Savanna Helps Syrian Refugees Resettle

Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, millions of displaced refugees have flooded the Turkish border seeking a safe haven from civil unrest. With the rise of ISIS, the UNHCR estimates the number of asylum seekers to reach 1.9 million, with half of Syrian refugees being children. Turkey has become the world’s largest refugee hosting country, spending more than $6 billion on direct assistance to refugees and receiving only a small margin of aid from the international community.

The Syrian refugee crisis has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II and demonstrates the limitations of international asylum and protection systems. A collaborative effort from states, international organizations and NGOs at a global level is required to find a truly effective and long-term solution to aid these refugees. As tensions in Turkey grow between Turkish citizens and refugees and violence continues to push Syrians out of their homes, a collective response is more necessary than ever before.

With Savanna, our all-source analysis software, we investigated the Syrian refugees’ impact on Turkey’s ecology and infrastructure. We also analyzed current international aid efforts to determine what’s needed to fill the gap.

NGO activity in Turkey.
NGO activity in Turkey.

Savanna’s provides our team of analysts with a collaborative workspace in which to individually and collectively analyze specific questions and concerns, while capturing supporting evidence in context and creating a lineage of the progression of ideas and understandings.

To begin, we framed the problem with Crumbnet. Crumbnet acts as a central, collective workspace where analysis teams can collaboratively add new information and evidence as situations evolve. In the Crumbnet, we outlined the top 5 analysis questions about the situation, assigning tasks to each team member with nodes for analysts to summarize findings and attach evidence.

Map of refugee IDP sites and Turkey border disputes.
Map of refugee IDP sites and Turkey border disputes.

The Syrian refugee crisis has many geospatial aspects, with over a dozen NGOs working along the Syrian border and an increasing amount of incidents along the Turkish border. An analyst creates a Map to geospatially visualize the impact of refugees along the Turkish border, dragging and dropping multiple geospatial data files onto the Map to see how refugee border crossings connect to refugee and IDP sites.

Occurrence for NGO active in Turkey.
Occurrence for NGO active in Turkey.

Savanna’s dynamic Occurrence documents helped us collect existing information on non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, involved in aid relief. Organization Occurrences were created for each NGO operating aid in Turkey, with events created to document and connect major aid projects dates and statistics. Using this information, we opened a Map to visualize the NGO Occurrences alongside known NGO projects, temporally filtering the data by date to see the pattern on NGO projects based on location. This gave us a clear view of where aid is lacking along the Turkish border.

Crumbnet acting as final report for quick decision making.
Crumbnet acting as final report for quick decision making.

With Savanna’s Search tool, we collected social media mentions and news reports of the movement impact of refugees on Turkey’s local communities. As we built the analysis, we continued to revisit the Crumbnet outlining the analysis objectives. Each analyst on the team summarized topics and facts discovered during the workflow, attaching the Maps and Occurrences created, as well as supporting news articles and social media. We barely scratched the surface of this humanitarian crisis, but with Savanna’s analysis platform, we were able to connect various data, both structured and unstructured, to model the growing socio-cultural implications of large numbers of refugees in Turkey.

Watch the demo below to see this analysis in action.

Savanna 4.4 is Here!

Thetus is pleased to announce the release of Savanna 4.4, the latest iteration of our all-source analysis platform. Savanna’s 4.4 release focuses on enhancements and improvements to existing features and performance so that you can fully leverage Savanna’s feature set to its best capability.

Enhancements to Graphic included in Savanna 4.4 release.

Savanna 4.4 includes application-wide enhancements to navigation and data ingestion, delivering a formidable and intuitive user experience. We have also added a powerful new geospatial visualization to boost existing knowledge collected in Occurrences on Maps. All of this, plus enhancements to our newest features Linknet, Graphic and Timeline, add up to a plethora of performance and tool improvements. A few highlights:

Leverage Occurrences with Map

By combining Occurrences, our robust data collection tool, with Map, you are now able to view geospatial data from one or more Occurrences on a Map. Leverage existing knowledge from Occurrences that include geospatial data by adding them to a Map to visually compare events and places, customizing the style of each point representing the Occurrence.

Visualize Occurrences on Maps to see all related events.

For example, you might have multiple Event Occurrences for terrorist attacks that took place in various locations. To get a better idea of the area range of the attacks, you could add them all to a Map in order to compare them. Change the style and color of each Event Occurrence to quickly separate and compare events and take a screenshot to be used later in your analysis.

