Thieves and Art: Why Protecting World Treasures Needs Higher Priority

While security around many of the world’s most important artifacts has improved, the failure to take full advantage of modern technology can be costly, says a British security expert.

Heist movies like “Ocean’s 8” and “The Italian Job” are fun to watch, but as we start the new year, audiences might be forgiven for wondering whether the most famous pieces of art and jewellery are vulnerable to highly skilled, real-life master thieves.

Most are safer than you might think.

The Mona Lisa, a masterpiece by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci which was crafted between 1503 and 1517, is one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world. Its insurance value, which has risen from $100 million in 1962 to over $821 million in 2018, reflects its significance as a symbol of Western civilization—as well as its potential worth to enterprising criminals.

The painting which hangs today in the Louvre in Paris, was actually stolen in 1911. The culprit was Vincenzo Peruggia, a former employee at the museum. Although he was caught two years later when he tried to sell the painting to an art gallery in Florence, he is still regarded as the architect of one of the greatest art thefts of the 20th century—and, according to some, is partly responsible for the painting’s position as one of the most-viewed artworks in the world.

Vicenzo Peruggia

Vincenzo Peruggia staged one of history’s most notorious art thefts in 1911. Photo via Wikipedia.

Peruggia, it turned out, removed the piece from the wall where it was hanging during working hours, hid it in a broom closet, and waited until after hours to walk out of the museum with the painting positioned under a coat that he carried casually under his arm.

The painting was returned to Paris in 1914. Peruggia, sentenced to a year and 15 days in jail, served just seven months behind bars—a reflection of the fact that many of his compatriots noting his claim that he wanted to return the masterpiece to its Italian homeland considered the theft an act of patriotism.

Peruggia’s ‘walk-in’ theft would be impossible today. The painting sits behind bulletproof glass that is almost two centimetres thick, and is enclosed in a special sealed box to protect it from vibrations and humidity. A barrier separates the public from the piece.

But those are just the most visible aspects of a state-of-the-art security system that the Louvre has since put in place for all its art treasures.

Within the 70,000 square meters that make up the museum, you can find access control systems, intruder-detection equipment including video analytics, and a 24-hour surveillance of closed-circuit TV cameras. They all help to protect some of the finest pieces of art in the world.

The Mona Lisa is not the only example of the world-class treasures that are now protected by state-of-the-art security.

Anyone who has studied English history is aware that the United Kingdom is home to some of the most stunning pieces of craftsmanship owned by Britain’s royal family, such as the Sovereign’s Orb and the Imperial State Crown. With 23,578 delicate stones and over 140 objects, putting an exact price on the jewels has been difficult, but some estimates put it closer to three billion pounds (or US $3.8 billion at current exchange rates).

Even a single jewel pried loose from the objects would earn an enterprising thief millions if he or she could get away with it.

But there’s little chance of that happening.

The royal collection is locked away in the Jewel House at the Tower of London, and protected by bombproof glass. Although the Tower is open to the public, the collection is monitored by more than 100 hidden CCTV cameras.

And if that weren’t enough, a 22-strong Tower Guard, a detachment of the British Army, has the sole mission of protecting the Crown Jewels on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defense.

On the few special occasions when the Crown Jewels appear in public, such as coronations and openings of Parliament, armed police officers must be present.

But the fact remains that no one should underestimate the risk to the priceless objects stored in museums and other venues. Sometimes, the guardians of national treasures fail to take advantage of the security that modern technology can offer.

Sweden is a sad example. In August 2018, two crowns and a royal orb that belonged to King Charles IX of Sweden and his wife Christina of Holstein-Gottorp were stolen from Strängnäs Cathedral in eastern Sweden, in what looked like an amateur heist.

Theft by Bicyle

The 400-year-old jewels had been on public display. Two men walked into the cathedral around midday and smashed the glass where the contents were held. That caused alarms to go off around the building, but the duo still managed to escape undetected from the crime scene by bicycles and then by a motorboat along Lake Malaren, entering Stockholm’s archipelago.

Sweden’s police force were able to successfully track down one suspect because of blood left at the crime scene; some of the jewels were recovered. To track down the second culprit and the artifacts that had not been found, authorities carried out house searches, according to Swedish media outlets.

