Bellingcat (also rendered bell¿ngcat) is an investigative journalism website that specializes in fact-checking and open source investigation. It was founded by the British journalist and former blogger Eliot Higgins in July 2014. Bellingcat publishes the findings of both professional and citizen journalist investigations into war zones, human rights abuses, and the criminal underworld. The site's contributors also publish guides to their techniques, as well as case studies.
Type of site
|Available in||English, Russian|
|Created by||Eliot Higgins|
Bellingcat began as an investigation of the use of weapons in the Syrian civil war. It first received international attention with its analysis of forged data on satellite images of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 during the still ongoing war in eastern Ukraine.
The name derives from the idiom "belling the cat", which comes from a medieval fable about mice who discuss how to make a cat harmless. One suggests hooking a bell around his neck, and all the mice support the idea but none is willing to do it.
In March 2012, Eliot Higgins started a blog under the pseudonym Brown Moses, through which he published his research into video footage of the Syrian Civil War. He looked at hundreds of these short clips on the Internet, localized them, and examined details of the weapons used. As a result, Higgins was able to demonstrate that the Syrian regime was using cluster munitions and chemical weapons. In 2013, Higgins linked the significant chemical attack in Ghouta (the Ghouta chemical attack) to Bashar al-Assad.
Bellingcat's first major investigation, done mainly by volunteers without external funding, was the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) in 2014. Their conclusion that Russia was responsible was later confirmed by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which found in a report dated 25 May 2018 that the downing of MH17 was initiated by the Russian military. In other notable investigations using Google Earth, volunteer investigators working with Bellingcat said that they had discovered the coordinates of an Islamic State training camp, as well as the site where an American journalist was killed.
Kristyan Benedict, an Amnesty International campaign manager, told The New Yorker in 2013 that many organisations had analysts but that Higgins was faster than many established investigation teams.
Higgins launched the Bellingcat platform in 2014 with the help of private donations received through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, and performed additional crowdfunding in 2017. Half of funding comes from grants and donations, the other half from running workshops training people in the art of open-source investigations. For example, Bellingcat has received grants from Google Digital News Initiative, Adessium, the Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy. Higgins has said much of the grant money does not directly fund investigations rather is for support services such as for document translations and training. The organisation publishes guides on how to analyse data and how to create reports, such as "How to Scrape Interactive Geospacial Data" and "How to Identify Burnt Villages by Satellite Imagery".
Higgins told Polygraph.info that grants from the NED and OSF pay for Bellingcat programs to help journalists and researchers in their investigations. He further clarified that "Most our funding from grants (ie. NED, OSF etc) covers stuff that isn't related to investigating anything Russia related."
War in eastern UkraineEdit
On 21 December 2016, a report by Bellingcat was published which analyses the use of Russian artillery in the summer of 2014 against Ukrainian villages.
On July 17, 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down while flying over eastern Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members died after the Boeing 777 was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects".
In a press conference, Russian officials blamed the flight's destruction on Ukrainian forces and presented radar data, expert testimony and a satellite image. The radar data that showed another aircraft in the vicinity of MH17 was debunked as falling debris from MH17 by experts. A Spanish air traffic controller in Kiev gave interviews that stated that two Ukrainian fighter jets followed the Malaysian plane but the Spanish Embassy later said that there was no Spanish air traffic controller at either of Kiev's airports. The satellite image showed an aircraft firing on the airliner but Bellingcat exposed the photo as a composite of Google images, with the Malaysian airline logo even being misplaced.
On November 9, 2014, the Bellingcat MH17 Investigation team published a report titled "MH17: Source of the Separatists' Buk". Based on evidence from open sources, primarily social media, the report links a Buk missile launcher that was filmed and photographed in eastern Ukraine on July 17 to the downing of the MH17 flight. The 35 page report, including photographs and maps, details the movements of the Buk in eastern Ukraine on July 17, evidence that the Buk originated from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade in Kursk, Russia, along with a convoy headed towards the Ukrainian border, and the activity of the vehicles seen in the same convoy after July 17. This report was later echoed by the Dutch-led international Joint Investigation Team. The head of the Netherlands' National Crime Squad, said they officially concluded that the missile that shot down MH17 "is from the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade from Kursk in the Russian Federation".