Customizable Styles with Linknet

Linknet, a tool to convey networks of people, places, events, and things, now offers node customizations, allowing you to change the look and style of your Linknet by adjusting the size or color of the nodes. Change the style of an individual node, or select multiple nodes and customize the size and color all at once. Now, Linknets can be used as presentation documents, highlighting important nodes and relevant information through tailored node color and size.

Change the look and feel of a Linknet with style options.

When working with an especially large network of nodes, you can now search within a Linknet by the names of nodes or by the information housed in the nodes’ corresponding Occurrences. This allows you to easily pinpoint specific nodes or information to quickly gain access to relevant information.

Connect Events with Timeline

With Timeline, analysts can visualize temporal connections between any events within Occurrences, allowing you to add depth to analysis products and quickly spot patterns and trends over time. With 4.4, you can now filter your Timeline data by date in order to compare and connect events. After adding Occurrences to your Timeline, drag the Date Filter slider to select a range of time. As you move the slider, the Timeline view shifts to show only the events that took place within the selected range.


4.4 now displays the connection between events that are common to multiple Occurrences. A bar connecting common events in multiple Occurrences is automatically displayed in the Timeline, and clicking one event instance also highlights the other.

To keep up with upcoming releases and new features, follow our blog. In the meantime, you can watch Savanna in action on our YouTube page at

The Closing of the Internet’s Open-Source Data

A few weeks ago I overheard a colleague, one of Thetus’ resident data scientists,  as he wrestled with the interface for creating an account on a Chinese geocoding website.

Mandarin-language CAPTCHA dialogue

“Every stroke is perfect,” he told me as he stared at a Mandarin-language CAPTCHA dialogue. “I spent two hours getting it right.” All he wanted to do is find map coordinates for a large group of factories in mainland China, but Google doesn’t recognize the addresses and to Baidu Maps he might as well have been a poorly-programmed bot. To this day we don’t know exactly where those buildings are.

But the language difficulties he faced then are just a small and naturally-occurring symptom of a larger phenomenon that stands between open-source analysts and the data their duties require: a balkanization of information. By design the Internet is an open book, equally accessible to anyone with a connected device. Today, however, it is in the process of fracturing into a collection of tenuously-connected shards.

The first cracks appeared in the 1990s as China’s ruling party began to institute controls on their citizens’ access to outside information. Implemented through content filters, IP blocking, and widespread monitoring of Internet users, the Great Firewall of China’s primary goal is to suppress outside data on its way to the viewer. Of greater interest to an outside analyst are its secondary effects: stricter controls on outside sites cause users to prefer China’s native alternatives for social media, searching, and commerce. The result is that outside analysts must exert greater efforts across a wider variety of sites to see the same information that their subjects do. Another challenge is the chilling effect that Internet monitoring has on speech – the more users feel obliged to self-censor, the less likely it is that observers can expect to find or exploit true and complete information.

Deep Maze (Flickr image by Paul Downey)
Deep Maze (Flickr image by Paul Downey)

China is not the only authority attempting to filter or isolate its national networks. World governments have only grown more interested in similar policies, especially since the 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of the NSA’s electronic spying. Iran’s government has taken concrete steps to lay the foundation of an isolated “halal Internet”; most tech-savvy North Koreans have only ever seen the inside of the DPRK’s “walled garden” national intranet. Even Brazil has expressed serious interest in taking greater ownership of its Internet infrastructure, laying plans for its own undersea cable to Europe to avoid interception by America and flirting briefly with the idea of requiring web-based companies to store data on Brazilian clients inside the country.

At the same time, the Internet as a whole is expanding rapidly: almost three hundred million new websites emerged between 2013 and 2014, though most of these are probably of no interest to observers. Even the tiny minority that could have useful information expand an analyst’s search space massively. With access to certain viewpoints simultaneously becoming more difficult to gain, we risk becoming trapped in an echo chamber repeating homogenous opinions and facts.

The takeaway for analysts working in the open-source environment is that we have to be better than ever in order to stay competitive. We have to seek out opposing viewpoints, verify our sources, and work harder to keep our biases in check. Perhaps the most important edge we can seize is technology – tools that can sift the ocean of unsorted data at our fingertips, bringing it some efficiency and structure. At Thetus, we are working to build better nets.

~ Colin McWrightman, Analyst

What’s in a Word?

