My good friend Josh Davis has written another whopper of a story for Wired. This one is about the world's biggest diamond heist and how the thieves circumvented 10 layers of tech security.
In February 2003, Notarbartolo was arrested for heading a ring of Italian thieves. They were accused of breaking into a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center and making off with at least $100 million worth of loose diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils. The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can't explain exactly how it was done.
Josh's meeting with Notarbartolo:
Notarbartolo sits down across from me at one of the visiting room's two dozen small rectangular tables. He has an intimidating reputation. The Italian anti-Mafia police contend he is tied to the Sicilian mob, that his cousin was tapped to be the next the capo dei capi-the head of the entire organization. Notarbartolo intends to set the record straight. He puts his hands on the table. He has had six years to think about what he is about to say.
"I may be a thief and a liar," he says in beguiling Italian-accented French. "But I am going to tell you a true story."
Peys and De Bruycker lead the Diamond Squad, the world's only specialized diamond police. Their beat: the labyrinthine Antwerp Diamond District. Eighty percent of the world's rough diamonds pass through this three-square-block area, which is under 24-hour police surveillance and monitored by 63 video cameras. About $3 billion worth of gem sales were reported here in 2003, but that's not counting a hidden world of handshake deals and off-ledger transactions. Business relationships follow the ancient family and religious traditions of the district's dominant Jewish and Indian dealers, known as diamantaires. In 2000, the Belgian government realized it would require a special type of cop to keep an eye on things and formed the squad. Peys and De Bruycker were the first hires.
De Bruycker called headquarters, asking for a nationwide alert: The Antwerp Diamond Center had been brazenly robbed. Then he dialed Securilink, the vault's alarm company.
"What is the status of the alarm?" he asked.
"Fully functional," the operator said, checking the signals coming in from the Diamond Center. "The vault is secure."
"Then how is it that the door is wide open and I'm standing inside the vault?" De Bruycker demanded, glancing at the devastation all around him.
1. Combination dial (0-99)
2. Keyed lock
3. Seismic sensor (built-in)
4. Locked steel grate
5. Magnetic sensor
6. External security camera
7. Keypad for disarming sensors
8. Light sensor
9. Internal security camera
10. Heat/motion sensor (approximate location)
The story goes into the exact detail on how they got around all the various security measures. Amazingly, no one found the security breach til the weekend was over, but by then, the thieves were long gone. They would have made it, too, if not for one slip up on the side of the road. Read on. [The Untold Story of the World's Biggest Diamond Heist]
*Tip of the hat to the unsung heroes, Josh's editor, Mark Robinson, and all the designers, photographers and top editors and fact checkers on this one.