In November, the second thief was detained, but the stolen regalia is still reported to be missing.

Although the thieves were hoping for success, even if they had got away with the heist they would have had a tough time profiting from the jewels, which are worth roughly £43,000 (or nearly US $55,000).

It isn’t the first time that Sweden’s Crown Jewels have been stolen. In 2012, a 19-year-old refugee who claimed to be a friend of a member of the royal family, stole £73,700 (approximately US $94,000) worth of jewels. He sold them to a drug dealer for £730 (about $932) to buy marijuana.

As further proof of his lack of acumen in financial (and jewelry) matters, he reportedly threw another part of his haul, a tiara worth £30,350 (nearly US $39,000), off a bridge.

Sweden’s security failure was the result of failing to balance the national interest of keeping the Crown Jewels on display with the need for top-level protection. The thieves should have been detected as they walked in. Walk-through security door frames and regular visitor searches could have helped prevent this event.

art thieves

Peter Houlis

The price to pay for an in-depth security audit and the implementation of such systems is considerably less than the cost of orchestrating an international manhunt — and this is something that many art hosts fail to understand.

For many older establishments that lack technological integration, it’s time to wake up.

The risk of not doing so isn’t worth taking.

Peter Houlis is Managing Director of 2020 Vision, a security management firm based in the UK. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Analysis Paints Grim Portrait of Mexico Police Reform

Politicians and officials in Mexico have promised to reform the police for years, but the force continues to face the same struggles in curtailing the growing threat posed by organized crime groups. This year’s numbers put the challenges in sharp focus, with homicides at all-time highs and police killed at a rate of one a day.

Police reform in Mexico is a “monumental task” that requires considerable institutional and political support, but the country’s politicians have shown little will to take action as they benefit most from the status quo, a new InSight Crime analysis reports. Politicians and officials in Mexico have promised to reform the police for years, but the force continues to face the same struggles in curtailing the growing threat posed by organized crime groups. Officers lack adequate training and support, receive dismal salaries, and must work long hours because of understaffing.

The challenges are daunting. The country saw more homicides in 2017 than any other year on record, and 2018 is on pace to see violence reach new heights. The country’s criminal landscape has also grown increasingly fragmented — and more violent — due to the government’s controversial “kingpin strategy,” which consists of arresting or killing the leaders of criminal organizations. Yet these high-profile arrests haven’t made the job any safer for police. One officer has been killed every day in 2018, almost half of which were municipal police, according to a study by the non-governmental organization Causa en Común. Thanks in part to a long history of corruption and politicians’ ties to organized crime, the ruling elite has had little appetite for real reform. “As a result,” InSight Crime concludes, “Mexico’s police officers have lost much of their legitimacy, especially in municipalities hit hard by the presence and activities of organized crime groups. Citizens often view their safety and destiny as being in the hands of violent criminals or well-armed self-defense groups that have formed to defend their communities.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Futile Wait for Justice’ in Mexican System of Impunity

A study ranks Mexico third from last of 69 countries measured for how often someone can get away with breaking the law. Weak judicial and law enforcement systems are a big reason why violence runs unchecked in Latin America.

In Mexico, those who have lost a loved one to crime often suffer twice — first from the crime itself, and then from the relentless failures of the legal system, The Wall Street Journal reports. Ninety-three percent of crimes in Mexico are never reported because of mistrust of police and courts, according to a study by the Las Americas University of Puebla. Of those reported, just 3.6 percent end in a verdict. Mexico ranks third from last of 69 countries measured for their levels of impunity, or how often someone can get away with breaking the law, the Las Americas study found. Countries in Latin America held six of the 10 worst slots. Weak judicial and law enforcement systems are a big reason why violence runs unchecked in Latin America, which has the highest homicide rate of any region in the world.

