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Why expensive security alarms could actually be putting your valuables at risk

Jun Cen

Subscribe to WIRED1


In September 30, 2016, after an elaborate police operation, two van Gogh paintings were recovered from the home of a Neapolitan Mafia boss . They had been stolen nearly 14 years earlier from the world-famous Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on December 7, 2002 . The thieves weren’t too subtle about their approach: they smashed a window, probably with a sledgehammer wrapped in cloth . The expensive alarm system didn’t go off . The guards heard the commotion, but the thieves were too quick for them . They knew exactly which two paintings they wanted, so they walked straight up to them, ripped them off the walls and exited through the broken window. This case is just one of many, and not exclusively in the world of art crime, where expensive security is foiled through the simplest of methods . Most of the time, thieves can render useless a multi-million-pound defence system simply by acting quickly. To boards of directors and insurance companies, expensive, state-of-the-art security2 sounds like it should be the most effective and safest option .

But such an approach raises two problems . First, there always seem to be smart people who enjoy a challenge . When I worked at a major art museum, the computer technician was driven mad by some non-malevolent hacker3 who kept breaking into the system . The hacker wouldn’t do much – turn off a light here, send an email there4 – just enough to show that the system had been breached, and would require a complete overhaul of security protocols. Second, most high-tech security5 – whether for computer systems, banks, homes or museums – is alarm-based . When a perimeter is breached, an alarm – silent or sounding – is meant to notify authorities . This sounds fine in principle, but for the fact that technical devices sometimes don’t work properly, and someone must respond in a timely and effective fashion for the alarm to have served any purpose. In 2008, two museum incidents highlighted the dangers mentioned above . First, at the blockbuster British Museum exhibit of the Chinese terracotta warriors, an activist slipped surgical masks, scrawled with political slogans, over the faces of some of the figures .

Each statue had been expensively protected by a software that drew an invisible barrier around each warrior – if this barrier were breached, an alarm would sound . At least, that was the idea . Not only did the alarm not go off, but tourists had to look for a guard to tell them what was happening . Second, that same year, a bunch of drunken vandals smashed open the employee entrance to the Mus e d’Orsay in Paris . The alarms went off, but the intruders were able to rush in, punch a hole through a Monet and sprint out before guards could reach them. Human response is of critical importance to high-tech security, both in terms of the natural human prankster impulse and the practical response of guards or police to an alarm sounding. To counteract this over-reliance on technology, some ingenious security specialists have come up with low-tech, analogue defensive measures to compliment the laser barriers and heat-sensor cameras . Dennis Ahern, director of security UK at Christie’s auction house and previously head of security for the Tate museums, taught a course on museum security at the ARCA postgraduate programme in art crime and cultural heritage protection . He likes to combine low- and high-tech devices in the same gallery .

The analogue methods, some as mundane as affixing a sculpture to its plinth with high-tensile steel fishing line, offer an element of surprise . Hostile surveillance – casing a joint, as criminals are wont to do when considering a location for a crime – might spot CCTV cameras and motion detectors, but the last thing a thief expects is a bit of fishing line.


Bolting statues to plinths, or frames to walls, is done less than you might think (there is some concern about speed of removal of objects in the event of a fire), but lashing a valuable that you don’t want going anywhere to an immobile surface is a tried-and-true safety mechanism, at least delaying potential thieves, if not stopping them altogether . Average police response time to a 999 call in cities is ten to 15 minutes, so delaying a thief is crucial . Add a surprise element to your alarm system, and that fishing line might buy police an extra minute or two to stop the bad guys . They also offer a failsafe if technology fails. Hanging side-by-side in London’s National Gallery are Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?) and Margaret, the Artist’s Wife, a pair of pendant portraits by Jan van Eyck . There they rest, doubtless secured by various alarms and tracking devices (museums don’t like to go public with the details of their security measures) . For centuries, these works were displayed together at the painter’s guild hall in Bruges . But back in the 18th century, Portrait of a Man was stolen .

