In 2016, I’ll be returning to my country of the UK, and there’s a man I’d certainly like to meet for an interview. While I was working on the scene from the war in Donbass, Eliot Higgins, of Bellingcat, was the man sitting on a sofa taking, and manipulating, YouTube videos (including my own) of Donbass, MH17, Syria, using them to disseminate misinformation, lies, to the world.
However, he’s unlikely ever to agree to an interview with me, because, you see, Higgins, from the UK, born 1979, avoids sources who may raise uncomfortable questions much like critics have accused his work of avoiding basis in science, or fact (see below for more on that).
So, who exactly is Eliot Higgins? The man western media fawn over to the extent you may think it’s Eliot’s own mum writing the press, with headlines like ‘Putin’s MH17 Nemesis‘ and ‘One-Man Intelligence Unit‘ (and that, enthusiastically promoted by the UK government in Ukraine, and not only them – US, Estonian government sources and more, open fans of his work).
Well, this is how a standard Eliot Higgins piece, and they are manifold, begins, in the western press – ‘As rockets fell in Syria Eliot Higgins was asleep at his house 2,300 miles away, in Leicester. He woke a few hours later, roused his toddler daughter, Ela, and padded downstairs to make her porridge.’
That from the Telegraph, March 29th, 2014. Higgins affectionately portrayed as a kind of Winnie the Pooh meets a Beautiful Mind as he goes on to crack the enigma which had eluded the world etc etc.
‘Any of us can pause a YouTube video or find an old friend on Facebook. But only one man has used these simple online tools to expose the world’s darkest secrets. No wonder everyone from the police to Google wants a piece of the blogger from Leicester.’
‘Sipping a can of beer and devouring french fries in a Brussels hotel room, Eliot Higgins doesn’t look like the type to get involved in armed conflicts. The Englishman has a baby face, slumped shoulders and a soft Midlands accent. But over the past three years, the 36-year-old former administrator and obsessive gamer has spent hundreds of hours scouring the Internet to find out the truth about faraway wars – from the use of chemical weapons in Syria to Russian troops invading Ukraine – all from the comfort of his couch.’
But what if it’s not really like that, at all?
What if the ‘Founder of Bellingcat. Visiting research associate at King’s College London. Nonresident Senior Fellow – New Information Frontiers @AtlanticCouncil.‘ (his own Twitter description), isn’t really that?
What if Eliot Higgins is, at best, a latter day Chauncey Gardiner , (pictured, the Peter Sellers character from film ‘Being There’ who rose to success on the back of mental limitations mistaken for genius)? Or what if it’s even worse – what if Higgins is actually a liar, a faker, a fraud?
Let’s have a look at a 10 Higgins bullet-points –
Higgins is from Leicester in the UK, born in 1979, He never finished college, dropping out of the Southampton Institute of Higher Education. When asked for interview what he studied at university, his answer was , “Media . . . I think.”
He once worked as payments officer at a women’s underwear company. (“I’m more interested in lingerie than asylum seekers,”). In 2012, the hardcore online gamer (a World of Warcraft addict), Higgins was laid off from his job as an administrator at a non-profit providing housing for asylum seekers, turns to blogging, under the pseudonym ‘Brown Moses‘, from a Frank Zappa track.
Сredited, by some, with uncovering chemical weapons in Syria in 2013. Whether he actually did this, is the subject of debate (what he is documented as doing is agreeing to suppress information that the rebels had chemical weapons, and were behind chemical weapon attacks on Aleppo which had killed civilians). In any case, Higgins’ chemical weapons revelations were enthusiastically disseminated across western media, the US, UN, glowingly endorsed by western governments, but comprehensively debunked by Theodore Postol, a professor in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group at MIT –
“It’s clear and unambiguous this munition could not have come from Syrian government-controlled areas as the White House claimed.”
While the western media fell in love with tale of the ‘expert who exposed Syrian chemical weapons from his bedroom‘, other, real, experts (and Higgins has always been completely open about his lack of expertise) were less convinced. Higgins, Postol said, “has done a very nice job collecting information on a website. As far as his analysis, it’s so lacking any analytical foundation it’s clear he has no idea what he’s talking about.”
