Colonel Matthew Bogdanos was honored for his book Thieves of Baghdad.

Matthew Bogdanos has served as an assistant district attorney at the New York County District Attorney’s Office since 1988. He holds a bachelor’s degree in classics from Bucknell University, a law degree and a master’s degree in classical studies from Columbia University, and a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the Army War College. A colonel in the Marine Reserves, he was recalled to active duty after 9/11, served one tour of duty in Afghanistan, for which he received a Bronze Star, and two tours of duty in Iraq, for which he received the National Humanities Medal in 2005 for leading the team that investigated the looting of the National Museum of Iraq and recovered more than 5,000 artifacts. In the process, he discovered something more disturbing than theft, which he described in the Afterword to the paperback edition:

“As discussed in the first edition, U.S. Marines in northwest Iraq in June 2005 arrested five insurgents holed up in underground bunkers filled with automatic weapons, ammunition stockpiles, black uniforms, ski masks, and night-vision goggles. Along with these tools of their trade, were 30 vases, cylinder seals, and statuettes that had been stolen from the Iraq Museum. Since then, the scenario has been repeated many times. It does not take a counter-terrorism expert to detect the sinister adjustment that has taken place. In 2003, while pursuing leads to find antiquities, we usually came across weapons and, sometimes, links to violent, radical groups. Now, as our troops pursue leads specific to the trail of weapons and insurgents, we find antiquities. In short, the relationship between the dog and the wagging tail has been reversed. As the 9/11 commission noted, international law enforcement has effectively squeezed radical groups by freezing assets, neutralizing charities that served as fronts for jihadists, and by otherwise cutting off traditional means of financing. But terrorists are nothing if not adaptive… Like the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan who have learned to finance their activities through the opium trade, insurgents in Iraq have discovered a new source of income in Iraq’s cash crop: antiquities.

Thieves of BaghdadWe do not have hard numbers — this traffic in art for arms is still too recent a phenomenon… But this illicit trade has become a growing source of revenue for the insurgents…. Iraq is a war zone, but it is also the cradle of civilization, with 10,000 poorly guarded archaeological sites. Given this almost limitless supply of antiquities, the insurgency appears to have found an income stream sufficiently secure to make any Chief Financial Officer sleep well at night.”

Thieves of Baghdad serves as a rallying cry for law enforcement, policymakers and professionals to take action.


With freshly-signed copies of The Medici Conspiracy from the Peter Watson lecture under their arms, SAFE supporters filled Alan Sokol and Marina Papa-Sokal’s West Village penthouse apartment for our first Beacon Awards Gala. Gathering for a glass of wine and stimulating conversation with old friends and a scrumptious buffet dinner prepared by chef Stephen Javaras, SAFE President Cindy Ho presented Beacon Awards to:

Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini for “The Medici Conspiracy“: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities—From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums” (2006)

Matthew Bogdanos for “Thieves of Baghdad”: One Marine’s Passion for Ancient Civilizations and the Journey to Recover the World’s Greatest Stolen Treasures” (2005)

Roger Atwood for “Stealing History”: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World” (2004)

Through the distinctive voice of its author(s), with different geographic emphasis and thematic approach, each book offers the general public insight into the complexities of the international black market trade of antiquities in an unprecedented way. Most importantly, the books recommend measures for curbing the international trade in illicit antiquities and details ethical collecting practices that all institutions and individuals should adopt.

At the Gala, we were treated to a few illuminating remarks by the Award Winners. We were also gratified by our guests’ generous donations, which were matched by SAFE Vice President Rick St. Hilaire, making this an even more successful fundraiser than we’d hoped.

Although the evening’s success owes much to the efforts of our volunteers and the distinguished Beacon winners who were kind enough to attend, to the largest measure of thanks go to the attendees themselves. Your charm sparkling intellect, charm and generosity made the first Beacon Awards Gala an event to remember. Thanks to everyone involved… we hope to see you at the next SAFE event.

SAFE’s newly established Beacon Awards recognize individuals who enlighten the public about the devastating effects of looting and the illicit antiquities trade.

“I had the best time… Fascinating crowd, diplomats and lawyers and writers, and all very friendly…What a lovely success…Really fantastic…”Gala guests


Thursday November 16, 2006
Lecture with Peter Watson at the Chelsea Art Museum followed by Awards Ceremony with Buffet Dinner

Download souvenir journal here and “like” SAFE Beacon Awards on Facebook.