To make sure its neighbour didn’t go anywhere, a heavy iron chain was affixed to it . Now that the two portraits are reunited in the National Gallery, perhaps it would be fitting (and safer) to have them both chained to the wall ? In addition to all that high-tech security, of course.


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Kerry Flags Security Threat From Climate Change

Just weeks ahead of a major U.N. climate change conference in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an impassioned call for the United States to take the lead in the environmental fight, seizing on the national security implications of a warming world as a cudgel to batter Republicans opposed to the Obama administration s energy and environmental policies.

In a speech1 Tuesday at Old Dominion University, near the world s largest naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, Kerry ticked off a now-familiar litany2 of national security threats posed by climate change.

Those include droughts, rising sea levels, melting Arctic ice, and stronger and more frequent storms, all of which the Defense Department and plenty of retired military leaders point to as potential threat multipliers.

I have made climate change a priority not simply because climate change is a threat to the environment, Kerry said. Climate change is a threat to the security of the United States and indeed to the security and stability of countries everywhere.

He also said that the State Department will now begin studying how to weave analysis of climate change and security into all aspects of U.S. foreign policy, including everything from decisions on aid to proactive diplomacy meant to fend off security crises like the drought-fueled civil war in Syria.

Increasingly, the Defense Department incorporates climate change into its security calculations, such as the need for humanitarian assistance in disaster-prone regions or increased attention to capabilities needed to operate in an opening Arctic.

Just as the Pentagon has begun to view our military planning through a climate lens, ultimately we have to integrate climate considerations into every aspect of our foreign policy, he said.

And Kerry, like President Barack Obama this past May, seized on climate change s national security implications to take aim at Republican critics who for years have slammed the Obama administration s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and promote cleaner energy policies that led to last week s rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Obama said3 in a speech in May that those who don t support action to fight climate change are guilty of dereliction of duty.

Republican lawmakers have been critical of the Pentagon s concerns about climate change and have grilled members of the military brass who ve played up the threat from a warming world. Leading Republicans, such as Sen.

James Inhofe (R.-Okla.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, lambasted4 two years ago a senior admiral who identified climate change as the biggest long-term risk in the Pacific, for example. Republican presidential candidates will square off in a debate on the economy Tuesday night, giving them a chance to take shots at Obama s environmental policies, including the president s decision to delay approval of Keystone for almost seven years before finally nixing the project.

Focusing on the national security repercussions of climate change gives Obama a way of pushing back at Republican accusations that a clean energy push will do more harm than good because of its potential economic damage.

It also reflects a growing chorus5 inside militaries6 in the United States7, the United Kingdom8, and NATO9. France10 is concerned about the impacts of climate change on global security, especially in Francophone Africa. Retired Australian generals are urging11 Canberra to focus more12 on climate change s challenges for Australia s military.

Even China, which for years has resisted the notion that climate change could impact its security, is beginning to rethink13 how rising seas and warmer temperatures could affect its ability to feed itself and deal with threats from both within and without.

Kerry s talking to an international audience, and the climate security message is even more salient in the rest of the world, said Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project, a think tank.

Climate change impacts security in two main ways. It can exacerbate bad situations in already fragile places, such as Syria and Yemen, and it can open up new arenas for potential conflict, such as in the melting14 Arctic. But rising seas and melting permafrost also threaten military bases themselves.

At Norfolk, home to one-fifth of the U.S. Navy, sea levels are rising twice15 as fast as the global average and could rise more than 5 feet by the end of the century, potentially putting the main U.S. naval base out of commission.

Holland said that embedding climate change into the fabric of U.S.

foreign policy could make it easier for policymakers to grapple with future challenges before they erupt. Understanding the impact of droughts or shrinking rivers in already volatile regions, for instance, could help U.S. policymakers come up with ways to increase food aid or plan for mass migrations before events spiral out of control, he said.

Despite painting a dire picture of a world wracked by conflict over dwindling water supplies, rising seas, and falling harvests, Kerry said concerted action now could still allow the world to avoid the worst impacts.

