I did not comment on this matter before, because I did not know whether the back-and-forth e-mail exchange had ended. Now that Cultural Property Observer Peter Tompa has made a public comment on the issue, I assume that it has. I would like to apologise to Tompa. In an article on Hyperallergic, I described him as a dealer and lobbyist. The article, Lobbyist Misleads on Islamic State Antiquities Trafficking, has been corrected to show that he is a collector and lobbyist.
While the article explained that restricted coins were imported to the U.S. as part of a challenge to import restrictions, Tompa would like it to be emphasised that the ‘overtly illegal imports of coins’ mentioned in the article were for purposes of securing ‘standing’ in order to pursue a legal challenge to import restrictions on coins of the sort widely and legally collected worldwide.
Regarding the Guardian report that the Islamic State had received thirty-six million dollars from the illicit trade in Syrian antiquities, Tompa first claimed that I had ‘hype[d] that figure when fame came in the form of a Reuters blog’, then claimed that I had ‘sought fame (if not fortune) based on [the] hyped claim’.
I had been in Bloomberg Businessweek twice and the Daily Mail twice, regarding two other stories, before the $36m claim was ever reported. After it had been reported, my work on destruction alone was used by the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the New York Times twice and CNN amongst others – some of the most popular English-language publications in the world. The idea that I needed, let alone wanted, to seek “fame” (or, more realistically, prominence in Google) is ludicrous.
More importantly, had I hyped the claim? When Tompa blogged his supposed debunking, a British antiquities collector, metal detectorist John Howland, shared an observation.
From the ‘Black-Market Battleground’ piece by Justine Drennan:-
“While verification specifically of the antiquities trafficking data is still absolutely necessary, the verification of these other data, from the same set, lends credibility to the claim that the Islamic State has made thirty six million dollars from antiquities trafficking.”
The salient words here are ‘lends credibility’, which is not the same as ‘proves.’
Indeed. Oxford Dictionaries Online, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Black’s Law Dictionary agree. And so do I. Remarkably, Howland used that line to correct the Hyperallergic piece from which it had come.(1) I had explicitly stated that the data had not been verified.(2) Howland simply attributed my statement to someone else, whose article I had discussed.
That raises an interesting question. Did Howland deliberately misrepresent my article in order to attack it? Or did he read my article, accept that it was evidenced and reasonable, and quote it because he thought that it was the opposite of Tompa’s target, even though it was one and the same? Perhaps it is not ‘some in the archaeo-blogosphere’ who ‘are still trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear’…(3)
According to the notification on Cultural Property Observer, ‘Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author [Peter Tompa].’ That raises another interesting question. Did Tompa attack my article without having read it? Or, despite having read my article and thus knowing the origin of the quotation, did Tompa review and approve Howland’s misleading statement then leave it without correction or query?
Since then, and since discussion of the content of that article, Tompa has returned to and added to that post, but not addressed that comment.
In his supposed debunking, Tompa suggested that, as ‘CPO [Cultural Property Observer] explained at the time, major problems remained with the $36 million figure despite Hardy’s effort to latch onto it.‘ Today, Tompa queried: ‘And when that claim fell apart? Was it time issue a retraction and an apology to those who were attacked for questioning the claim? Of course not.’
Let us be clear. I have never attacked anyone for questioning that claim and I never would. I never could, because I have questioned it myself. His explanation, at the end of October, was that the source was an unnamed intelligence official and the $36m claim could have referred either to the income only from antiquities looting or to the income from all commodity looting. He acknowledged that I had already made those points at the end of August, though my post at the end of August reiterated concerns that I had already expressed in the middle of June.
The Hyperallergic article, which Tompa wished to be retracted, highlighted incorrect statements that could be shown to be incorrect using their own sources. It was correct in doing so. And it was not retracted because it was not defamatory.
1: Its published title has been revised to match its submitted form, German Media May Corroborate $36m Islamic State Antiquities Trafficking.
2: Süddeutsche Zeitung, Norddeutscher Rundfunk and Westdeutscher Rundfunk did not prove the Guardian report. They never claimed that they did and Hyperallergic never claimed that they did. But SZ, NDR and WDR did provide information and evidence that strengthened trust in the Guardian report by verifying that its source existed and confirming some of the other data from that source.
3: Similarly, elsewhere, Howland alleged that archaeologist Paul Barford was ‘in denial that ISIS/ISIL terrorists’ main source of income is NOT from illicit antiquities’. Tompa described Howland’s allegations as ‘spot on‘. Barford has never made that claim, has directly challenged less implausible claims by archaeologists and others, and has repeatedly warned that we have few sources, repeating hearsay, making unevidenced claims, to the point that it is disturbing.