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

Jun Cen

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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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After bombs, Pakistan tightens security for rare major cricket match

By Mubasher Bukhari1 | LAHORE, Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan Pakistan tightened security in the city of Lahore ahead of a hugely anticipated final of its domestic cricket league on Sunday, pushing ahead with a rare high-profile match despite a recent spike in Islamist violence.

The government had wavered momentarily on whether to host the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final after a series of militant attacks killed more than 130 people last month, including a suicide bombing in Lahore in which at least 13 people died.

Pakistan has only hosted one international series since militants attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009 . Six players were hurt while two civilians and six security officials were killed in that attack.

A tour by Zimbabwe’s cricket team in 2015 was almost disrupted when a suicide bomber killed two security officials near a stadium.

While the Pakistan Super League is in its second year and boasts a television viewership in excess of 50 million people, all matches have been played in the United Arab Emirates.

Rana Sanaullah, law minister for Punjab province, of which Lahore is capital, told Reuters the government had “prepared a fool-proof security plan” for the night-time game, expected to finish after midnight (1900 GMT).

Sanaullah said nearly 4,000 police and paramilitary Rangers would be patrolling the area and fans would have to pass five security layers before reaching the 25,000-capacity stadium where the Peshawar Zalmi will be playing Quetta Gladiators.

But not everyone has been convinced.

Citing security fears, some high-profile foreign players such as former England captain Kevin Pietersen, who plays for the Quetta team, decided to skip the final.

West Indian World Cup winner Darren Sammy, who plays for Peshawar, will be on the field.

On the morning of the match, cricket-obsessed Pakistanis were brushing off security worries and relishing the chance to once again savour big-game cricket on home soil.

“For the last several weeks, we were not going to restaurants because of threats of terrorism . But celebration of the PSL final has brought us out,” said school teacher Maleeha Rizvi, 48, dining with her family near the stadium.

“I guess this event has defeated terrorism,” she added.

Pakistan has been desperate for international cricket events to return but some media commentators have accused officials of risking lives by staging an event during a period of heightened security threats.

Officials, however, say security in Pakistan has greatly improved over the past few years and the recent bout of violence was a temporary blip.

(Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Robert Birsel)


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French soldier opens fire on machete-wielding man who ‘ran towards’ security forces at Louvre in Paris

A French soldier opened fire on a machete-wielding man who “ran towards” security forces around the Mus e du Louvre. The man – whose identity and nationality are not yet known – was reportedly attempting to enter the museum’s underground shop carrying two backpacks. Parisian police chief Michel Cadot said the attacker had been carrying a machete and had “run towards” a group of soldiers, shouting “Allahu akhbar” – ‘God is great’ in Arabic.

We are dealing with an attack from an individual who was clearly aggressive and represented a direct threat, and whose comments lead us to believe that he wished to carry out a terrorist incident.

Michel Cadot, police chief, Paris

Neither backpack – which sources had originally reported as suitcases – contained explosives, he confirmed. Benoit Brulon, spokesman for the military force which patrols key sites in the city, said the man attacked the four-strong team after being refused entry with his bags. They had tried to fight the man off before opening fire, he said.

One of the soldiers suffered minor injuries, and one of the others then have fired back five times, seriously injuring the man, including in the stomach. Mr Cadot said that a second individual had been detained after being spotted “behaving suspiciously”, but that there did not appear to be a link between them and the attack. Chinese tourist Jiao Liyang was among the 250 people inside the museum at the time, and said they had been told to sit on the ground in a locked room as the area was put on lockdown.

The Interior Ministry said they would be evacuated in small groups as soon as the “necessary precautions” had been taken.

Armed forces have been in place across the French capital to reassure tourists in the city after two major terror attacks in 2015.