In one case, 11 suspects were arrested in 2013 and confessed to a string of kidnappings and as many as 10 murders. Police found video clips on some of their cellphones of the victims — friends, classmates and lovers of the alleged perpetrators — being tortured. The accused told police dates and locations where the kidnappings took place, and the location of a safe house where they imprisoned victims. There, police found physical evidence, such as a bloodstained ax and a machete, according to copies of the case files reviewed by the Journal. After nearly six years, there has yet to be a single ruling. Many family members of the victims worry the alleged killers will soon get out of prison. Some said they have been threatened by relatives of the accused. Almost all have fled Acapulco to different parts of the country, where they live in hiding.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Secrets of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel: Pistoleros, Accountants and Murder

Long-buried secrets of one of the world’s most notorious drug gangs have emerged during the ongoing trial in Brooklyn, N.Y., of the Mexican kingpin known as El Chapo.

When Miguel Angel Martinez took the stand in the third week of the Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán trial, he revealed the innermost details of  one of the world’s most formidable and murderous transnational crime groups.

During two days of gripping testimony, he revealed the secrets of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which was operated like a large corporation, comprised of accountants, secretaries, hitmen, money launderers, airplane pilots, boat captains, and drug smugglers.

See also: Is El Chapo a Murderous Drug Lord or a Tool of Corrupt Governments? 

Martinez was himself a former member of the cartel, and a close friend, or “compadre” of Guzman. (El Chapo was the godfather of his son).

As his former boss fixed him with an icy glare, he described a business that took place both on the ground, and in the air.

Martinez, a pilot who had his own nickname of El Gordo (Fats), would fly small planes from Colombia to Mexico carrying around 1,000 kilos of cocaine on each flight. On numerous occasions, El Chapo would join him. The flights took place in remote areas like the Colombian jungle to avoid Government interference.

In fact, that was one of the reasons Martinez rose to become a key cartel operative. He was first recruited into the group because of his specific knowledge of “clandestine landing strips,” or plane runways that were in rural areas and undetectable to the authorities. He recalled one landing strip where they had to push cows of the way.

And the flights were risky.

El Chapo paid off certain Government officials in Mexico to land the planes, but on one occasion, Martinez and his co-pilot ran out of gas ten minutes away from their destination. However, they couldn’t land the plane just anywhere with all the drugs, and so they were forced to fly to their destination with no engines and no gasoline.

According to Martinez, the co-pilot was an experienced flyer, so he was able to use the air current to drift to their destination (he was also a U.S. Navy pilot at the time.)

When members of the cartel spoke on the radio, they used code language to avoid any US interference.  “We have code for everything,” Martinez said. “Guzmán would say ‘organize a party’ and that meant get ready to land planes. Shirts meant cocaine. Girls meant planes. Documents meant money.”

Chapo received up to ten planes in one day, which made him “very happy.” “He said compadre, now it’s a great party,” Martinez recalled.

Guzmán owned offices all over Mexico city to orchestrate his drug business. Cartel operatives posed as attorneys and had to move frequently to avoid suspicion. Martinez said he was in the office a few times a week.

But he also owned many ranches along the beach so he could receive drug shipments via boat. From 1990 to 1995, the drugs were transported by ship and posed as fishing boats and shrimp boats– a tip they said they received from Mexico’s then-acting Attorney General.

Chapo paid off  government officials at the highest level, according to Martinez. He paid the attorney general millions of dollars in exchange for protection, and tips. The AG told Chapo to switch to boat transportation to avoid interception by the U.S. Government.

The boats would carry up to 14 tons of cocaine in shipment containers disguised as bath tubs, Martinez recollected.

While Chapo’s thriving drug business was pouring in money–he kept 45 percent for himself and his men and the Colombians took the other 55 percent– the downfall of his reign started when the drug wars began, Martinez said.

The drug war between the Sinaloa cartel and Tijuana cartel led to a bloodbath in Mexico that was hard for authorities to ignore.

El Chapo would hire gunmen,  known in Spanish as “pistoleros,” to kill members of the Tijuana drug cartel, or any of Chapo’s enemies.

Martinez heard El Chapo describe at least 20 killings, and his hitmen described another 20 as well.

The “pistoleros” were equipped with Ar-15s, grenades, tear gas, bombs, pistols and other weapons that were imported from Pakistan on a monthly basis, Martinez said. They drove around in armored trucks and wore bullet proof vests.

