28.Feb.2011 Big Site Expansion: Profiles Of 3,100 Foreign Military Companies Working In Iraq And Afghanistan—Plus Maps
Regular readers may have noticed that this site has been a little light in the original reporting category during the past couple of weeks. There are two reasons for this (and for an accidental burst of Twitter gibberish from @warisbusiness):
One, I took a short vacation. (Of course, I couldn’t leave W.I.B. totally behind, and between cups of mint tea and battles with a nasty food-borne illness, I noticed the logo of the international private security company, G4S, on a van parked at the main plaza in Marrakech. This may rank among the nerdiest tourist photos ever snapped, as well as the worst-composed.)
The second reason for the quiet time: I’ve been wrapping up a major expansion of the site—one that not only makes W.I.B. more useful but also, I hope, points to a new model for internet-age investigative reporting.
This weekend I uploaded individual profiles for 3,100 US military contractors. These are much more attractive than the handful of old dossiers I’d produced by hand. Each is complete with a map and, more importantly, is EDITABLE by users.
I haven’t designed a navigation tool for all these new pages yet—which means that, for now, the simplest way to peruse the company dossiers is through the search box in the upper right-hand corner of the site.
There’s also this mashup map showing the locations of 50 of the largest contractors, each with reported annual revenue of over $4 billion.
There are way more than 3,100 Pentagon contractors. How did these companies make the cut?
I wanted to be somewhat more selective with this data set than with the last map I built, which depicted a sizable hodgepodge of all Defense Department contracts signed in fiscal year 2010. Besides filtering out some of those more mundane military logistical deals, I also wanted to create something that could be expanded upon, and was easier to use than the clunky beta version of the DIY investigations tool.
In short, I wanted to bring the site closer to my original vision of an interactive, constantly updated directory showing the companies and people who have profited, one way or another, from war.
So, to build this new database, I downloaded 11 years of US Defense Department spending data for contracts performed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Israel. (More countries will be added later.) Cleaning up the records, removing duplicates and otherwise wrangling a tangled mess of information into usable shape for a website took so long, and was so mind-numbing that I prefer not to discuss it further at the moment…
Let’s give about those dossiers a look, shall we? I’ve anticipated some of your questions.
Cool, but… why can’t I see all the data?
Actually, you can… if you take a minute to register, which can be done one of two ways:
You can make a donation, after which you should be redirected to a registration form.
Or you can contribute to W.I.B.’s research, by looking up a missing fact and adding it to the database. That’s why it says “give info to get info”—because if you can’t donate money to this investigative project, you can donate a few seconds of your time. Click one of the EDIT buttons to get started.
I clicked the button, and all I see is an empty white box.
W.I.B. is beginning to outgrow its server, which is a good problem to have, but nonetheless a source of annoyance.
Give the form a minute to load. Then, consider making a donation to help W.I.B. move to a dedicated host. Know anyone with free space in a hardened server-bunker in a remote mountainside? Then get in touch.
Why didn’t you just make it a Wiki?
Because this website isn’t a Wiki, and I’m not interested in publishing unverified information from anonymous users. You can maintain your anonymity while editing the profiles, and register under a pseudonym if you like—but each submission will be verified by at least one other live human being before it’s posted to the site.
Granted, the original records, from the US Defense Department, do contain errors. But they merely serve as a starting point for what aims to be a much more complete public directory of arms traders and military contractors.
Sounds good. Where should I start?
Check this map to see if there’s a major war contractor near you. Or check out one of these company profiles, which I’ve moved out from behind the registration wall:
BAE | BALFOUR BEATTY | BLACKWATER | BLUE HACKLE GROUP | DYNCORP | EADS | GENERAL DYNAMICS | JOHNSON & JOHNSON | L-3 | LOCKHEED | MINA CORP | NORTHROP | RAYTHEON | UNITED TECHNOLOGIES | UNITY LOGISTICS | URS GROUP | WATAN GROUP
Here are their locations on a map:
Let me know what you think—especially if you run into any bugs while editing the entries.
(It wasn’t hackers that produced this weekend’s Twitter spam. It was a switch flicked the wrong way during the mass of profile uploads. This ranks right up there with the great RSS feed fiasco of…last month. Apologies to my followers.)