You’re Probably Using the Wrong Dictionary is a delightful and stimulating essay by writer and programmer James Somers. Somers’ essay explores one’s relationship with words and their meaning, and the surprising influence the source of those meanings can have on that relationship.  In it, he discusses his search for the unusual dictionary described – but not named – by John McPhee.  A single definition proves enough to discover the rich and evocative definitions and usage notes from Noah Webster’s original 1828 dictionary of American English, which was the first of its kind. Somers then describes how those definitions have changed his relationship with even the most mundane of words when compared to the pedestrian entries found in modern dictionaries, which he describes as “desiccated little husks of technocratic meaningese, as if a word were no more than its coordinates in semantic space.”

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828) can be searched online.  I began looking up the words we use for the top-level modeling concepts at Thetus before I even finished reading the essay.  Some sample entries from the 1913 edition:

  • Thing: Whatever exists, or is conceived to exist, as a separate entity, whether animate or inanimate; any separable or distinguishable object of thought.
  • Person: self-conscious being, as distinct from an animal or a thing; a moral agent; a human being; a man, woman, or child.
  • Organization: The state of being organized; also, the relations included in such a state or condition.
  • Place: Any portion of space regarded as measured off or distinct from all other space, or appropriated to some definite object or use; position; ground; site; spot; rarely, unbounded space.
  • Event: That which comes, arrives, or happens; that which falls out; any incident, good or bad.

Compared to say, the built-in dictionary found in OS X, these definitions are much more subtle and far less sterile.  Also, Event has a particularly nice example of usage notes.

perspectiveSomers recommends you go look up some words in Webster, and I do too.  It may just change the way you feel about the words you use in everyday life.  It’s already changing the way I think about the words we use to describe models at Thetus.

Finally, the post has an appendix where Somers explains how to use the 1913 edition on a Mac, iPhone, or Kindle if you want to be able to use this dictionary every day.  Enjoy exploring!

~ Marijane White, Data Scientist


“You’re probably using the wrong dictionary,” May 18, 2014,

Unintended Consequences: Cause and Effect

American sociologist Robert K. Merton popularized the term unintended consequences, meaning the unanticipated or unforeseen outcomes of purposeful actions, in the twentieth century. Unintended consequences can be positive, but many times they are disastrous.

Giant African SnailThese consequences can be seen in all aspects of life. In nature, there are examples like the introduction of the giant African snail to Hawaii. The snails, at first prized, quickly became major pests throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaii State Department of Agriculture introduced the rosy wolf snail to curb the giant African snail population, only to find that the carnivorous rosy wolf snail had hunted all of the local snail species almost to extinction, including the indigenous Oahu tree snail.[1]

For analysts, unintended consequences are one of the biggest hurdles they face while doing their jobs. For any decision they make, analysts must not only speculate on what the unintended consequences of an event might be, but must also determine how to lessen or circumvent their impact.

Recent news articles have touched on the unintended consequences of terrorist violence, which has pushed refugees into countries that cannot support these immigrant populations, causing not only a strain on the refugees but also on the hosting countries’ populations.[2]

Ebola Quarantine Another recent example of unintended consequences in the news is the Ebola epidemic. Ebola was a hot issue in the United States for about a month, in which time we saw only a few cases of Ebola in the US. However, in Africa, the unintended consequences are just starting to emerge. When Ebola was shown to be spreading beyond its original borders, many countries refused to allow traffic to and from these places. This isolation hampered the medical community, making it harder to get medical supplies and practitioners to the places that needed them the most. It also impacted the economies of the countries most affected by Ebola. The African Development Bank expects the disruption in trade caused by these isolation measures to cut GDP growth in the three hardest-hit countries (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia) by 1.5 – 3.4 percent.[3]

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says the epidemic is endangering harvests[4] and raising food prices. The creation of quarantine zones has created labor shortages, hampered cash-crop production and led to panic buying. Countries that already have less money are now unable to import resources they need for their populations—populations that now have a higher unemployment rate along with the inability to secure the resources that they need to live.[5]

Every day, we see news reports about events like these all over the world. While some of them are interesting and sometimes scary, a lot of the time it’s hard to care because these events are happening so far away. Many times it’s hard to see how these things might affect us, but it’s important to remember that the chain of events leading from a single decision can affect not only the originally intended populace, but you as well.

~ Sierra Payne, Analyst Lead







Cartel Alliances and Tactics Through the Eyes of Savanna

Say hello to my little friend!

When envisioning cartels, Tony Montana’s violent, drug-lord lifestyle is what comes to mind for many: a distant stylized life of crime and deception far removed from us. And while Scarface is an entertaining film, its depiction of cartels is a perfect example of Hollywood’s misleading portrayal of an increasingly real problem throughout the world.

