Bellingcat is a supposedly amateur run, supposedly independent, source of image analyses on controversial images. Its operator, Eliot Higgins has been praised by The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. He was the subject of a BBC piece on 27 September 2018. Robert Parry termed Bellingcat's analysis of satellite photos about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 an "amateurish [and] anti-Russian... fraud". Another commentator claimed that Higgins has constantly been a source of dis/misinformation on Syria and Ukraine: "It's not so much ‘Bellingcat’ as ‘smell a rat’."
- 1 Founder
- 2 Funding
- 3 Reporting
- 3.1 2016 Hurriyah car bombing hoax
- 3.2 Skripal poisoning
- 3.3 Syria
- 3.4 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
- 4 Criticism
- 5 Exposure
- 6 Related Quotations
- 7 Related Documents
- 8 References
- 9 External links
- Full article: Eliot Higgins
- Full article: Eliot Higgins
In Oct 2012, Eliot Higgins was laid off from his job as an administrator at a non-profit organisation which provided housing for asylum seekers. In Aug 2013, he noticed Twitter reports of a possible chemical-weapons attack in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. In Nov 2013, Eliot Higgins "confirmed" that Syria had used chemical weapons, without noticing that it was not the Syrian government that carried out the attacks.
On 15 July 2014, Eliot Higgins started Bellingcat for citizen journalism to investigate current events using open source information such as videos, maps and pictures. It was funded by a KickStarter campaign (£50,891 at 13 Sep 2014 from 1,701 contributions). The Kickstarter funding model is based on a cash-for gifts/favours model: backers "get to choose from a variety of unique rewards offered by the project creator. Rewards vary from project to project ..."
Also of possible note: Kickstarter "Projects can’t mislead people or misrepresent facts, and creators should be candid about what they plan to accomplish". From the project home page: "bellingcat.com will unite citizen investigative journalists to use open source information to report on issues that are being ignored . . . Bellingcat will be an extension of Eliot’s work on the Brown Moses blog."
Until the creation of Bellingcat, the 'Brown Moses blog' had not been concerned with events in Ukraine. Another difference is that whereas the Brown Moses blog was non-commercial, Bellingcat is now obviously a commercial venture.
Bellingcat has faithfully promoted the Anglo-US-NATO Official Narratives of geo-politics and the "War on Terror" but done in a slipshod and blatantly partisan fashion that those who quote him (the Commercially-controlled media) are wary of claiming their own; which is to say in a way which is quotable but can not be made attributable to those who ultimately control the narrative - ie the spooks. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights serves an analogous purpose.
2016 Hurriyah car bombing hoax
- Full article: 2016 Hurriyah car bombing hoax
- Full article: 2016 Hurriyah car bombing hoax
- “This decision [to bomb Syria] also sent a clear message to the Assad regime: perpetrators of chemical weapons use cannot escape identification. The regime’s backers must use their influence to ensure chemical weapons are not used again. For there must be no doubt: we will respond swiftly and appropriately if they are.” Theresa May attacked Russia for its desperate fabrication over the Salisbury poisoning.
Identifying the suspects
"Bellingcat and its investigative partner the Russia Insider have established conclusively the identity of one of the suspects in the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal, and in the homicide of British citizen Dawn Sturgess.
"Part 1 and Part 2 of Bellingcat’s investigation into the Skripal poisoning suspects are available for background information. In these previous two parts of the investigation, Bellingcat and the Insider concluded that the two suspects – traveling internationally and appearing on Russian television under the aliases 'Ruslan Boshirov' and 'Alexander Petrov' – are in fact undercover officers of the Russian Military Intelligence, widely known as GRU.
"Bellingcat has been able to confirm the actual identity of one of the two officers. The suspect using the cover identity of 'Ruslan Boshirov' is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated GRU officer bestowed with Russia’s highest state award, Hero of the Russian Federation. Following Bellingcat’s own identification, multiple sources familiar with the person and/or the investigation have confirmed the suspect’s identity.