El Chapo had 25 pistoleros defending him, and another 100 protecting the cartel.

But on one deadly occasion, the pistoleros were not by his side. At the Guadalajara airport in Mexico in 1993, the Tijuana cartel was tipped off that El Chapo’s security would be low. They met him in the airport parking lot and chased Guzman through the airport, firing shots.

El Chapo escaped through the luggage belt and ran to a local highway, but Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, who was standing right in front of the drug boss, was shot and killed in the crossfire.

After that, El Chapo gained national attention. He was on the cover of every national magazine. A month later, he was arrested, and he would start the beginning of life on the run.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff reporter for The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Secrets of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel: Pistoleros, Accountants and Murder

Long-buried secrets of one of the world’s most notorious drug gangs have emerged during the ongoing trial in Brooklyn, N.Y., of the Mexican kingpin known as El Chapo.

When Miguel Angel Martinez took the stand in the third week of the Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán trial, he revealed the innermost details of  one of the world’s most formidable and murderous transnational crime groups.

During two days of gripping testimony, he revealed the secrets of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which was operated like a large corporation, comprised of accountants, secretaries, hitmen, money launderers, airplane pilots, boat captains, and drug smugglers.

See also: Is El Chapo a Murderous Drug Lord or a Tool of Corrupt Governments? 

Martinez was himself a former member of the cartel, and a close friend, or “compadre” of Guzman. (El Chapo was the godfather of his son).

As his former boss fixed him with an icy glare, he described a business that took place both on the ground, and in the air.

Martinez, a pilot who had his own nickname of El Gordo (Fats), would fly small planes from Colombia to Mexico carrying around 1,000 kilos of cocaine on each flight. On numerous occasions, El Chapo would join him. The flights took place in remote areas like the Colombian jungle to avoid Government interference.

In fact, that was one of the reasons Martinez rose to become a key cartel operative. He was first recruited into the group because of his specific knowledge of “clandestine landing strips,” or plane runways that were in rural areas and undetectable to the authorities. He recalled one landing strip where they had to push cows of the way.

And the flights were risky.

El Chapo paid off certain Government officials in Mexico to land the planes, but on one occasion, Martinez and his co-pilot ran out of gas ten minutes away from their destination. However, they couldn’t land the plane just anywhere with all the drugs, and so they were forced to fly to their destination with no engines and no gasoline.

According to Martinez, the co-pilot was an experienced flyer, so he was able to use the air current to drift to their destination (he was also a U.S. Navy pilot at the time.)

When members of the cartel spoke on the radio, they used code language to avoid any US interference.  “We have code for everything,” Martinez said. “Guzmán would say ‘organize a party’ and that meant get ready to land planes. Shirts meant cocaine. Girls meant planes. Documents meant money.”

Chapo received up to ten planes in one day, which made him “very happy.” “He said compadre, now it’s a great party,” Martinez recalled.

Guzmán owned offices all over Mexico city to orchestrate his drug business. Cartel operatives posed as attorneys and had to move frequently to avoid suspicion. Martinez said he was in the office a few times a week.

But he also owned many ranches along the beach so he could receive drug shipments via boat. From 1990 to 1995, the drugs were transported by ship and posed as fishing boats and shrimp boats– a tip they said they received from Mexico’s then-acting Attorney General.

Chapo paid off  government officials at the highest level, according to Martinez. He paid the attorney general millions of dollars in exchange for protection, and tips. The AG told Chapo to switch to boat transportation to avoid interception by the U.S. Government.

The boats would carry up to 14 tons of cocaine in shipment containers disguised as bath tubs, Martinez recollected.

While Chapo’s thriving drug business was pouring in money–he kept 45 percent for himself and his men and the Colombians took the other 55 percent– the downfall of his reign started when the drug wars began, Martinez said.

The drug war between the Sinaloa cartel and Tijuana cartel led to a bloodbath in Mexico that was hard for authorities to ignore.

El Chapo would hire gunmen,  known in Spanish as “pistoleros,” to kill members of the Tijuana drug cartel, or any of Chapo’s enemies.

Martinez heard El Chapo describe at least 20 killings, and his hitmen described another 20 as well.

