We’ve covered the FBI’s pioneering art-theft agent before but we can’t resist another victory lap from BBC News:
Bob Wittman has been on the frontlines of the war against art crime since 1989. In a distinguished career he has recovered stolen art worth millions, in more than a dozen countries. Paintings by Rembrandt, Goya, Brughel and Rothko, Geronimo’s eagle-feathered war bonnet and a piece of solid gold Inca armour are just a few of his trophies. One of his last assignments was to investigate links between the sale of looted art from Iraq and Afghanistan and Islamic terrorism.
For most of his career, he was a lone operator. Today, the FBI’s Art Crime Team has 12 agents spread across the United States. Scotland Yard has four detectives – France has 30. Not surprisingly, in view of its vast cultural patrimony, Italy boasts the world’s biggest team – 300 art-hunting Carabinieri, including agents who use helicopters to patrol the country’s myriad archaeological sites. [ . . . ]
Now, at the age of 53, the king of heists is hanging up his silver badge and gun to write a book and spend more time with his wife and three children. Even in retirement, he will not allow his face to be photographed. He is forging a new career as a private art-security consultant and may still need to go undercover. Besides, there are too many criminals who would love to know the true identity of the smooth-talking FBI agent who put them behind bars.
“It’s about saving the cultural property of mankind,” Mr Wittman tells me, when I ask him why he chose such a dangerous job. “Every country has a different cultural heritage and saving these things brings us closer together as human beings. When it comes to art, it’s visceral. It affects us in a deep, emotional way.”