In the last decade, Mexico has been torn apart by the rise of numerous cartels. Over 60,000 people have been killed as the Mexican military, police force, cartels and vigilantes continue to fight one another (Business With the introduction of a new President three years ago, Mexico saw a shift in cartel power when two major cartel leaders were arrested. However, with the leaders gone, cartels fight for territory, with the byproduct being an increase in extortion and kidnapping. So what can the Mexican government do to prevent cartel crimes?

Thetus decided to take a closer look at the nature of cartels and how they operate. With Savanna, our all-source analysis software, and the powerful data analysis capability of IBM’s Analyst’s Notebook, we investigated cartel operations and tactics to determine potential prevention strategies.

Crumbnet of cartel alliances on the left with a Map of Instagram activity on the right.

To begin, we built a Crumbnet, Savanna’s narrative analysis tool, to outline cartel alliances in Mexico, focusing on relationships and connections between the 7 major cartels. Savanna’s dynamic Occurrence dossiers helped us gather existing information on each Mexican cartel and its relationships, with connections to related events and participants. Through Savanna’s powerful Search tool, we found an existing Analyst’s Notebook Chart that outlined the leadership change in the Los Antrax cartel and its connections to the Sinaloa cartel. We then uploaded Instagram hashtag data to the Map tool to get a geospatial view of the presence and influence of Los Antrax in Mexico. At this point, it was clear that the connections between cartels and the consequences of these relationships required further investigation, so we built a report in Savanna’s Note tool to share with team members and send to investigators for further action.

View each step of our cartel analysis in the demo below.


“Mexico’s 7 Most Notorious Drug Cartels,”, last modified October 20, 2014,

Introducing Analyst’s Notebook in Savanna 4.2

It seems like only yesterday that we released Savanna 4.1, and here we are with a new release and exciting news; IBM Analyst’s Notebook is here! Savanna 4.2, our all-source analysis solution, adds many new features and enhancements, including integration with Analyst’s Notebook, giving you comprehensive, easy-to-use tools to make your analysis experience intuitive, fun and fast.

While there were a variety of added features and enhancements, we will focus on three key developments: integration with IBM Analyst’s Notebook, enhanced Dashboard and temporal Map filters.

IBM Analyst’s Notebook integration

The integration of Analyst’s Notebook’s data analysis capabilities and Savanna’s dynamic concept modeling tools offers a holistic suite of tools catering to all areas of investigation.

4.2’s integration with Analyst’s Notebook enables analysts to work seamlessly with Analyst’s Notebook Charts (ANB Charts) within the Savanna environment. After compiling data in Analyst’s Notebook, you can easily upload, search and view ANB Charts in Savanna, with all data indexed to allow Savanna’s Search tool to pull key terms from within a Chart for quick discovery and analysis.

View Charts in Savanna
View Charts in Savanna

For example, you might be investigating cartel movements in Mexico and have a Chart file showing connections between numerous cartel members. After uploading the Chart to Savanna, you can Search, view and interact with the Chart. For instance, you might want to zoom in on key relationships between cartel members and take a screenshot to be used later in your analysis.

Dashboards: Customizable, Collaborative and Really Cool

The new Dashboard feature offers customizable, problem-specific hubs from which to launch your analysis workflow.

Analysts have long used Savanna to create problem areas (Spaces) where they can house and organize the information that they have collected and created. For example, an analyst might create a Space to house content and findings related to their analysis work about Mexican cartel movements.

Now, Dashboards act as the home page of each Space, giving you easy access to important information and providing alerts for recent activities, uploads, and models created within a Space. For example, a fellow team member may have uploaded an ANB Chart related to your current analysis. The Dashboard provides an alert to help you stay on top of the most current information available.

4.2's new Dashboard is easy to customize for quick collaboration.
4.2’s new Dashboard is easy to customize for quick collaboration.

Temporal Filters for Timely Information

With Map’s new temporal filter, you can quickly filter data to reveal date and location patterns at a glance. Simply drag the filter over a specific period of time to view data points on Map relevant only to the selected period. The temporal filter also helps you view data as part of a larger historical whole, making it easy to discover trends that reveal themselves over time in a geospatial context.

Filter Map data temporally to quickly view date range and count.
Filter Map data temporally to quickly view date range and count

To keep up with upcoming releases and new features, follow our blog. In the meantime, you can keep yourself entertained by watching Savanna in action on our YouTube page at Until next time.