The “pistoleros” were equipped with Ar-15s, grenades, tear gas, bombs, pistols and other weapons that were imported from Pakistan on a monthly basis, Martinez said. They drove around in armored trucks and wore bullet proof vests.

El Chapo had 25 pistoleros defending him, and another 100 protecting the cartel.

But on one deadly occasion, the pistoleros were not by his side. At the Guadalajara airport in Mexico in 1993, the Tijuana cartel was tipped off that El Chapo’s security would be low. They met him in the airport parking lot and chased Guzman through the airport, firing shots.

El Chapo escaped through the luggage belt and ran to a local highway, but Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, who was standing right in front of the drug boss, was shot and killed in the crossfire.

After that, El Chapo gained national attention. He was on the cover of every national magazine. A month later, he was arrested, and he would start the beginning of life on the run.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff reporter for The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Most Female Murder Victims Worldwide Killed by Partners or Family: UN

Some 58 percent of women killed worldwide last year were the victims of intimate partners or family members, according to the United Nations, in a report that called for more effective cooperation among police, the justice system, and health and social services to prevent the killings.

About 58 percent of women killed worldwide last year were the victims of intimate partners or family members, according to a new report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The study examined available homicide data and analyzed the gender-related killing of women and girls, with a specific focus on intimate partner and family-related homicide.

femmicide

Cover of UNODC Report on “Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls”

About 50,000 women were killed by intimate partners and family members, the study said.

Women in Africa are most at risk of being killed by intimate partners or family members. On the continent, the rate was around 3.1 victims per 100,00 female population, according to the report.

Women in the Americas were the second most at risk, with the rate being 1.6 victims per 100 female population.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC executive director, called for targeted responses to prevent and end gender-related killings.

“While the vast majority of homicide victims are men, women continue to pay the highest price as a result of gender inequality, discrimination and negative stereotypes,” Fedotov said in a press release accompanying the report.

The study called for more effective cooperation among police, the justice system, and health and social services. It also emphasizes the importance of involving men in the solution, including through early education.

Violence against women is widely underreported to authorities, according to the report, and domestic violence against women can be seen as a continuum, ranging from slaps, punches and kicks, to assaults with a weapon with homicide being the culmination of prior gender-based violence.

This month Dr. Tamara O’Neal, an emergency room physician at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, was shot to death along with two bystanders by her ex-fiancé.

Community advocates and practitioners have argued that, despite the prevalence of intimate partner violence across all economic and ethnic groups, the media and public officials rarely identified it as a public health challenge.

The study was officially released on Nov. 25, timed to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The copy of the full report can be downloaded here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR News Intern.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina, in Solitary, Called Victim of Psychological ‘Torture’

The 30-year-old Russian has been teaching yoga and baking cookies since she was arrested on charges of working for Russian intelligence during the 2016 election campaign, say sympathetic supporters. She was sent to administrative segregation this week for what prison officials claimed was her “safety.”

The accused Russian spy who is one of the most intriguing figures in the investigation into President Trump’s election campaign has landed in solitary confinement for the second time, and her supporters back home claim the U.S. government is creating “conditions of torture” to ramp up “psychological pressure” on her.

But authorities at the Alexandria, Va., detention facility where she has been housed counter that Maria Butina was moved into administrative segregation for her own “safety.”

Butina, who faces charges of conspiring to act as a foreign agent, has been imprisoned since her arrest July 16, after she was judged a flight risk by authorities. According to prosecutors, she was working for Russian intelligence as part of a stealth mission to subvert the 2016 election.

The  Siberian-born Butina, who celebrated her 30th birthday in jail, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and officials, family and supporters in her native land are eagerly using the latest wrinkle in her case to generate sympathy.

“She is not allowed to take a walk during the day, only between 2 and 4 in the morning,” Ivan Melnikov, vice president of the Russian division of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, told the Russian news service Interfax. 

“It is unacceptable from the human rights standpoint,” Melnikov said in a report translated and posted by Johnson’s Russia List, a listserv of news from Russia supported by George Washington University. “At night, a human being should be asleep.”

