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Justin Burton - 30 Sep 2018


The Observer today has profiled Eliot Higgins, 39 year old founder of Bellingcat, the investigative website that has broken scoop after scoop, most notably of all the recent "blockbuster", the unmasking of one of alleged perpetrators of the Salisbury novichoc attack.

It said that one of the suspects was not a civilian on a sightseeing trip, the explanation put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but rather a highly-decorated military officer named Anatoliy Chepiga.

British officials haven't commented, but the BBC understands there is no dispute over the identification. Russia has dismissed the claim as "groundless".

The identification of the second suspect is expected soon.

Jamie Doward's article for the Observer today has some other interesting quotes and revelations:

On Bellingcat:

Belling the cat” refers to a fable telling how a group of mice decide that the best way to protect themselves from a cat is to place a bell around the cat’s neck – but then are unable to find a volunteer to attach the bell. “Everyone calls us the Bellingcats,” Higgins said. “But we’re the mice not the cat.”

Does he worry about his personal safety?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But if a black van pulls up and four Russian guys leap out, there’s not a lot I’m going to be able to do, so I try not to worry about it too much.

“We worry more about cybersecurity than anything else. They’ve tried multiple times in the past. We’ve had large numbers of phishing emails, which were part of the ‘Fancy Bear’ operation and a more recent operation in 2017.”

Although it was initially financed through crowdfunding, Higgins now describes Bellingcat as a business."

A BBC report this week says:

In a post announcing the creation of Bellingcat, Mr Higgins said the website would have two main objectives. 

Firstly, "[bringing] together a group of writers and activists who through using open source tools have transformed journalism" and, secondly, "[attracting] others to come and learn how to use these same tools".

The latter has been an ever-present feature on the site, which has a dedicated section that offers advice and information to budding citizen journalists. 

There is an eclectic mix of guides, ranging from how to identify burnt villages by satellite imagery to how to collect sources from Syria if you don't read Arabic.

"I intended the website originally as a place to have guides and case studies for people who could then learn how to do it themselves," he says. 

"On the other side, I wanted our own investigations, and a place where people could share what they found interesting and post their own findings."


Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat. Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/AFP


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