On 8 October 2018, Bellingcat tweeted:
- "Together with Russia's The Insider, we have identified the second Skripals poisoning suspect as Alexander Mishkin, trained medical doctor in the employ of the GRU."
Two years after political protests turned violent in March 2011, Bellingcat started reporting on Syria primarily analysing the factions at war, and what weapons and armour they utilised, as well as news that would normally go unreported by the mainstream media. Bellingcat claimed it was utilising a network of contributors who specialise in open source and social media investigation, and creating guides and case studies so others may learn to do the same.
In July 2014, Bellingcat published what it claimed was evidence of chemical weapons being used on Syrian civilians, including children. Collecting videos from local sources, Higgins analysed the footage and deduced that chlorine gas was dropped from helicopters by the Syrian Arab Army.
In February 2017, Bellingcat published an article detailing how rudimentary drones were being used by ISIS to drop explosives onto opposition targets. Analysing footage from Twitter and other social media platforms, it was claimed the drones were dropping modified 40mm grenades.
In March 2017 Bellingcat published an investigative report on the bombing of a mosque in Aleppo that claimed the lives of over 50 civilians. The article included photographs of the remnants of the bomb used, and showed that the piece was identical to that of similar bombs used by the US military.
James Foley fake video
On 23 Aug 2014, Bellingcat made an estimate of the exact location where the James Foley execution video was made (outside Raqqa, a reported Islamic State stronghold in north-central Syria), yet failed to notice that the video itself was a fake. . See also: Turkish_Trailer.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
- Full article: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
- Full article: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
On 18 Jul 2014, Bellingcat "Found The Buk Missile Launcher That Downed Flight MH17" - though the photograph, widely claimed to have been taken in the town of Snizhne, was actually taken in the town of Torez and under weather conditions significantly different to those on the day of the Malaysia Airlines crash.  Eliot Higgins (proprietor of Bellingcat: known for investigative social media and weapons analysis) didn't consider when the photograph was taken to be important. The photo used by Bellingcat in the "investigation" as to the location of the BUK was uploaded on 18 July 2014 at 18:26:41. This "investigation" as to the location of the BUK" is an unusual way to go about things. Why not simply ask the person who took it or whoever supplied it? And why not ask when it was taken?
2014 Jul 18, 8:36 PM: Within a minute or so of Brown Moses tweeting that the Buk had been geolocated to Torez, James Miller (managing editor of Interpretermag) commented: "cool. Where?". James Miller, coincidentally, had been asked to geolocate the image (which appears to have originated from the Ukrainian Interior Ministry) only the day before.
Ukrainian Forces BUK column
Still from a video taken in March 2014, when Ukrainian media reported the country’s military was concentrating air defences closer to the Russian border to repel an “invasion”. Includes Kiev air-defence system no.312.
Captioned by the Daily Mail as: "Is this the smoking gun? This picture has emerged of a pro-Russian rebel posing in front of the same type of BUK missile launcher that is believed to have shot down MH17" Though, actually, it is a Ukrainian Army conscript guarding Ukrainian Army Buks.
Buks on Ukraine Military TV
Broadcast the evening prior to Flight MH17: a Buk-system in training/preparation - complete with radar.
BUK #312 at night
On July 19 Kiev’s Security Service (SBU) published photos online it claimed showed ‘Russia’ secretly withdrawing a BUK-M (NATO designation SA-11) surface-to-air missile system from the Ukraine civil war zone. Shortly after publishing this article, the photo in question was deleted. The photo was actually a still from video of a Kiev air-defence system no.312, filmed in March this year at Yasinovataya, north of Donetsk. BUK #312 is mounted on a civilian transporter.
Torez BUK article conclusions
With the Kiev government having 27 BUK systems and the dissidents having (allegedly) one Russian-supplied and crewed system, it is statistically more likely to have been a Kiev BUK fired at MH17, especially considering Ukraine Air Defence expertise.
Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 (a commercial flight) was shot down by the Ukrainian military over the Black Sea on 4 October 2001. Ukraine banned the testing of Buk, S-300 and similar missile systems for a period of 7 years following this incident. Ukraine’s acting Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh described the combat readiness of the country’s armed forces as “unsatisfactory” in his 12 March 2014 report to the acting president. Tenyukh said recent exercises demonstrated a “dismal degree of preparedness among servicemen and lack of military specialists, equipment and weapons” in the Ground Forces, the Air Force and the Navy. The country’s air defense troops had received little training because of the 2001 ban on missile launches imposed after the crash of a Russian Tu-154 passenger jet. The ban was lifted in 2008, but so far only 10 percent of Air Defence Forces servicemen “have mastered the required level of theory and practice,” the report said. . The Ukrainian military had several batteries of Buk surface-to-air missile systems with at least 27 launchers, capable of bringing down high-flying jets, in the Donetsk region where the Malaysian passenger plane crashed, Russian Defense Ministry said .
The only thing that the Bellingcat investigation shows is that a particular photograph they were supplied with is of an area in Torez. Without knowing when this photo was taken, it proves nothing about Bellingcat's claim that it "Found The Buk Missile Launcher That Downed Flight MH17". Bellingcat accepted, without question, the line it was fed from Kiev that it was taken on the morning of 17 July. Bellingcat did not consider any other possible sightings of BUKs in the area. It is a straightforward case of cherry-picking "One Photograph" (Bellingcat's own words) to justify a story.
Mystery MH17 Buk in transit
On 08 Sep 204, Bellingcat claimed "New evidence has been found that shows the Buk missile system that was used to shoot down MH17 on the 17th of July came from Russia, and was most likely operated by Russian soldiers.".
The first source quoted for there being a Russian BUK in Ukraine is a Paris-Match photo in the suburbs of Donetsk in the morning of 17 July. Russian satellite images show several BUK systems in the Donetsk area prior to MH17 but Bellingcat does not appear to have geolocated these or the Paris-Match video-frame.
Full article "here via GoogleTranslate" published July 25, 2014 | Updated July 29, 2014
Transporter-loaded BUK on the H21 main road from Donetsk to Torez. From YouTube Published on Jul 17, 2014, supposedly filmed at 11:40am on July 17th, geolocated to 48.017050, 38.301678 by Bellingcat (about 25km and 50 minutes from the next photo-op in Torez at 48.02448, 38.61451):
Note that it is on what appears to be the same civilian transporter, on a sunny day and headed away from the alleged launch site.
A photograph, allegedly "made at the time of launching rockets in the vicinity. Between Torez and Snizhne, which should be clearly visible inversion missiles, which shot down "Boeing-777" ... (interpreted from none-too clear GoogleTranslate Ukrainian-to-English translation) was released by the Ukraine Security Service. Note the clear conditions compared to the actual conditions at the time MH17 was shot down.
A BBC film crew went to locate this location and had the following to say:
- "To find the place from which the smoke was allegedly coming from, we adopted as markers these three poplars and the group of trees. Presumably, this is the place that can be seen on the photograph published by the SBU. And here are our markers: the three solitary poplars and the small group of trees in the distance. The smoke that can be seen on the photograph came from somewhere over there [pointing behind her], behind my back. The SBU believes that this is a trace coming from the launch of a “BUK” missile. However, it must be noted that there are here, approximately in the same place, the Saur-Mogila memorial, near which the fighting continues almost unabated, and a coalmine. It turns out that the smoke with the same degree of probability could have been coming from any of these locations."