Placing her in solitary, he said, “constitutes the creation of conditions of torture to exert psychological pressure.”

When she was first jailed, Butina was confined briefly to a solitary cell in a Washington, DC, detention center for 22 hours a day, and later released into the general population.

According to her lawyer, who filed a petition for her release this week, she was moved into solitary a second time by Virginia prison authorities after she gave a fellow inmate the name and phone number of her lawyers.

Attorney Robert Driscoll said he was told the decision was made “for her safety,” CNN.com reported.

Prison authorities have so far not commented on her case.

Maria Butina

A photo of Maria Butina before she was jailed. Photo via Wikipedia.

Butina, a former American University graduate student, developed close friendships with leading conservative activists who in turn reportedly put her in contact with major players in both the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association.

But her compatriots, who believe she is a scapegoat in U.S. partisan wrangling, are trying to turn her into a heroine.

A sympathetic report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia this week, headlined “Despite tough prison conditions, Butina stays strong,” painted her as a “hostage to big politics.”

“Maria is being held hostage to big politics,” Alexander Domin, a Moscow law professor described as a personal friend, told the paper. “By arresting her, Washington is flaunting its power.

“The Russian Foreign Ministry now faces a serious task: to help our political prisoners return home.”

According to the Izvestia dispatch, Butina spent her time teaching yoga and algebra to her fellow inmates when she was housed in the general prison population, and even started to learn Italian.

“I heard that she and her fellow inmates even baked cookies,” her father Valery Butin was quoted as saying. “But it is difficult to imagine how hard it is when your daughter is jailed under spurious charges.

“I hope this nightmare will end soon and we will meet again.”

Butina faces years in prison if convicted.

from https://thecrimereport.org

South Korean Police ‘Bulldozer’ to Head Interpol

The election of South Korea’s Kim Jong-yang as president of Interpol after months of scandal will likely see the organization return to its core mission, as delegates chose a career cop over a Kremlin insider.

The election of South Korea’s Kim Jong-yang as president of Interpol after months of scandal will likely see the organization return to its core mission, as delegates chose a career cop over Kremlin insider Alexander Prokopchuk, The Guardian reports. While day-to-day operations are handled by the general secretary, Kim will be tasked with salvaging the organization’s reputation after the sudden departure of the previous president, Meng Hongwei of China, who was detained over allegations of corruption. Meng’s wife, Grace Meng, insists he is innocent, and says the charges are driven by a vendetta at his security ministry that has cast a spotlight on China’s authoritarian system.

Kim joined the police in 1992, rising to become the chief of police in Gyeonggi province, the most populous in South Korea, before retiring in 2015 to become a vice president at Interpol. “He has a reputation for tenacity, and a lot of people in Korea have likened him to a bulldozer: whatever he wants to do, he will get it done,” said Lee Chang-Hoon of the department of police administration at Hannam University in Daejeon. “He’ll likely push for more cooperation between agencies on investigations and focus particularly on transnational cybercrimes.” His election was a high-profile win for a government program known as the “K-cop wave”, with South Korean officials looking to mimic the global popularity of K-pop music with policing tactics. The program started in 2015 and has trained officers from dozens of countries, with a focus on east Asian nations with large Korean populations. South Korea’s police have a chekered past. During years of dictatorship, they helped crush pro-democracy protests in the city of Gwangju in 1980 in which hundreds died. In recent years the police have faced criticism over the perception they do not take crimes against women seriously.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Why Governments Need to Declare Online War Against Botnets

Efforts to “manage” the threat of cyber-sabotage from botnets— which harness multiple computers to disrupt the Internet— will fail, warns the Council on Foreign Relations. A new paper says they need to be destroyed through a multi-national effort.

Malicious software used by cybercriminals or intelligence agencies to infect the internet represents an escalating threat that may be far beyond the ability of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and other countries to handle on their own, according to a new paper published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The paper, citing figures showing that cybercrime already costs the global economy an estimated $600 billion a year,  called for the establishment of an international body that could “take down” clandestine networks if individual countries prove unable or unwilling to do so.