In January 2015, Bellingcat published a report into events in Mariupol, Ukraine, May 9th, 2014, when Ukrainian forces entered the city, opening fire, resulting in a death count given by Ukrainian sources as over 20, but by some sources as high as 100. Bellingcat took the figure down to 13. Despite video of Ukrainian forces opening fire on unarmed civilians, Bellingcat entirely exonerated them, described them as ‘acting with restraint’.
This exoneration of the actions of Ukrainian forces, and others of its kind, has allowed western governments to continue their unconditional support for Ukraine, in the war in Donbass, without question.
Through 2015, Higgins’ Bellingcat rises to become one of the key agents in the MH17 investigation, with Higgins himself frequently trumpeting his appearances across the world’s media. This is despite Bellingcat’s frequently being caught out in fabrications – those MH17 videos which formed the bedrock of Bellingcat’s claims, comprehensively debunked here. Then there was the humiliation of Der Spiegel, one of Europe’s largest publications … issuing an apology for using Bellingcat’s work as a reliable source. German image forensics expert Jens Kriese tore Bellingcat apart here –
‘From the perspective of forensics, the Bellingcat approach is not very robust. The core of what they are doing is based on so-called Error Level Analysis (ELA). The method is subjective and not based entirely on science. This is why there is not a single scientific paper that addresses it. Contrary to what Bellingcat claims, Error Level Analysis does not provide clear results.
The conclusion is always based on the perspective of humans, on their interpretation.’This, along with stringent criticism from a range of sources – from the ‘Off-Guardian‘ site -‘Even casual conversation with him reveals the embarrassing truth that his “research”, so lauded in the popular media, consists of entry-level computer skills and an awful lot of smoke-blowing. You or I or literally anyone over the age of seven with internet access could do it. If we thought it was worth while.’
The criticism hasn’t just been limited to text, this German satirical programme did a quite unerring take-off of Higgins –
Higgins is actually becoming rather an internet joke –
These have done the rounds –
And just have a look on Twitter with the search #Bellingcrap
Higgins either vehemently hates, or has been told to hate Russia, and Russia’s president Putin. Have a look at his Twitter timeline, of some 127,000 tweets, and it can read at times like one man trolling an entire country. A stream, a barrage, of anti-Russian tweets, retweets, and Higgins doesn’t even try to hide that he despises Russia, or has been told to – this just from a quick ‘Russia‘ search of his recent tweets, and just a small sampling –With this taken into account, what conclusion was Higgins’ Bellingcat ever going to come to, apart from that it was Russia, indeed Putin himself, responsible for the tragic downing of MH17? And for the ‘expert’ on Donbass, Higgins has made his feelings similarly clear –
Higgins hates RT now, never missing a chance to tear into them. Typical tweet –But, he used to be proud of their endorsement – this, from 2013 – a list of media he was happy to advertise his connection to. So what happened there? I’ve worked for RT, and will say this with all due respect, they are quite modest in the payment they offer. It’s not hard to find channels, and outlets, who pay a lot more.
In the early, Brown Moses, days, Higgins used to make frequent appeals for finances, with support links prominently displayed. However, the current Bellingcat site doesn’t even appear to have a ‘donate’ / ‘support’ option. And Bellingcat has grown to an operation which lists itself as being run by ‘eight volunteers’ but is clearly far in excess of that – a professional website which is updated sometimes with several articles a day, on which extensive research has been expended. But when it’s Bellingcat, all the evidence shows that the research is done to back up a conclusion already arrived at, rather than arrive at a conclusion based on research.
Higgins now works not from home, but from an office, in his hometown of Leicester. So where’s the money coming from for Bellingcat, clearly now an operation requiring considerable financial support? That’s unclear, Higgins has yet to publish any record of where the finance comes from, all the ‘About‘ section of the Bellingcat site says is -‘Bellingcat uses open source and social media investigation to investigate a variety of subjects, from Mexican drug lords to conflicts being fought across the world. Bellingcat brings together contributors who specialise in open source and social media investigation, and creates guides and case studies so others may learn to do the same.’