This BBC report was deleted shortly afterwards but later reinstated in edited format. See: BBC Russia MH17 report
Early the following morning, it is alleged to have been in Luhansk (by The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine/Bellingcat) and heading towards the Russian border, which is not the ideal route for getting from Torez to Russia. The Paris-Match caption for this photo says "The same truck photographed at dawn on Friday, July 18, 2014 by a surveillance camera in the city of Krasnodon, close to the Russian border, according to this image circulated by the Ukrainian intelligence." Krasnodon is in the Oblast of Luhansk, about 40km SE of Luhansk city. The civilian transporter is just passing a Bogdan Auto billboard. It appears to be the same truck.
On July 22, Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, gave the exact coordinates of the video’s location: separatist-held Luhansk, about a 45-minute drive from Krasnodon. as 48.545760°, 39.264622°map (about 70 metres from where this photo was taken) 1.5km off the nearest M04 junction and heading towards Kiev-controlled areas: 7km from Roskoshnoye (which was "Claimed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence to be liberated from separatist forces as of July 14") and 21 km from Luhansk Airport (which was not abandoned by Ukrainian forces until September 1).
It is shown on a civilian transporter, whereas those shown in Russia are on military transporters. The BUK has a white patch on its right-hand side and no railings - like one seen in Russia in June: basically, that's it.
On July 19 Kiev’s Security Service (SBU) published photos online that it claimed showed ‘Russia’ secretly withdrawing a BUK-M (NATO designation SA-11) surface-to-air missile system from the Ukraine civil war zone. At the time SBU Chief Vitaly Naida declared to a mute press“The SBU has taken measures within the investigation and is getting clear evidence of Russian citizens’ involvement in the terrorist attack (on the Malaysian Airlines Boeing)”.
However, bloggers immediately spotted the photos were of a Kiev air-defense system no. 312, previously pictured in March this year, when several BUK-M systems were filmed at Yasinovataya, north of Donetsk. The Ukrainian "evidence" photos show a single missile launch vehicle, whereas a Buk-M complex consists of at least three vehicles: missile launcher, radar and command vehicle. Ideally, a transporter loader vehicle would also form part of the system. This Ukraine SBU "evidence" shows two different transporters (with and without a blue flash on the cab. With one of the two photos (obviously faked and later removed) being submitted by the Ukraine SBU as "evidence", Bellingcat would reasonably have been expected to question the first one.
A June 2018 leaked document from the Integrity Initiative rated Bellingcat's "Integrity" as "Medium" although reportedly concerned that “Bellingcat was somewhat discredited, both by spreading disinformation itself, and by being willing to produce reports for anyone willing to pay” , the II did propose to include the group in the EXPOSE Network proposal, althought the UKFCO declined to fund the project.
"Shilling for the security services"
"To get a UK visa Boshirov and Petrov would have had to attend the UK Visa Application Centre in Moscow. There not only would their photographs be taken, but their fingerprints would have been taken and, if in the last few years, their irises scanned. The Metropolitan Police would naturally have obtained their fingerprints from the Visa Application.
"One thing of which we can be certain is that their fingerprints are not on the perfume bottle or packaging found in Charlie Rowley’s home. We can be certain of that because no charges have been brought against the two in relation to the death of Dawn Sturgess, and we know the police have their fingerprints. The fact of there being no credible evidence, according to either the Metropolitan Police or the Crown Prosecution Service, to link them to the Amesbury poisoning, has profound implications.
"Why the Metropolitan Police were so coy about telling us what kind of visa the pair held, points to a wider mystery. Why were they given the visas in the first place, and what story did they tell to get them? It is not easy for a Russian citizen, particularly an economically active male, to get past the UK Border Agency. The visa application process is very intrusive. They have to produce evidence of family and professional circumstances, including employment and address, evidence of funds, including at least three months of bank statements, and evidence of the purpose of the visit. These details are then actively checked out by the Visa Department.
"If they had told the story to the visa section they told to Russia Today, that they were freelance traders in fitness products wanting to visit Salisbury Cathedral, they would have been refused a visa as being candidates for overstaying. They would have been judged not to have sufficiently stable employment in Russia to ensure they would return. So what story did Petrov and Boshirov give on their visa application, why were they given a visa, and what kind of visa? And why do the British authorities not want us to know the answer to these questions?