He underscored the need for the United States to play a leading role at the upcoming climate summit in Paris next month, after the last global summit in Copenhagen in 2009 fizzled.

The sooner we can move rapidly to a low-carbon economy the sooner we will solve this problem in its entirety, he said.

Republicans in Congress and at the state level have pushed back hard against the Obama administration s plans16 to reduce carbon emissions from the electricity sector. And leading Republicans on the presidential campaign trail, including Donald Trump17, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio18, have been skeptical about climate change and the need to embrace cleaner energies. Many Republicans have also been critical of U.S.

efforts to take the lead at the climate summit in Paris, arguing that developing countries especially China will just continue to pollute.

The United States has indeed made dramatic progress in reshaping its energy sector and cutting its emissions of carbon dioxide in recent years, thanks to both the domestic boom in natural gas production and tougher environmental rules from the Obama administration. And China, the world s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, has now mapped19 out ambitious plans to green the world s second-biggest economy over the next five years.

And the world is already seeing dramatic shifts in the energy landscape. Coal, which has powered the world for centuries and is still the mainstay of electricity generation, this year suffered its first-ever decline20 in global consumption, for example.

That transformation is set to continue over the next quarter-century, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said21 Tuesday, as cleaner energy like natural gas and renewables shunt aside dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil.

But that metamorphosis is not yet radical enough or spread broadly enough to meet global climate goals, the IEA concluded.

Developing countries, led by India but also those in the Middle East, will increase their reliance on dirty fuels like oil and coal in the decades to come, potentially making it impossible for the world to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

There are unmistakable signs that the much-needed global energy transition is underway, but not yet at a pace that leads to a lasting reversal of the trend of rising CO2 emissions, the IEA said22 in its annual World Energy Outlook.


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6 million given to reduce harm from Shropshire crimes …

More than 6 million in grants has now been paid out to charities, community groups and sports clubs in the West Mercia area by police and crime commissioner Bill Longmore.

The money has gone to support organisations and initiatives who are helping the commissioner achieve objectives from his police and crime plan. It is particularly focused around crime prevention and diverting people away from offending, a more cost-effective way of tackling crime. An independent audit of one PCC-funded scheme aimed at rehabilitating offenders, estimated that for every 1 spent by the commissioner, it had saved 16 from the public purse.

Grants have been awarded throughout Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin as well as Herefordshire and Worcestershire to a variety of schemes. Among them was Shrewsbury-based Axis Counselling, which received 40,000 to pilot an Independent Sexual Violence Parent Adviser Service for Telford & Wrekin and Shropshire. The money was to fund an adviser to meet a gap in services for child victims of abuse aged 0 to 10 years, meeting the police & crime plan objectives of to work in partnership to protect the most vulnerable people in our society .

Gail Naidoo, from Axis Counselling, said: By providing this specialist support service, we are seeking to provide the best possible opportunities for the child to cope and recover from the trauma of abuse. This grant has helped us to develop this work and meet the gap that currently exists in supporting children. she added.

Mr Longmore said: I ve seen the impact these grants can make, and it s really good to be able to support people who have got such dedication, knowledge and ideas to make a real difference. I ve often said that no-one knows the communities of West Mercia better than the people who live and work in them, and they are doing a huge amount to help myself and the police make the area even safer. The grants scheme provides that opportunity for voluntary and community groups.

It helps them fulfil their potential in reducing crime, harm and offending and improve their communities in the ways they want to. It is helping us create new partnerships and achieve better value for public money, because initiatives to prevent and reduce crime are much more cost-effective. It s a big step forward all round.

he added.

Home Start Herefordshire received 18,988 for their New Beginnings Domestic Abuse Project. Your Ideas Youth and Community Centre in Redditch received 19,950 for work to stop young people who are excluded from full time education from entering the criminal justice system or causing anti-social behaviour. Asha Women s Centre in Worcester received 40,000 to further develop a scheme aimed at preventing women from reoffending and working with them at an early stage.

South Worcestershire Community Safety Partnership received 40,000 to contribute to the running costs of the joint CCTV monitoring.