The Enigma Sanctions Tracker: A New Tool to Visualize US Sanctions Programs

By Mike Flowers
Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 11:12 AM

Motivated by recent front-page news on the future of U.S. sanctions programs concerning Russia, North Korea and Iran, Enigma has brought together data from the Specially Designated Nationals and the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications lists to ground both news and speculation in historical context. The new Enigma Labs Sanctions Tracker is the first (and only) tracker available to visualize and contextualize changes to U.S. sanctions programs. A few weeks ago, I asked Benjamin Wittes to give comments on the Tracker; he responded by asking me to write about it for Lawfare readers and to embed some of its content on the site for user reference.

Our aim is to provide transparency into not only how the government relies on sanctions to shape policy but also how the new administration’s foreign policy approach compares to strategies under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Previously available only as unstructured files across different targeted sanctions lists, we’ve compiled data on entities added and removed from the sanctions list from 1994 to present to create an interactive visualization of how sanctions have evolved based on geography, administration, and relation to geopolitical events.


Site Exploration                         

The Enigma Sanctions Tracker enables you to explore sanctions programs by country and theme, with visualizations highlighting activity by volume, geography, presidential administration, and growth rate.             

  • Latest Sanctions

Keep an eye on current activity. See the latest sanctions by date, type, company, and associated individuals. You can also subscribe to receive real-time notifications about new sanctions.

  • Global Reach of Sanctions                    

Navigate the global reach of US sanctions programs to see how the geographies covered by sanctions have changed over time. The interactive map highlights the geographic spread of five groups of sanctions programs: Iran, North Korea, Ukraine/Russia, Terrorism and the Narcotics Trafficking or “Kingpin”.

Note: We have engineered this map to enable you to view the visualization in its entirety on the Lawfare site. We will embed more of the content on this Lawfare page going forward.

You can click on a particular point on the map to uncover the names of sanctioned entities located in that part of the world. The interactive visualization allows you to zoom in down to a specific address (for example, of a sanctioned individual in Moscow).

  • Sanctions by Administration

Our sanctions by presidency visualization allows you to compare the actions on sanctions across administrations to see how approaches differ. You’ll be able to monitor the new administration’s sanction activity and how it fits with past precedent.

  • Events      

See how long it takes from a precipitating event to a sanction being issued—and how that timeline varies by administration. Follow the steady uptick in counter-terrorism sanctions following the 9/11 attacks, the continued growth in counter-narcotics sanctions following the 1999 passage of “Kingpin Act”, the shift in activity following the resumption of diplomatic relations in Cuba, the jump in sanctions following the North Korea’s first nuclear testing in 2006—or the dramatic drop resulting from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and the spike in targeted sanctions and sanctions against entire economic sectors in Ukraine/Russia following the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

  • Diving into the Data

OFAC publishes a wealth of historical sanctions records dating back to 1994, but not in a format ready for analysis. It comes in giant blocks of text and must be parsed for unique identifiers like place of birth, passport and national id number, aliases, and addresses, which in turn must be cleanly formatted, geocoded, and deduplicated.

For the Sanctions Tracker, we have aggregated the 69 sanctions programs into 33 more general categories to more cleanly visualize the larger historical trends at work. Cleaning the data in this way enables answers to questions such as: In what year since 1994 were the most entities added to the list (691 in 1998) or were the most entities removed (1,077 in 1994).