Type of site
|Created by||Eliot Higgins|
Bellingcat (stylised as bell¿ngcat) is an investigative journalism website that specialises in fact-checking and open-source intelligence (OSINT). It was founded by 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.
Bellingcat began as an investigation of the use of weapons in the Syrian Civil War. Its reports on the War in Donbass (including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17), the El Junquito raid, the Yemeni Civil War, the Skripal poisoning and a mass killing by the Cameroonian Army have attracted international attention.
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 short clips on the Internet, localised them, and examined details of the weapons used. As a result, Higgins demonstrated that the Syrian regime was using cluster munitions and chemical weapons. In 2013, Higgins linked the 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 Dutch-led international 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 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.
Since 2018 the Bellingcat website is operated by Stichting Bellingcat. (tr. Bellingcat Foundation). Bellingcat has received grants from Porticus, Adessium Foundation, The National Endowment for Democracy, Pax For Peace, Open Society Foundation, the Dutch Postcode Lottery, and the Digital News Initiative. Higgins has said much of the grant money does not directly fund investigations and is used for support services such as 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 programmes to help journalists and researchers in their investigations. He said that "Most our funding from grants (i.e. NED, OSF etc.) covers stuff that isn't related to investigating anything Russia related."
War in eastern Ukraine
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 17 July 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 said Ukrainian forces had destroyed the flight 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 man claiming to be a Spanish air traffic controller in Kiev stated in interviews that two Ukrainian fighter jets followed the Malaysian plane. 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 9 November 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 17 July to the downing of the MH17 flight. The report, which included photographs and maps, details the movements of the Buk in eastern Ukraine on 17 July, 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 17 July. The Dutch-led international joint investigation team later made similar findings. 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 said 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.
A December 2017 article published by Bellingcat cited a quote from the 2017 British Intelligence and Security Committee report in which a British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) source had stated "we know beyond any reasonable doubt that the Russian military supplied and subsequently recovered the missile launcher" which shot down MH17.
Syrian Civil War
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 armour they utilise, as well as news that would normally go unreported by the mainstream media. Bellingcat utilises a network of contributors who specialise 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 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 that cluster munitions were being used against the New Syrian Army, in violation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Bellingcat provided photographic evidence from first-hand 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 ISIL to drop explosives onto opposition targets. Analysing footage from Twitter and other social media platforms, it was discovered that the drones were dropping modified 40 mm 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 raid
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 War
In November 2018, Bellingcat published the results of an investigation on Houthi broadcasts through their affiliated Almasirah news channel concerning missile attacks targeted against two airports in the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi International Airport and Dubai International Airport. 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 "propaganda pattern" claims by the Houthi leaders.
Following RT's interview with the suspects of the 4 March 2018 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 and stated that Bellingcat had ties to western intelligence. It noted Bellingcat's access to a not publicly available Russian database. Two men had been seen and pinpointed as likely to have carried out the attack; Bellingcat said it had identified one of the suspects as decorated GRU colonel Anatoliy Chepiga. The other suspect was identified as GRU colonel Alexander Mishkin. In June 2019 Bellingcat reported that major-general Denis Sergeyev had travelled to London as "Sergei Fedotov", and appeared to have commanded the operation, making and receiving many telephone calls with a single Russian "ghost phone" without an IMEI. Bellingcat analysed position data from Sergeyev's phone to trace his movements in London, following its successfully gaining access to travel, passport, and motoring databases for the suspects.
A report in The Guardian stated that "Bellingcat has frequently sparred with Russian military and diplomatic officials, who have claimed without evidence that Bellingcat fabricates evidence and is a front for foreign intelligence services". Russian media have said that Bellingcat is funded by the U.S. government to undermine Russia and other NATO adversaries.
