Intel fusion, homemade: ISAF RC North, Somali Pirates

As two of the key areas of interest in this blog (among others) are ISAF’s Regional Command North in Afghanistan and piracy off Somalia, I’ve been wondering for some time how to structure information on incidents in RC N and on the piracy situation. In both cases, information is open source, but it comes from a variety of sources and lacks a comprehensive database, or just a list which allows to keep a tab on events, follow the timeline and, maybe, recognize patterns. (Even where there exists some kind of structure, as with IMB’s piracy reports, it leaves a lot to be desired – more on that below.)

Some kind of what the military calls intelligence fusion was needed, to match and add up the different reports.

So with the beginning of 2011, I’ve started modestly with an open source crowdmapping plattform (based on Ushahidi) to keep track on what’s going on there:

ISAF RC North – – in German and English

Somalia piracy – – in English (pictured below)

For my (mostly German) readership, RC N is of interest as almost all German troops with ISAF are deployed there. Sources for incidents in this area are mainly Bundeswehr (German army) press releases, ISAF press releases and various media reports. However, all the Bundeswehr releases are sorted by date only, as are the ISAF releases – there is no structure which allows to keep a tab on RC N events. (This structure of course exists at the ISAF level as well as with the Bundeswehr, but it’s not publicly accessible.)

Now mapping is a sketchy thing when it comes to Afghanistan – neither Google Maps nor OpenStreetMap provide any comprehensive data on this country outside the major cities, there’s no information on districts, let alone on villages. So location information is appropiate at best (again, ISAF and Bundeswehr have the grid coordinates that would allow exact location information, but this is not public) and can be given only in relative terms, e.g. 13 kilometres northeast of PRT Kundus. But beyond the geographic alignment, the list of incidents organised by date can give some idea of developments in that area.

As for the piracy situation, it’s slightly different. The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre in its live piracy map and live piracy report gives exact location and time stamps on attempted and successfull pirate attacks – but it lacks the pirated vessel’s name and flag state. The EU anti piracy operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta, on the other hand, publishes information on name and nationality of the vessel, but omits exact time and location. Here, the main task is to combine the two sources and merge them into one map and chronological list (the IMB’s map and reports are not structured and/or searchable, which is its main flaw).

Alas, it’s an experiment, which – as the term crowdmapping suggests – is open to contributions (even if outside reports have to be cleared by an administrator). I’m very much looking forward to how this evolves.