The increasing use of “botnets,” in particular, poses a security danger to both nation states and corporations, according to the paper, written by Jason Healey, a senior research scholar at Columbia University; and Robert K. Knake, the Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow at CFR.

botnet

Illustration of the structure of a botnet, a virtual network of computers infected with a botnet-trojan by Tommy k. Johansson via Flickr

Botnets—groups of computers infected with malicious software that can distribute spam, send phishing emails, guess passwords, impersonate users, and break encryption—have already been used by China, Russia and Iran to conduct cyberwarfare, and are likely to increase in number, the authors said.

“About 16 billion devices are connected to the internet today, and both that number and the number of vulnerable and infected devices are expected to double in the next five years,” they wrote.

“Even if only the tiniest fraction of these devices is infected with botnets, malicious actors will have enormous disruptive potential at their disposal,” they wrote, adding that instead of trying to reinforce efforts to “manage” the problem, cyber authorities should set a goal of “zero botnets.”

Botnets are also used to carry out so-called “distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks,” which can harness multiple computers to sabotage individual targets—ranging from individual companies to a national  power grid—and cause a devastating collapse.

According to the authors, botnets are already responsible for as much as 30 percent of all open online traffic—most of it in the form of DDoS attacks.

Botnets are generally used by cybercriminals to generate huge profits that can be concealed through the use of cybercurrencies like bitcoin, but they have also been deployed by individual countries to serve political ends.

According to the authors, China has carried out DDoS attacks against the New York Times, the Falun Gong, and Chinese Christian churches in the U.S.

Iran was identified as responsible for a series of large-scale attacks against the U.S. financial sector between 2011 and 2013 in a response to alleged Washington efforts at cyber-disruption  of its nuclear program.

Russia used the DDoS weapon against Estonia in 2007 to punish that state for removing a statue commemorating Russians soldiers. [The paper did not refer to Russian efforts to sabotage or hack election systems in the U.S. and Europe.]

Large-scale cybercrime is only likely to grow, as more sophisticated technology becomes available to Internet users, the authors warned.

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is leading to massive growth in the number of internet-connected devices,” they wrote. “These devices are often not built with security in mind and are rarely updated once installed, resulting in known vulnerabilities that can be exploited by adversaries but are unlikely to be patched.”

According to the authors, U.S. networks are so far “among the cleanest in the world,” ranking eighth among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries for cyber-safety, but they said this should provide little assurance.

“In light of the past and potential harm that botnets cause, even infection rates that are well below one-tenth of 1 percent are too high, given the large and growing number of systems on the internet,” they wrote.

U.S. efforts to cope with the problem are flawed, the authors said.

The FBI’s “Operation Clean Slate” program, launched in April 2013, has successfully shut down some botnets, but “these efforts have not led to a measurable reduction in the number of botnets, the number of infected devices, or the harm that botnets cause.”

The face that the U.S. government has “appeared powerless” to take effective action should worry all internet users, the authors said.

“When the website of technology reporter Brian Krebs was taken offline by a DDoS attack, Krebs was only able to get his website back online once Google took over and absorbed the attack through its Project Shield program,” said the paper.

“Relying on a private company with profit motives to protect free speech in the United States, and globally, raises concerns.”

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing the

Department of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security to work with the private sector to identify ways of “dramatically reducing threats perpetrated by automated and distributed attacks.”

But the authors said the White Paper resulting from the report, released in May, lacked a clear set of goals.

The most effective way of eliminating botnets is through multinational action, they argued.

They quoted one editor from the TechTarget Network blog as saying, “If we determine that a botnet is sending millions of messages a day—the command servers are in Russia, part of the infrastructure is in Spain, and the bots are in North America—there has to be a way for all of these groups to cooperate in real time, or really quickly.

*“Because when you take down a botnet, if you don’t take down the whole structure at the same time, it is very easy for these guys to seize control and redirect all that traffic somewhere else.”

While some governments, including the U.S., are likely to be skeptical of multinational action that appeared to challenge national sovereignty, the authors said it was justified for global health and security.

“As 21st century challenges like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and pollution have become national security challenges, notions of national sovereignty have…changed,” they wrote. “Rather than being an absolute right of states, sovereignty now comes with sovereign responsibility to the citizens of states and sovereign obligations to other states.