Christchurch mosque shootings
Following the Christchurch mosque shootings of 15 March 2019, Bellingcat published what the Columbia Journalism Review referred to as "a comprehensive and contextualized report on the motives and movements of the Christchurch killer". In an online posting, Tarrant repeats a variety of "white genocide" talking points, and says his murder of several dozen Muslims is because they are “invaders” outbreeding the white race. Robert Evans refers to the manifesto as shitposting, defined as "the act of throwing out huge amounts of content, most of it ironic, low-quality trolling, for the purpose of provoking an emotional reaction in less Internet-savvy viewers."
Bellingcat assisted the BBC's Africa Eye investigation into the killing of two women and their children by members of the Cameroonian Army. This followed the appearance of a video on social media in July 2018, initially dismissed as "fake news." As a result of this investigation, the US withdrew $17 million in funding for the Cameroonian Army and the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning "torture, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings perpetrated by governmental forces."
After Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport in Iran on 8 January 2020, Bellingcat, in cooperation with The New York Times, used open-source videos to determine that most likely Iran shot down the aeroplane with a surface to air missile.
In December 2020, Bellingcat published an investigation detailing how the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) unit specialised in the use of chemical agents had been tailing opposition leader Alexei Navalny since 2017 and had agents near his location in Siberia when he was poisoned with the military-type Novichok nerve agent in August 2020. They also suggested similar patterns in the actions of the same undercover agents during an earlier visit by Navalny and his wife to Kaliningrad, when she fell ill with symptoms similar to those of his later poisoning. Navalny's assessment is that in Kaliningrad the agents had tried to poison him, but his wife received the Novichok by mistake. The investigation was published on December 14 revealing the names of both the direct perpetrators of the poisoning and the assassination attempt from the FSB.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad of the University of Stirling states that Bellingcat has had an influence on how legacy journalism outlets and research institutions conduct open-source investigations:
Bellingcat's successes have encouraged investment in open-source research capability by much larger and long-established media institutions (such as The New York Times Visual Investigations), human rights organizations (Amnesty's Digital Verification Corps; Human Rights Watch's soon-to-be-launched OSINT unit), think tanks (the Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab), and academic institutions (Berkeley’s Human Rights Investigations Lab).
Mentioning "large gaps in foreign coverage" due to reduced newsroom budgets, Ahmad says that in today's digital context, newsrooms have become convinced that "sending journalists abroad is a fool's errand."
The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, the Poynter Institute, and scholars of journalism have recommended Bellingcat guides on how to conduct open-source investigations to journalists and to journalism students.
In 2017, Bellingcat-member Christiaan Triebert won the European Press Prize Innovation Award for a detailed reconstruction of the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt in a Bellingcat article titled The Turkish Coup through the Eyes of its Plotters.
In 2019, Bellingcat and the Internet publication The Insider received the Investigative Reporting Award from the European Press Prize for identifying the two men who allegedly poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Bellingcat received a €500,000 cash prize from the Nationale Postcode Loterij of The Netherlands; it used these funds to open a new office in The Hague. Bellingcat and Newsy received Scripps Howard Award for Innovation in investigative journalism that sheds light on international conflict.
In 2018 the documentary film Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World was released. The film explores Bellingcat's investigative journalism work, including the Skripal poisoning and the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
- "About". bellingcat. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Ahmad, Muhammad Idrees (10 June 2019). "Bellingcat and How Open Source Reinvented Investigative Journalism". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
- "About". Bellingcat. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
- "To bell the cat - definition of To bell the cat by The Free Dictionary". Thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
- "Brown Moses Blog: March 2012". Brown-moses.blogspot.de. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
- "Kickstarter-funded journalists found an ISIL training camp using Google Earth and Bing Maps". 24 August 2014.
for proving Syria was using chemical weapons from his bedroom in Leicester
- Moses, Brown (22 April 2014). "Evidence From 2 Weeks Of Chlorine Barrel Bomb Attacks". brown-moses. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
- "Watch out for Bellingcat". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- "Russia's Latest Attempt to Smear Bellingcat Over MH17 – Unsuccessful". Polygraph.info. 7 August 2018. Archived from the original on 17 May 2019. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
- "Update in criminal investigation MH17 disaster". Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "Bellingcat: the home of online investigations". Kickstarter. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- Batuman, Elif (23 November 2013). "Rocket Man". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
- Beauman, Ned (30 August 2018). "How to Conduct an Open-Source Investigation, According to the Founder of Bellingcat". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X.
