Sanctions Tracker: Monitor U.S. Foreign Policy Through Sanctions Across Four Administrations


What do a Chinese Telecom manufacturer, rock bands performing in Russia, and a North Korean rocket-engine have in common? They’re all bound by violating U.S. sanction regulations reported by the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).  

U.S. Sanctions restrict whom American companies can do business with in an effort to achieve specific national security or foreign policy aims — and the penalty for transgressions is steep. For example, China's second-largest maker of telecom equipment, ZTE, was recently fined a record $1.2 billion for breaking U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, Russia used vast sums of laundered money from a variety of sources, including sanctioned peers of Russian political leaders; some money was even used to book rock bands. And on March 21st 2017, the Trump administration announced potential sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea in an effort to hinder their nuclear operations.

As U.S. sanctions against China, Russia, and North Korea populate front page news, it’s especially important to look at these programs in historical context.

That’s where Enigma comes in.

Today, Enigma Labs launched the Sanctions Tracker, which monitors sanctions on a daily basis, both in real time and with historical context across the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

The Department of Treasury publishes more than 20 years of sanctions updates online. However, they do so in messy blocks of text that are impossible for quantitative analysis. Investigating the history of U.S. sanctions in a data-driven manner is therefore incredibly challenging.  

Previously available only in raw form, the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) and Sectoral Sanctions Identifications (SSI) sanctions lists now exist as structured, standardized files: Enigma has cleaned, formatted, and analyzed the data in both lists. Our newest Labs project uses our curated data to explore the sanctions program landscape by current volume, growth over time, global reach, and administration. Importantly, this is not a static project; our Sanctions Tracker will continue to monitor and incorporate  any changes to the sanctions list.

Subscribe to our Sanctions Tracker email alerts to stay on top of any changes.

Diving into the data

OFAC publishes a wealth of historical sanctions records dating back to 1994, but not in a format ready for analysis. We parsed for unique identifiers like passport numbers and aliases which in turn, we cleanly formatted, geocoded and de-duplicated. Here’s a quick snapshot of a few visuals Enigma produced using our curated data:

Blog Sanctions Timeline

The sanctions timeline above highlights the latest changes to US sanctions, updating daily. Hover over each sanction to investigate program, entity type and name.

Blog Sanctions Map

We dig into the geographic spread of sanctions programs with our heatmap visualization. When exploring our Sanctions Tracker, you can click on a particular point to learn more about the entities. Alternatively, press ‘play’ on the bottom timeline and watch how the global reach of sanctions changes over time.

Blog Sanctions Phone Chart

Our sanctions by presidency visualization examines how approaches to foreign policy compare across administrations. A particularly timely tool, the Tracker lets you investigate how Trump’s policy approach differs with strategies under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Head over to the microsite to delve into the 27 other programs by administration since 1994.

We invite you to visit the new Sanctions Tracker to explore the world of sanctions. As always, the underlying data is also available through Enigma Public. In the coming weeks, the we’ll update the blog with side stories and follow up investigations, so stay tuned. In the meantime, be one of the first to know about changes to U.S. sanctions policy by signing up for our Sanctions Tracker alerts.

Happy exploring!