In June 2015, Bellingcat published evidence that Russia had used Adobe Photoshop to manipulate satellite images of the MH17 disaster. Image forensics expert Jens Kriese of Germany maintained that Bellingcat's report used invalid methods to reach its conclusion. In a follow-up report, Bellingcat published crowdfunded satellite imagery and further analysis that supported their claim.
On December 20, 2017, Bellingcat published an article focusing on a section of the 2017 Intelligence and Security Committee report, which categorically stated that the British stance on the MH17 incident was that Russian forces were behind the orchestration and implementation of a plan to shoot down an aircraft. Whether the target was the MH17 passenger jet is not defined.
Syrian Civil WarEdit
Beginning in March 2011 after political protests turned violent, the Syrian Civil War has been an ongoing conflict between the Syrian Arab Republic, Syrian Opposition, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other combatants. Bellingcat reports primarily analyse the factions at war, and what weapons and armor they utilize, as well as news that would normally go unreported by the mainstream media. Bellingcat utilizes a network of contributors who specialize in open source and social media investigation, and creates guides and case studies so others may learn to do the same.
In April 2014, Bellingcat published extensive evidence of chemical weapons being used on Syrian civilians, including children. Collecting and analysing video footage from local sources which apparently showed parts of chlorine cylinders, Higgins said that while the contents of the cylinders could not be verified "the injuries depicted in the videos all appear to be consistent with chemical exposure".
In June 2016, Bellingcat published an article showing the use of cluster munitions were being used against the New Syrian Army, in clear violation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Bellingcat provided photographic evidence from firsthand sources that the munitions used were identical to those used by the Russian Military .
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 discovered that the drones were dropping modified 40mm grenades.
Bellingcat also does extensive reporting into attacks that are not openly claimed by combatants.
In September 2016, Bellingcat released a fact-checking article in response to Russia denying the bombing of hospitals in Syria. The article analysed footage from YouTube and images from Facebook, cross referencing them with areas that were confirmed to be attacked by Russian forces. The article reported that the hospital in question was within the area under Russian attack, although Russia denies these claims.
In March 2017, Bellingcat published an investigative report on the bombing of a mosque in Aleppo that killed 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.
El Junquito raidEdit
In May 2018, in partnership with Forensic Architecture and Venezuelan journalists, Bellingcat collected, timed, and located nearly 70 pieces of evidence related to the El Junquito raid, including videos, photographs, leaked audio of police radio communications and official statements, asking for more material to determine if rebel police officer Óscar Pérez and his companions were victims of extrajudicial killings.
Yemeni Civil WarEdit
In November 2018, a Bellingcat investigation on Houthi broadcasts through their affiliated Almasirah news channel of missile attacks targeted against United Arab Emirates (UAE) airports the Abu Dhabi International Airport and Dubai International Airport was published. The investigation report concluded that "It is highly likely that a Houthi-led drone attack did not take place in Abu Dhabi or Dubai". According to the report, the claims of the attacks constituted a propaganda effort and followed a "propaganda pattern" claims by the Houthi leaders.
Following RT's interview with the suspects of the Sergei Skripal poisoning case, Bellingcat published the suspects' passport data showing inconsistencies in the official story, and possible links to the Russian secret service. The Russian foreign ministry rejected the report stating that it believed Bellingcat had ties to western intelligence. It noted Bellingcat's access to a Russian database not publicly available. Shortly after, the website said it had identified one of the suspects as decorated GRU colonel Anatoliy Chepiga.
In 2019, Bellingcat and The Insider (Russia) received the Investigative Reporting Award from the European Press Prize for identifying the two men allegedly responsible for the Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal .
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for proving Syria was using chemical weapons from his bedroom in Leicester
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