- Robin Millard (29 September 2018). "UK site leads the way in Skripal case with online savvy". AFP. Retrieved 30 September 2018 – via Yahoo! News.
- "About". bellingcat. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
- Eliot, Higgins. "Bellingcat: the home of online investigations". Kickstarter. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- "Video: james-carroll-explains-why-priesthood-should-be-abolished-pt2 June 12, 2019". Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "How Bellingcat outfoxes the world's spy agencies". www.spectator.co.uk.
- "Nederland is nu de uitvalsbasis van de Bellingcat-speurders" [The Netherlands is now the base of operations for the Bellingcat investigators]. NRC. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Twitter, James Walker (5 March 2019). "Bellingcat to establish new office in The Hague after €500,000 funding win through Dutch postcode lottery". Press Gazette. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Jasmine Andersson (9 October 2018). "What is Bellingcat – and what else had they uncovered before the Salisbury poisoning suspects?". inews.co.uk. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- Sean Case; Klement Anders. "Putin's Undeclared War : Summer 2014 : Russian Artillery Strikes Against Ukraine" (PDF). Bellingcat.com. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
- Jethro Mullen. "Report: MH17 hit by burst of 'high-energy objects'". CNN. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
- Maxim Tucker (22 June 2015). "Meet Eliot Higgins, Putin's MH17 Nemesis". Newsweek. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
- Bellingcat (9 November 2014). "Origin of the Separatists' Buk" (PDF). Bellingcat.
- "Probe: Missile that downed MH17 came from Russia-based unit". The Washington Post. 24 May 2018.
- Jens Kriese (4 June 2015). "Expert Criticizes Allegations of Russian MH17 Manipulation". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- "Bellingcat kontert Kritik mit neuen Satellitenbildern" [Bellingcat counters criticism with new satellite images]. Die Zeit (in German). 12 June 2015. Archived from the original on 8 January 2020. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- Toler, Aric. "British Intelligence Report Confirms Russian Military Origin of MH17 Murder Weapon". Bellingcat. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
- "ISCP Annual Report 2016-2017" (PDF). Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "Middle East unrest: Three killed at protest in Syria". BBC News. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
- "Syria Is Accused of Suffocating Its Citizens with Chlorine Bombs". Vice News. 23 April 2014.
- Komar, Rao. "The al-Tanf Bombing: How Russia Assisted ISIS by Attacking an American Backed FSA Group with Cluster Bombs". Bellingcat. Archived from the original on 8 October 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
- Waters, Nick. "Death From Above: The Drone Bombs of the Caliphate". Bellingcat. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
- Al-Khatib, Hady. "Fact-Checking Russia's Claim that It Didn't Bomb a 5-Year-Old in Syria". Bellingcat. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
- Triebert, Christiaan. "CONFIRMED: US Responsible for 'Aleppo Mosque Bombing'". Bellingcat. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
- "The OPCW Douma Leaks Part 4: The OPCW Investigation". Bellingcat. 11 February 2020. Retrieved 12 February 2020.
- ""We are going to surrender! Stop shooting!": Reconstructing Óscar Pérez's Last Hours". Bellingcat Investigation Team. 13 May 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
- "Was Óscar Pérez Murdered? You Could Help Us Find Out". The New York Times. 13 May 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
- ""¡Nos vamos a entregar! ¡No sigan disparando!" RECONSTRUYENDO LAS ÚLTIMAS HORAS DE ÓSCAR PÉREZ" ["We're going to turn ourselves in! Don't keep shooting!" RECONSTRUCTING THE LAST HOURS OF ÓSCAR PÉREZ] (in Spanish). El Pitazo. Retrieved 27 May 2018.[permanent dead link]
- "Investigación revela lo ocurrido durante las últimas horas de Óscar Pérez" [Investigation reveals what happened during the last hours of Óscar Pérez] (in Spanish). Efecto Cocuyo. 13 May 2018. Archived from the original on 21 December 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
- "American-Made Bomb Used in Airstrike on Yemen Wedding - bellingcat". 27 April 2018.