For a lot of people, it’s highly convenient that Eliot Higgins is an ‘expert’, and his agency Bellingcat taken seriously. This is a man who, with his agency Bellingcat, will absolutely always back the position of western governments, and powerful western organisations. And they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure he’s taken seriously, lay on all the the trappings, auspices of highbrow, on trend terms like ‘open source investigation’ and ‘error level analysis‘, be sure he’s given awards, plaudits, made a ‘fellow’, ‘expert’, at sympathetic organisations, appears at the right seminars, conferences, everything to apply the sheen of credibility.
When it comes to defending himself from criticism, Eliot is adept at deflecting criticism of himself onto the seemingly ‘too cool to criticise ‘open source investigation’, of which he is a leading practitioner. These tweets, from today, in response to his being told this article would be coming out –
Yet, what if behind the new, buzz ‘open source’ investigation of Higgins lies just plain old falsification?
This recent, absolutely comprehensive, article makes the point, one yet to have penetrated the public perception of ‘open source
investigation’, that all this new jazz can be used as the respectable front for one of the oldest scams, falsification – see this tweet on the theme.
Creating social media accounts to post misinformation, free of all the source checks, verification of other sources as this is ‘citizen journalism’ and all things cool, which can’t be questioned because a lot of people don’t really know what they are. This, then passed off, and on, into Bellingcat, and up it goes higher into the food chain of mass media, unquestioned, unchecked.
So you can see why a lot of people really have an interest in making Eliot Higgins out to be an authority, a reputed source, an expert. Have a look at his profile on the Atlantic Council site, an agency funded by governments across the world (25, no less), to promote their position under the guise of being a ‘think tank’. Higgins now works with them, and they call him ‘
Eliot Higgins – Nonresident Senior Fellow, New Information Frontiers, Future Europe Initiative, Expertise Topics, Digital Forensic Research and Open Source Intelligence.’
There’s a real convenience about Higgins. He’s positioned himself as one of the foremost exponents of the still-being-defined ‘open source’. Higgins himself has shaped and defined what we currently know as ‘open source investigation’. And he’s made one of the tenets of it never, ever, needing to go to the place in question.
Higgins has never been near the MH17 site, Syria, or anywhere else on where he’s an apparent ‘expert’. Higgins may not go to any of the places he ‘investigates’, but he does travel the world being an ‘expert’ at various conferences, receiving awards – all of these used (and used by Higgins himself, who doesn’t shy from self-promotion , making extensive mention on Twitter of his own participation at conferences, using a photo from such for his profile) to propagate ‘Higgins, the expert.
It’s very handy for some people, having a guy who doesn’t need to be sent anywhere, who, from his sofa, can quickly come up with the conclusions so beloved of western press, and governments. He’s also clearly a hard worker, dogmatic, persistent, the man who used to spend endless hours gaming now happy to spend that time on Bellingcat ‘investigations’. Higgins took part in the official MH17 investigation, and even boasted about knowing the result of the MH17 report before it was released – so sure was he, he even challenged me to a bet over it (I declined).
So, make your own mind up.
Or are we being stitched up by a man either of limited abilities plunged into the limelight, making the most of all that goes with it – fawning western media write ‘He often doesn’t finish sentences, as if his mind is racing elsewhere‘ – but could it be, that Higgins is actually rather simply rather a dim man, being used, and fine with that, by higher powers?
Or is Higgins actually an intelligent calculating individual, who has exploited the opportunity to make a name for himself, make a lot of money? One thing about Higgins is sure. He’s a liar. A conman. A charlatan. And whatever associations the name ‘Higgins’ and ‘Bellingcat’ have now, the future can surely only be these names associated with fabrication, fraud, a scam. All that will be debated, is whether Higgins is a latter-day Donald Crowhurst, a hapless man forced into a web of deceit, or a Bernie Madoff, who knew just what he was doing all along.