On 6-17 April, I’ve been doing a work placement at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The legend says that the Bureau had never taken on board any other student but of Investigative MA. However, everything has changed on a historic day in November 2014 when I entered their office without invitation, desperate, and asked for a work placement (“I can do data” was my argument). They were so shocked by this shamelessness and… agreed.

I worked with Jack Serle on Drone Wars data – an exclusive collection of information that is being gathered and updated for five years. The Bureau journalists wrote many stories based on these unique datasets but they produced only four big visualisations (in cooperation with other agencies). The new strategy of the Bureau is to leverage digital, so I tried and provided a fresh digital outlook and produced a number of visualisations.

My visualisation of the nationalities of people killed during CIA drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen made it to TBIJ website.

Here it is:

A story in brief

The map illustrates that the majority of the drone and air strike attacks victims were local population, despite the US officials’ claims that the highly accurate drone attacks have been targeting only high profile al Qaeda fighters.

CIA, backed by the US, has pictured their targets as international terrorists. Multinational origin of al Qaeda military men has also been proven by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in-depth research of the strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The latest investigation by the Bureau found that at least 1,379 of the 2,213 identified or partially identified individuals killed by drone attacks in Pakistan (62 per cent) were locals. Further 137 people have been described as Pashtun which is an ethnic group of tribal population living on the Pakistani and Afghan territories.

In Yemen, potentially 81 per cent of deaths were caused to local population who were unlikely terrorists.

My idea and methodology

  1. Data is being collected by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism since 2011. Naming the Dead project identified who were some of the victims, including their countries of origin. I mapped the nationalities of victims for Pakistan and Yemen in CartoDB. The darker the area on the map is the more people targeted by the US strikes originated from that country.

  2. I used Juxtapose.js tool developed by Knight Lab to put both maps into one object. Since the tool can only deal with static images, I had to sacrifice the interactivity and took screenshots of both maps with maximum accuracy. The benefit – easy visual comparison – is greater than the loss though.

Extra visualisations

Some victims in Pakistan (21 per cent) have been only described by a broader region of their origin – arab, central Asian, Western, etc. I combined this data with the data on particular nationalities (clustered subjectively) and created a treemap in Tableau that confirms the prevalence of either Pakistani or Pashtun victims.

I also suggested to highlight the story’s thesis by showing that al Qaeda fighters killed in those countieres were indeed mostly international and not locals. I produced a Tableau packed bubbles graph to show this. It wasn’t published however, because Jack has already published a story with a similar angle (about Al Qaeda fighters) recently.

I keep in touch with the Bureau. Currently, I am working on a map-based timeline story about Drone Wars that will show how the statements of the officials on drones didn’t correlate with the reality. I plan to use either StoryMap or Odyssey.js.