Founder Eliot Higgins told the NRC daily in an interview on Friday that the organisation has applied for funding from the Postcode Lottery foundation to help establish the first Bellingcat operation outside the UK.
The organisation will have teams working on Yemen, Syria, and Libya, Higgins said. The office will also host “a team focused on working with local groups on local issues” and more MH17 revelations are on the way, he said.
The aim is to set up an operation in the Netherlands to support the work of the International Criminal Court in The Hague with open source material, the NRC reported.
But in his first big scoop, Higgins echoed mainstream war propaganda on Syria about the August 2013 sarin gas attack — blaming it on President Bashar al-Assad. Bellingcat was quickly forced to back down from his assessment when aeronautical experts revealed that the sarin-carrying missile had a range of only about two kilometers, much shorter than Higgins had surmised in blaming the attack on Syrian government forces. Despite that key error, Higgins continued claiming the Syrian government was guilty.
Bellingcat has not only been embroiled in promoting fake chemical attacks, but also in the MH17 disaster and the Skripal poisoning case in Britain, among others.
In its report, on the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) blamed Russia, because “[M]any journalists carried out their own investigations, as did research collectives like Bellingcat.” The JIT report has not yet provided definitive evidence to back up its conclusions based on the Bellingcat “research collective”.
Bellingcat was launched days before MH17 was shot down and quickly expanded its area of study to include Ukraine.
Proving that MH17 was shot down by Russian forces was a major focus of Bellingcat’s efforts, while the Dutch investigators initially only concluded that the most likely missile was a Buk of the 9M38 series with a 9N314M warhead launched somewhere from a 320 square kilometre area, but made no attempt to draw conclusions as to who controlled it.
Originally from Leicester in the UK, Higgins is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and Future Europe Initiative.
The Atlantic Council is a leading US geopolitical strategy think tank, which published a document outlining advanced preparations underway for the United States to fight “major and deadly” wars between “great powers,” which will entail “heavy casualties” and “high levels of death and destruction.”
The document, titled “The Future of the Army,” based the likelihood of such a terrible war in what it calls “Russia’s resurgence”.
Higgins is also one of five authors of an Atlantic Council report titled: “Distract, Deceive, Destroy,” on Russia’s role in Syria. The report concludes by calling for US missile strikes in Syria.
But in 2015, Bellingcat’s war propaganda operation became so discredited that the German news magazine Der Spiegel had to apologise for its uncritical recycling of Bellingcat allegations.
According to Jens Kreise, an expert in digital image forensics, Bellingcat’s technique of “error correction analysis” was “subjective and not based entirely on science”. He added that Bellingcat’s work is “nothing more than reading tea leaves”.
Despite having no background in weapons analysis beyond that supposedly derived from computer gaming and, in Higgins’ own words, “what I’d learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo [films],” he was quickly identified by the international mainstream media as a “credible” source of “independent” research.
Veteran US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has debunked Bellingcat’s chemical attack allegations, pointing out that numerous forces in the Syrian conflict, including US-backed “rebel” groups fighting the Syrian government had “mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and [were] capable of manufacturing it in quantity”.
A group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists, led by Professor Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology, and international security, said about Higgins that “as far as his analysis goes, it’s so lacking any analytical foundation, it’s clear he has no idea what he’s talking about”.
Higgins is married to a Turkish national.
I should probably note my wife is Turkish, so it's not entirely random
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) November 2, 2015