"Which brings us to the claims of neo-conservative propaganda website Bellingcat. They claim together with the Russia Insider website to have obtained documentary evidence that Petrov and Boshirov’s passports were of a series issued only to Russian spies, and that their applications listed GRU headquarters as their address.
"There are some problems with Bellingcat’s analysis. The first is that they also quote Russian website fontanka.ru as a source, but fontanka.ru actually say the precise opposite of what Bellingcat claim – that the passport number series is indeed a civilian one and civilians do have passports in that series.
"Fontanka also state it is not unusual for the two to have close passport numbers – it merely means they applied together. On other points, fontanka.ru do confirm Bellingcat’s account of another suspected GRU officer having serial numbers close to those of Boshirov and Petrov.
"But there is a bigger question of the authenticity of the documents themselves. Fontanka.ru is a blind alley – they are not the source of the documents, just commenting on them, and Bellingcat are just attempting the old trick of setting up a circular “confirmation”. The Russia Insider is neither Russian nor an Insider. Its name is a false claim and it consists of a combination of western “experts” writing on Russia, and reprints from the Russian media. It has no track record of inside access to Russian government secrets or documents, and nor does Bellingcat.
"What Bellingcat does have is a track record of 'shilling for the security services'. Bellingcat claims its purpose is to clear up fake news, yet has been entirely opaque about the real source of its so-called documents.
"MI6 have almost 40 officers in Russia, running hundreds of agents. The CIA has a multiple of that. They pool their information. Both the UK and US have large visa sections whose major function is the analysis of Russian passports, their types and numbers and what they tell about the individual.
"We are to believe that Boshirov and Petrov were GRU agents whose identity was plainly obvious from their passports, who had no believable cover identities, but that neither the visa department nor MI6 (which two cooperate closely and all the time) knew they were giving visas to GRU agents. Yet this information was readily available to Bellingcat?"
- The Strange Russian Alibi
- Lynch Mob Mentality
- The Impossible Photo
- The Incredible Case of Boshirov and Petrov’s Visas
- “Boshirov” is probably not “Chepiga”. But he is also not “Boshirov”.
- Bellingcat’s attempts to gild the Chepiga lily are now becoming ludicrous. The photo they published today is a very obvious fake.
|StopFake||“[StopFake] has been criticised for a monomaniacal fixation on Russian hybrid warfare, but its work has been widely praised.”||June 2018|
|Zinc Network||“Bringing together organisations including Zinc Network, the Institute for Statecraft, Aktis Strategy, Bellingcat, DFR Lab, the Media Diversity Institute, Toro Risk Solutions and Ecorys, our Consortium combines recognised market leaders in understanding, monitoring, and countering Kremlin-backed disinformation... This ecosystem of credible voices will continue to grow, exposing the actors and networks behind Kremlin-backed disinformation, reducing unwitting multipliers of disinformation, and building resilience amongst key target audiences across Europe.
We will mobilise a Network Hub based in London, led by an experienced Project Director, consisting of an agile team with core competencies augmented by a wider pool of vetted experts. Our approach is highly localised, based around regional clusters of actors who can collaborate to effectively undermine the disinformationecosystem in their respective areas and engage audiences most vulnerable to disinformation... It is a highly complex project involving coordination of many independent actors, and thus risk must be carefully managed and risk profiles constantly adapted, serving as the basis for all activity. The approach we propose is based on the identification, monitoring and management of risks as they materialise, allowing members to continue taking smart risks as they increase the scale and impact of their activities.”
