A $50 million heist with improvised tools
The master tools of real-life breaking and entering are typically just everyday objects, reimagined and transformed for criminal purposes. Consider the shockingly successful Antwerp diamond heist back in February 2003, when more than $50 million worth of diamonds were stolen from a high-security vault in the center of that city’s well-protected jewelry district. To a great extent, the extraordinary ease with which that crime was carried out came down to simple objects bought from the local hardware store. A broomstick, a brick of polystyrene, some black electrical tape, a can of hair spray: these were enough to subvert and neutralize more than a million dollars’ worth of high-tech security sensors, as if a rewards shopper at Home Depot had somehow managed to rob Fort Knox.
Think, for a second, about how frustrating this would be: you install some futuristic motion detector in your underground supervault and a bunch of anonymous strangers get around it by sticking a piece of Styrofoam on the end of a broomstick; stand that up in front of a motion detector while the lights are still off and it won’t see anything move for weeks. It’s embarrassing. You could try to catch the bad guys using your state-of-the-art thermal camera—something space-age and intimidating—but they’ve got a can of hair spray. They uncap it and coat your fine-tuned electronics with a sticky film of aerosolized beauty products and render it useless. So you turn to your light sensor, something so sensitive it can pick up even the glow of an uncovered wristwatch—but your ingenious adversaries have arrived with a roll of electrical tape. They rip off a few inches, wrap it around your sensor, and all that gear is now totally obsolete. The vault is theirs to ransack. They have spent less than fifty bucks at a hardware store, yet they’ve caught your million-dollar setup with its pants down.
~ Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City
Pictures from Wired: The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Diamond Heist, a detailed account of the