The Sphere of Influence offers an interactive visualization of over a million declassified State Department cables along with the metadata from a quarter of a million more cables that are still classified. The State Department was an early adopter of electronic record keeping in the 1970s, and cables constitute the main form of communication among US diplomatic posts around the world. It is therefore possible to analyze the flow of once-secret information with unprecedented clarity and precision.
The Sphere captures the communicative patterns of American diplomacy from November 1973-December 1976, a pivotal time in global history. It includes the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War and the end of the OPEC oil embargo, scandals over CIA assassination plots and the Watergate break-in, the Fall of Saigon and the rise of Pol Pot. It is also possible to use these cables to track broader trends, such as the shift in focus from Europe to East Asia and the Middle East. For now the Sphere only shows data for the date, sender, recipient, and classification level of each cable, including those cables where the message text is still classified. But subsequent versions and other visualization tools such as the Redaction Archive will provide an integrated suite of applications for exploring the world.
Even when limited to metadata, this enormous network of communications is simply too large and dense to visualize through a traditional 2D map interface. Instead, a special visualization tool from Google Ideas was adapted here to allow you to click on a country and see incoming and outgoing cables with other parts of the globe. Clicking on the time graph at the bottom will show the pattern of communication over time, and you can also toggle different classification levels to see all of U.S. diplomacy, just secret or confidential cables, or the cables that are still withheld from researchers. These options allows you to zoom in on a country or period, and begin to discover patterns and connections that would be impossible to discern in a table of data.
Each of the visualizations below requires an up-to-date web browser with WebGL capability and a high-end graphics card. They tend to work best with Google Chrome, and each visualization may take up to a minute to load and display.
This sphere looks only at the FROM and TO fields of the cables and visualizes the physical flow of cables irrespective of topic. Yellow lines indicate a cable FROM a mission in that country addressed TO another country. Blue lines indicate a cable FROM a mission in another country TO a mission in that country. NOTE: in the case where a cable had multiple recipients in the TO field, it is counted multiple times here, with a separate line drawn to EACH of the countries it was addressed to.
This sphere is designed to explore what countries the missions in each country were talking about. In other words, were certain countries used as regional information clearinghouses for information on surrounding countries. Essentially this map primarily reflects the "area of responsibility" (AOR) / "area of interest" (AOI) of each country's diplomatic missions.
Here, the FROM field of each cable is used as with the FROM/TO sphere, but the TO field is discarded and instead is replaced with the list of country names in the TAGS field. In other words, each cable is visualized as FROM the country that wrote it and TO the countries it talks about, irrespective of who the cable was physically sent to. In other words, if the mission in Egypt sent a cable to France talking about events in UAE, this sphere would ignore that it was sent to France and would treat it as a cable FROM Egypt TO UAE in this case.
Thus, yellow lines indicate cables FROM missions in that country ABOUT those other countries (ie, they were in the TAGS field of that cable), while blue lines indicate cables FROM those other countries that mentioned this country, irrespective of who the cable was sent to. If a cable mentions multiple countries in the TAGS field, it will be counted multiple times, with a line drawn FROM the country TO each of the countries the cable talked about.
Here the blue and yellow lines are identical, there is no difference and they are just mirrors of each other, but the sphere doesn't let us turn one off to only display one color. This sphere is designed to reflect how, across all US diplomatic activities worldwide, the US viewed the world and what countries it connected together in its discussions.
Here, both the FROM and TO field of each cable was discarded and any cable with one or less locations mentioned in its TAGS field was also discarded. Only cables with two or more locations mentioned in the TAGS field were kept. Each of the locations is permuted with each of the other locations in that cable's TAGS field to draw a line for each pairwise combination of locations. If the TAGS field of a given cable lists Spain, France, and China, this will result in links: Spain-France, France-China, and Spain-China. Both directions are coded (Spain-France and France-Spain), so the cables in/out numbers are redundant here.
Additional details about the State Department Cable Collection are available here:
The Sphere of Influence gratefully acknowledges the use of source code from the Small Arms & Ammunition data visualization produced by Google Ideas in partnership with Igarape and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). Code adapted by Dainis Kiusals and interface to cable archive by Kalev Leetaru.