to continue subversive activities after the war and needed a steady source of funding. Fencing stolen art is one way of creating a cash flow that has no paper trail.
Today there is no equivalent of the ALIU, and the United States earned a black eye when priceless treasures were stolen from Iraqi museums while American soldiers overlooked the looting -- some of which, it turns out, might have been planned and undertaken by organized groups.
Poor and insensitive public relations is bad enough. It will be worse if people are killed by terrorist or fedayeen forces funded by proceeds from looted Iraqi museums.