|Document:Metropolitan Police on 'Chepiga' and 'Mishkin'||blog post||12 October 2018||Craig Murray||I remain of the view that the best way forward would be for Putin to negotiate conditions under which Boshirov and Petrov might voluntarily come to the UK for trial|
|Document:Staged ISIS Videos are the Plot of Iron Man 3||article||14 September 2014||Jay Dyer||Predictive programming and fake news - an analysis of the ISIS 'beheading' videos and 'Iron Man 3'|
|Document:Upskilling to Upscale: Unleashing the Capacity of Civil Society to Counter Disinformation||project plan||June 2018||Integrity Initiative||A central II-document. The master plan for a huge network of British-directed NGOs in Europe. ‘Disinformation’ refers to everything not fitting the Western government narrative...|
- "Will NYT Retract Latest Anti-Russian ‘Fraud’?"
- "It's not so much ‘Bellingcat’ as ‘smell a rat’."
- "Rocket Man: How an unemployed blogger confirmed that Syria had used chemical weapons"
- "NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis"
- "KickStarter: Bellingcat, for and by citizen investigative journalists"
- "What do backers get in return?"
- "Kickstarter:Our Rules"
- "Bellingcat project home page on Kickstarter"
- "Google search for Ukraine in the Brown Moses blog"
- "Skripal Suspect Boshirov Identified as GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga"
- "We have identified the second Skripals poisoning suspect as Dr Alexander Mishkin"
- BBC, By BBC NEWS. "Middle East unrest: Three killed at protest in Syria - BBC.com". BBC. Retrieved 2017-03-21.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
- Higgins, Elliot. "About". Bellingcat. Retrieved 2017-03-21.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
- Moses, By Brown. "Evidence From 2 Weeks Of Chlorine Barrel Bomb Attacks". brown-moses. Retrieved 2017-03-21.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
- Komar, Rao. "The al-Tanf Bombing: How Russia Assisted ISIS by Attacking an American Backed FSA Group with Cluster Bombs". Bellingcat. Retrieved 2017-03-21.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
- Waters, Nick. "Death From Above: The Drone Bombs of the Caliphate". Bellingcat. Retrieved 2017-03-21.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
- Triebert, Christiaan. "CONFIRMED: US Responsible for 'Aleppo Mosque Bombing'". Bellingcat. Retrieved 2017-03-21.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
- "The Hills of Raqqa – Geolocating the James Foley Video"
- "James Foley FAKE Execution - Video Analysis Reveals the Truth"
- "Staged ISIS Videos Exemplify Fake News"
- "How Open Source Investigation Found The Buk Missile Launcher That Downed Flight MH17"
- "Identifying the Location of the MH17 Linked Missile Launcher From One Photograph"
- "Bellingcat <> Interpretermag tweets"
- "Wake up kid! From Snitzhe this morning: Maybe u can geolocate it it's a BUK sa-17"
- "Bogus photos of ‘Russian’ air-defence systems in Ukraine debunked by bloggers"
- "All about Buk 9k37, missile 'blamed for' Malaysia jet MH17 crash". http://www.hindustantimes.com. Hindustan Times. 18 July 2014. External link in
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- "Ukraine Defense Chief's Report Paints Bleak Picture of Armed Forces".Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
- "Ukraine's Defense Minister describes the combat readiness of the country's armed forces as unsatisfactory". http://www.globalsecurity.org. External link in
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- "Kiev deployed powerful anti-air systems to E. Ukraine ahead of the Malaysian plane crash". rt.com.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
- "Images Show the Buk that Downed Flight MH17, Inside Russia, Controlled by Russian Troops"
- "Ukrainian Su-25 fighter detected in close approach to MH17 before crash - Moscow"
- "Arsen Avakov Facebook"
- Integrity Initiaitive/Leak/7#UpskillingToUpscaleReport_CapacityofCivilSocietytoCounterDisinformation_ June2018_RestrictedAccess_June2018 (1).pdf
- "The Incredible Case of Boshirov and Petrov’s Visas"
- Leaked/hacked emails and Facebook messages - Insight into Bellingcat funding and (dis)information sources