Canadian Security Magazine

“Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History”

By Derek Knights   

News Industry News

By Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell
ISBN: 978-1-4027-6651-0

The blurbs from various advance reviews of "Flawless" are uniformly positive, many well past the point of gushiness. Scattered over the book’s dust jacket, they speak of “whodunits” and “the stuff of action films” — all descriptive of the pages inside that recount in detail a 2003 diamond theft that was at once meticulously planned and carefully executed, and also pedestrian and mundane.

Don’t get me wrong. From the perspective of the security professional —
from the protective services and security system guys to the corrective
action and investigative folks — this is a valuable book in ways beyond
its considerable entertainment value. And for the bad guys, it’s not so
much a “how-to” as a “how-not-to” manual.

"Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History" was written by
Scott Andrew Selby, a diamond expert, and Greg Campbell, a journalist
with a previous book credit about conflict, or “blood,” diamonds.
Neither is really a security professional, but the circumstances of the heist forced them to examine not only the physical security set-up at
the beginning, but also the role of security in the resulting

The “star” of the book is Leonardo Notarbartolo, on whom most of the
narrative focuses. He was a member of a gang, the “School of Turin,”
who rented an office in Antwerp’s diamond district. From there, over
the course of about two years, he surveyed the security measures and —
mostly bad — habits of the security and management teams.

He learned
the vault’s three-ton door was secured by a special key, as well as a
combination. The key was kept in an insecure closet near the vault. The
combination? Investigators surmise that, for the sake of expedience,
the dial was never re-spun to scatter the tumblers. In effect, gems
worth hundreds of millions were kept in an unlocked storeroom.


That makes it sound worse than, perhaps, it was. Measures respecting
the principles of defence-in-depth and layering were in place, but
weren’t effective. The safety deposit boxes inside the vault had
plastic components, alarms were ultimately easily bypassed, technology
was out of date, etc.

Sound familiar? As is often the case, security
funding and training were not in line with the value of the assets they
were intended to protect. Would things have been different in Paris,
recently the site of a major art theft facilitated in part by
unaddressed deficiencies in the museum’s alarm system, if someone who
signs security procurement requests had read this book?

The authors devote half the book to the preparation for the heist, and
most of the remainder to the event and investigation. Cracking the case
hinged on a lucky break — or a stupid mistake, depending on your
perspective. There’s also an interesting look at a different legal
system than we’re used to: in Belgium criminal suspects can be tried in
absentia, and some statements can be entered into evidence unsworn or
uncorroborated. Then again, the penalty for a 500-million dollar theft
is five to 10 years.

And is it the stuff of action films? Apparently well-known producer
J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek," "Lost") thinks it’s worth a look; he reportedly
bought the film rights to a Wired magazine interview with Notarbartolo
(an interview this book debunks to some degree). It will be interesting
to see if the security technology that was defeated is accurately
presented in the film, or is modified for dramatic purposes. The former
might be helpful to the industry; those who sign procurement cheques
might be more likely to watch that movie than read this book, and an
accurate portrayal could prompt some security-related introspection.

Action film someday or not, this book is a must-read for today’s
security professionals, particularly those who can extract details and
lessons from the abstract. It’s well written and often as exciting as
fiction — quite a feat, when you remember that the theft took two years
of very slow, very methodical, pedestrian and mundane planning.

respectable chunk of the book develops and discusses the story’s
background and reference sources — there are numbered endnotes for each
chapter (although there are no corresponding numbers next to the
appropriate text in the chapter itself, which is a bit confusing).
There are many pop culture references throughout the book, a lot from "Ocean’s Eleven," and each chapter starts with a pithy quote from a movie
or historical event. My favourite:

Obviously crime pays, or there’d be no crime. — G. Gordon Liddy

Because those diamonds are still out there somewhere.

Derek Knights

Print this page


Stories continue below