December 07, 2010

Map of Wikileaks list of facilities 'vital to US security'

One of the most interesting, and perhaps controversial, bits of information from the recent release of the Wikileaks US embassy cables has been the list of locations deemed vital to US security. Since this information is now in the public domain, we were interested in visualizing the data spatially.

The first step was to take the rather messy data and identify individual entries. In some cases it was no more specific than "Indonesia: Tin Mine and Plant". In other cases it named a pipeline, a port, or a city in which an undersea cable made landfall. Next, using the geocoder (as well as some Wikipedia entries), we (along with the much appreciated help of Zach U. and Tim B.) located an approximate latitude and longitude for each of the locations mentioned in the cables.

We wish to emphasize that the locations in our mashup are only for the cities in which these critical facilities are located, and not the actual facilities themselves. In some cases, the location in the map is no more detailed than the country. Given this relative inaccuracy, this map does not present any security threat whatsoever. Moreover, all the data sets used for this geo-coding are openly available on the Internet and could easily be replicated by anyone.

Our purpose is to visualize the patterns exhibited by this particular data set, which are illustrated below. The categories in the legend are our own classifications based on the information provided by Wikileaks (you can view a larger, non-embedded version of our mashup here, or download a KMZ file of the mashup here that should automatically load into Google Earth. The KMZ version also allows you to turn on and off categories as you wish).

Map Legend

It is interesting to note that the vast majority of these facilities are not directly military-related. Even the ones that we mark as 'military' are related industrial facilities rather than actual bases. Instead, the list seems to focus on non-military topics such as telecommunications, energy and pharmaceuticals. Much of the list is also focused on supplies of important raw materials (Bauxite, Chromite, and Rare Earth Minerals), as well as the ability to move products through ports and shipping channels.

Share of Facilities by Type
Telecommunications 28%
Energy 18%
Pharmaceuticals 13%
Border_Crossing 11%
Raw_Material 10%
Port 7%
Military 5%
Industrial 4%
Shipping 3%
Dam 2%

These data offer a fascinating insight into the ways that the national security priorities of the United States span the entire globe. This global web of essential facilities goes a long way to explain the fact that the US Department of Defense has more military facilities around the world than all other nations combined. The globalization of the world economy means that facilities that are vital to the communication, health, and economic needs of the U.S. are scattered across the planet; and this ultimately means that the U.S. (as well as other developed and developing countries) have to contend with new and changing notions of what "security" means in the 21st century.

We are truly living in a network society.

See also:
A choropleth map depicting the number of facilities in each country, made by some folks at University College London.

A map of all the Wikileaks cables.

And, a user-generated effort to plot the cables.


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