“Botnets cause harm to individuals, to companies, and to states, but only when the harm is cross-border in nature does it become an international policy concern, in which the state causing the harm has a sovereign obligation to other states to address it.

“….[States should] be held liable by the international system for any harm caused to other states if they are not proactively and cooperatively working to respond to it.”

One remedy suggested by the authors was what they described as a “relatively small organization” capable both of carrying out multiple takedowns and to measure botnets globally, as well as provide technical assistance to countries trying to reduce their infection rates.

Such an organization could be funded at $10 million per year over a five-year period, they said—a small fraction of the economic damage now caused by cybercrime.

A complete copy of the paper can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR Editor Stephen Handelman. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Is El Chapo a Murderous Drug Lord or a Tool of Corrupt Governments?

In opening arguments of the much-anticipated trial of reputed Mexican drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the defense claimed the government’s case was more myth than reality.

In the much anticipated trial of the infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the defense claimed “El Chapo” was not the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel (one of the largest drug cartels in Mexico).

Jeffery Lichtman, one of Guzmán’s layers, argued in his opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing in downtown Brooklyn that Guzmán’s long time partner Ismael Zambada was the real leader, and “El Chapo” was being used as a scapegoat by the Mexican and U.S. governments.

Lichtman also claimed in a groundbreaking statement that Zambada was able to stay in business by paying off both the former and current Mexican president, as well as U.S. officials.

“There’s another side to this story,” said Lichtman.

“An ugly side to the story. This is a case that requires you to throw out what you know about the government. Government officials at the highest level can conspire and be bribed by economic gains. They’re in it for the money.”

He cited both the current and former Mexican presidents, as well as Mexican police officers, and the Mexican military as co-conspirators accepting money from Zambada in exchange for secrecy and cooperation.

But the United States, Lichtman said, is only interested in pursuing “El Chapo” because he is “the biggest prize this prosecution could dream of,” while Zambada continues to roam free.

After escaping from Mexican prison twice, and allegedly transporting over 150 kilograms of cocaine to the U.S., “El Chapo” has earned his name as a notorious drug kingpin, with Netflix TV shows based on his narcos business, rap songs named after him, and even a sandwich called ‘The El Chapo” at a deli in NYC.

However, the defense called “El Chapo” more of a myth than reality.

“If the world is focusing on the mythical creature Guzmán, whose going after Zambada?” Lichtman asked the court.

The U.S. Government was quick to rebut.

The Assistant US Attorney, Adam Fels, painted Guzmán as a hard hitting criminal whose multi-million dollar illegal enterprise was fueled by trafficking drugs via underground tunnels onto American soil.

The much anticipated trial began with opening statements late Tuesday afternoon after two jurors had to be replaced in the morning (one juror had a doctor’s note and was excused, the next juror did not have the funds to withstand jury duty).

Hundreds of people lined up outside the courthouse and stood in the rain waiting to go through security. Viewers got there as early as 3 am to get a spot in the court room. Many of the observation rooms were overflowing, and reporters, lawyers, and the general public were turned away.

When the prosecution began, they highlighted how Guzmán was able to traffic drugs into the U.S. like none of his predecessors. 

“Guzmán slashed delivery time time trafficking drugs by building underground tunnels from Mexico to the U.S.,” said Fels. “Consequently, Guzmán earned the name “El rapido”, or speedy.”

When he wasn’t using underground tunnels, “El Chapo” was transporting drugs by submarine, trucks, tractors, trailers, planes, cars; any transportation method he could get his hands on.

But Guzmán was known for more than just his speed.

According to the prosecution, Guzmán ran a gory, violent enterprise where hitman were hired to murder members from rival cartels and even members within the Sinola cartel, starting various drug wars in Mexico.

Fels noted that Guzmán gave direct orders to have his cousin, who was also his Lieutenant, murdered for potentially working with the authorities.

He also promised the jury there would be forthcoming evidence of Guzmán torturing members of rival cartels, and even pulling the trigger himself on one occasion.

Megan Hadley is the Senior Staff Writer at The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org