Iran’s Cartridges & Their Quiet Distribution to Brutal Regimes and Many Wars.
This morning the NYT covered something of the work of several independent arms-trafficking and human rights researchers who have spent years studying and tracing the flow of ammunition to and through conflicts.
While some readers may see this as a strange pursuit — crouching over and sometimes pocketing battlefield refuse, huh? — it’s actually a basic forensic step for thorough reporting on conflicts and a vital tool for getting past general statements about arms transfers. It is part of the journey into the realm of fact.
But this case, while still only partially solved (the provenance of the ammunition has been established, its many means have transfer have yet to be fully illuminated), serves up more than just a bushel of fresh insights. It also stands as an essential example in data-sharing.
Why? Because no one person could have assembled this, or made sense of it. The distances between the dots that eventually were connected were too great for any one researcher to cover.
What happened here is a fine example of what an informal network can do. Instead of researchers hoarding data, or rushing it on-line to the sometimes strange tide of crowd-isourcing (and irrelevant me-first posturing, internet vandalism and giddy trainspotting that can hijack such efforts), this group was both generous and methodical. Using email and occasionally meeting in person as they worked on other things, the geographically scattered researchers exchanged data and photographs of their finds, and as the years passed they assembled a distribution map and list of questions. And by combining what could be found by scouring ground at scenes of violence with other sources — shipping documents and the fruits of open-record laws — they came to answers.
Some answers worm into view slowly. Or they percolate up here and there, well past your horizon. Often they are worth the wait.
More on that soon, as we have other old questions from the field for which answers are starting to shimmer into shape.
Want more about what headstamp tracing can lead to? Try this, another slow bake. Or this, one of the great pieces of this type of work. Or this, which speaks for itself.