Security in the Kunsthistorische Museum was below all standards, but museum director tries to save his image by complimenting an ordinairy thief.

Museum Security Network Mailinglist
Tue Jan 24 07:18:11 CET 2006

Seipel (Director of the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna):

Saliera-Dieb war “Experte”

(Austrian museum director says thief was highly specialized expert).

Security in the Kunsthistorische Museum was below all standards, but museum director tries to save his image by complimenting an ordinairy thief.
——————————————————————————– Security in the Kunsthistorisches Museum was below all standards, but museum director tries to save his image by complimenting an ordinary thief. Is this museum director an expert on crime himself that he is able to know which thieves are highly specialized, and which not? The burglary was very easy. The thief used the unprotected scaffold, could easily break the non-burglary-proof window, and find his way into a plain glass display case. Too often directors of poorly protected museums praise thieves with their ‘professional’ jobs.

Reaction from Charles Hill

A few weeks ago ‘expert’ Hill stated in an English newspaper that he knew the Saliera was in the hands of East-European criminals….

Dear Ton,
Your comment today on Dr. Seipel at the KHM was unfair. I, for one, had wrongly assumed that there must have been inside information from someone at the museum for the Cellini saliera burglar to have been successful in his theft. The revelation that he was some sort of alarm expert well explains how he avoided the passive infrared detectors in the Raphael gallery to get to the Cellini masterpiece, after he had set off the window alarm to which the security guards on duty failed to respond properly.
The man who stole it seems to be a Vincenzo Perugia (of the Mona Lisa theft almost 100 years ago) or Stephane Breitweiser cunning, and low wattage, kind. Why on earth would you hold Dr. Seipel responsible for the saliera theft? He’s an art historian who has become a distinguished museum director. He is not an electrician, or some bull roaring security expert. Scapegoating Dr.Seipel is distasteful and disgraceful.
I’ve been worried recently that you are becoming increasingly subjective when you need to keep your objectivity. Perhaps it is the baleful influence of Michel van Rijn upon you, although in this instance you seem to have joined in the ill-informed and ill-judged jack boot bullying of Dr. Seipel by the Austrian press.
Please get back to your good work, and objectivity.
Yours ever,

Dear Mr. Hill,
Well, this is anything but an objective comment. Security is a lot more than just electronics. Electronics are completely useless if not integrated within a burglary resistant building. Security is based on structural measures, electronics, CCTV and organizational measures. Too often museums only depend on electronics, and too often it has become obvious that this is not enough. The scaffold was not protected, the windows were not of burglary proof glass, neither was the display case. This Cellini object is the absolute highlight of the collection, and was displayed in a most vulnerable way. That I am right is shown by the fact that the Austrian government all of a sudden reserves over 4 million Euros to improve the security of museums, and that the Kunsthistorisches Museum announced that the Saliera from now on will be displayed in a case with burglary proof glass that cannot easily be smashed.
It was Seipel himself who offered his resignation after the theft, because he felt responsible for the theft, and the poor security. Do read the reports that were published immediately after the theft. If a security system is only based on electronics it IS a poor system. I do hold the Kunsthistorisches Museum responsible for this theft, and will always object victimized museum directors who praise the professionalism of criminals.
Thank you for your feedback on my personal comments on this list. However, I really would have preferred feedback that is based on facts and not on unsubstantiated allegations. The reference to Michel van Rijn and his ‘baleful’ influence on me is a complete enigma. I do not know what happened between you and him on all occasions you visited him at Tenerife and were good friends with him, but I really prefer that you fight your personal struggles with him directly, and not through me.
“Bull roaring security experts” constitute no threat at all to cultural property; ransom paying former detectives however do.
It is presumptuous to ‘order’ me to go back to my ‘good work’.

Ton Cremers

Dear Mr. Hill,
Here is some additional information for you to educate your knowledge about security.
The thief entered the building of the Kunsthistorisches Museum using the scaffold and by smashing the window. Window alarms are fixed at the inside of windows, most of the time not on the windows directly, not on the outside. So how could this man have set off the window alarm? He had to enter the building first, and that would have been noticed. As a matter of fact: it was noticed by the electronical system. In sophisticated security systems it is impossible to ‘switch off’ alarms without the security management system discovering this. You probably have watched the wrong movies.
The same goes for ‘avoiding passive red’. This is only possible with old fashioned systems, not with systems that must be installed in high risk environments. It seems here too you are a little bit influenced by the film Entrapment where a slim lady manages to avoid infrared beams.
The thief’s entering of the building was discovered by the electronic alarm system, but the guard in the control room did reset that alarm without checking. So, the electronics worked, the organization did not.
Badly informed readers may be impressed by your reference to Perugia and Breitwieser, I am not at all. Those thefts in no way can be compared to the Cellini case. Perugia’s theft was an insider-theft, and Breitwieser stole paintings, sculptures, and applied art during opening hours, not through burglaries.
I am not scapegoating Seipel. There was no need to do so. Seipel did a perfect job in that himself without my help. I did, and always will criticize his admiration for the professionalism of the thief. This theft showed there was something very wrong with the security system. No matter how smart the thief was, the facts – he managed to break into the building, smash a show case and steal the museum’s highlight within FIFTY-FIVE (!) seconds – show that there was something very basically wrong with the museum’s security. I did not write any comments on that three years ago when the Saliera was stolen, nor did I when it was recovered. My comment was evoked by Seipel’s statement that the thief was “ein hochspezialisierter Experte” (= a highly specialized expert).
Only in very rare cases I do blame museums for poor security. I am perfectly aware of the constant struggle for budgets, but I am also aware of the fact that very often security has a too low priority. It goes with the museum business that risks must be taken. In Vienna the risk taken with the Saliera was irresponsible, else it would not have been able to steal this ‘Mona Lisa of sculptures’ within 54 seconds. A far better comment Seipel could, and should have made was: “Apparently our security was not adequate, and we will invest all our energy in upgrading the security”. Nobody would criticize such a statement, including me. The next victimized museum director giving out a press statement saying that thieves are ‘highly specialized experts’ most likely will get the very same comments (depending on the M.O. of the theft).
Not even a security electronics expert should be able to perform a burglary this quickly and easily.
You worry about me becoming to subjective in my comments. There is no need to worry about that. Last year I did send out some 340 digested mails to the list containing some 2,000 reports about incidents with cultural property. I wrote comments on four reports, which is on 0,2% of all messages. So my commenst were very few. These comments were about controversial issues, but always based on facts. Not on unsubstantiated accusations as your mail to the mailing list.

Ton Cremers

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