Tracking Illegal Small Arms – in Real Time

Arms trafficing

A small team of arms proliferation experts is preparing to embed with a group of Syrian Kurdish fighters battling with the radical IS militant group in Syria, and will soon begin posting their findings on a European Union-financed Web site that is tracking the global flow of illegal small arms.

Kicked off with a $4 million grant from the European Union and the Swiss government, the iTrace Web site geo-spatially maps the weapons data collected by the team, along with links allowing the reader to trance the weapon or ammunition back to its point of origin.

The site was officially launched on Sept. 27, though the teams from a UK-based company called Conflict Armament Research have been in operation across Africa and the Middle East since 2011.

The Syrian team is currently readying to move back into areas that IS fighters have been pushed out of, picking up and identifying as many weapons left behind as possible said Neil Fretwell, operations director at Intelligent Software Solutions global, (ISS), the company behind the iTrace software that serves as the backbone for the project.

Using little more than their smart phones, they photograph, note serial numbers, and then upload the information to the site along with information about who manufactured it and its distribution chain.

“They plot waypoints using the software, so you can get a visual impact of the exact routes these arms have taken from the point of manufacture to the point of recovery” Fretwell said.

One of the driving ideas behind the site and the project is to put more of a face on the global trade in illegal arms, and to fix a spotlight on those countries whose weapons and ammunition regularly end up in the hands of non-state actors.

And also, it should be said, to pry that information out of the pages of well-intentioned but little read UN and special interest group trafficking reports and splash it across the Web on an easily accessible and navigable Web site.

A quick scan of the site shows that a majority of the ammo and arms coming from a few of the usual suspects: China, North Korea, and Iran, but also some US government-stamped equipment, like M-16 rifles that were likely looted form Iraqi Army depots earlier this year.

A statement by the company says that “iTrace provides the UN and government authorities with a vital independent source of information in their efforts to implement international arms control agreements, including the UN Programme of Action and the Arms Trade Treaty. The rapidly expanding database is also designed to help identify and quantify diversion risks prior to export, and profiles the sources of diversion nationally, regionally and globally.

ISS Global and Conflict Armament Research had originally developed the system in 2013, and has showed it off to officials at the United Nations in New York.


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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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