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Interactive maps track crime, terror routes

Southern Command and the State Department want countries outside the Southcom area to join the unclassified information sharing network the command created last year. The Whole-of-Society Information Sharing Regional Display website, or WISRD, is one product of the Obama administration’s 2011 initiative to get nations working together to fight trafficking of drugs, counterfeit medicines, people and possibly even weapons of mass destruction.

Credit: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about what they call convergence, the tendency of terrorists and criminal groups to collude along trafficking routes. “These organizations can then move personnel, cash or arms — possibly even a weapon of mass destruction— clandestinely to the United States,” retired Adm. James Stavridis warned in a May 31 commentary in the Washington Post.

WISRD lets decision makers geospatially visualize those routes and share information about them. Participants from the U.S., allied countries and non-governmental organizations can sign onto the secure WISRD Internet site and add icons to Google Earth maps or simply view what others have posted. They can share the locations of go-fast boat interdictions or places where criminals have dumped toxic waste. They can denote neighborhoods with high rates of illiteracy and dissatisfaction with government services, social factors that criminal organizations like to exploit.

The data is stored in a non-government cloud by Amazon. The Arlington, Va.-company Thermopylae Sciences and Technology, provides software, called iSpatial, that lets users place icons on maps and associate them with text and photos.

So far, WISRD has been used mostly among the 27 nations in the Southcom area, which covers Latin America and the Caribbean. The State Department wants members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to consider using WISRD too. OECD’s 34 members include countries far from Latin America, including most of Europe, Australia and Japan.

The U.S. wants to put more knowledge in the hands of decision makers at all levels, and not just in Latin America, said the DIA’s Norberto “Rob” Santiago, chief of the knowledge management division in Southcom’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance directorate.

Expanding WISRD would be “a win-win situation for the OECD as well as for the (U.S.) government in terms of being able to reuse, repurpose this effort,” Santiago said.

The geospatial renderings make it easy to visualize things like trafficking routes, but there is also a political dimension. The visualizations make it hard for decision makers to downplay or overlook the scope of the trafficking problem.

On top of that, WISRD gives allies a recipe for generating information in formats that assure they can be shared. The goal is “having at least some common capability to help partners be able to manage information and display it and share it,” Santiago said.

The State Department has been using the OECD Task Force on Charting Illicit Trade to get the word out about WISRD.

When President Obama announced the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime in July 2011, Southcom at first tried to complete its info sharing assignment by traditional means: Reports and PowerPoints were produced. “You can imagine that by the time you got to the 20th slide, you were completely lost. You had no idea what the first attribute or element was,” Santiago said.

The decision was made to geospatially render the information and give participants the ability to post information on the maps, as is done in the classified realm. WISRD is different because its content is unclassified and available on a password-protected Internet site.

One Comment

  1. Every move combating Transnational Organized Crime is welcomed. US must give all the tools needed for that purpose.

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