- Khalil Dewan (7 November 2018). "Investigating Houthi Claims of Drone Attacks on UAE Airports". bellingcat.com.
- "Skripal Poisoning Suspect's Passport Data Shows Link to Security Services - bellingcat". 14 September 2018.
- Roth, Andrew (15 September 2018). "Documents reveal Salisbury poisoning suspects' Russian defence ministry ties". the Guardian.
- Roth, Andrew; Dodd, Vikram (26 September 2018). "Salisbury poisoning suspect identified as Russian colonel". the Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
- Harding, Luke (23 June 2020). "'A chain of stupidity': the Skripal case and the decline of Russia's spy agencies". The Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
- Mark Urban (28 June 2019). "Skripal poisoning: Third Russian suspect 'commanded attack'". BBC News.
- Roth, Andrew (27 September 2018). "'We got really lucky': how novichok suspects' identities were revealed". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- "Meet The Internet Researchers Unmasking Russian Assassins". NPR.org. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- "Terrorism bred online requires anticipatory, not reactionary coverage". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- "Shitposting, Inspirational Terrorism, and the Christchurch Mosque Massacre". Bellingcat. 15 March 2019.
- Africa Eye- Anatomy of a Killing 7 February 2019 www.bbc.co.uk, accessed 13 January 2021
- "Video Apparently Showing Flight PS752 Missile Strike Geolocated to Iranian Suburb". Bellingcat.
- "FSB Team of Chemical Weapon Experts Implicated in Alexey Navalny Novichok Poisoning". Bellingcat. 14 December 2020. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- "Alexei Navalny: Report names 'Russian agents' in poisoning case". BBC News. 14 December 2020. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- Lister, Tim; Ward, Clarissa; Shukla, Sebastian (14 December 2020). "CNN-Bellingcat investigation identifies Russian specialists who trailed Putin's nemesis Alexey Navalny before he was poisoned". CNN International. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
- "Tool for teachers: Did that really happen?". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- "A Guide to Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- "Misinformation is inciting violence around the world. And tech platforms don't seem to have a plan to stop it". Poynter. 4 April 2019. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- Walker, Amy Schoenfeld (1 June 2019). "Preparing Students for the Fight Against False Information With Visual Verification and Open Source Reporting". Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. 74 (2): 227–239. doi:10.1177/1077695819831098. ISSN 1077-6958.
- "A 5-point guide to Bellingcat's digital forensics tool list". factcheckingday.com. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- "Pressemitteilung 2015 - Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs-Preis" [Press release 2015 - Hanns Joachim Friedrichs Prize]. Hanns-joachim-friedrichs.de. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
- "Christiaan Triebert". Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "Investigative Reporting Award 2019 Winner - Unmasking the Salisbury Poisoning Suspects: A Four-Part Investigation". europeanpressprize.com. 2019. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
- "Scripps Howard Awards announce winners, recognize exceptional American journalism". Scripps. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "Bellingcat krijgt Machiavelliprijs voor 'kwaliteitsimpuls' journalistiek (Bellingcat receives Machiavelli prize for 'quality impulse' journalism)". nos.nl. 7 January 2020. Retrieved 12 February 2020.
- "NOMINEES ANNOUNCED FOR THE 41ST ANNUAL NEWS & DOCUMENTARY EMMY® AWARDS" (PDF). National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. 6 August 2020.
- "Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World". IDFA. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- "Bellingcat - Truth in a Post-Truth World". Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- "BELLINGCAT – TRUTH IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD WINS THE RTBF AWARD AT THE FESTIVAL DES LIBERÉTES 2019". Submarine. 31 October 2019. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- "Two Dutch documentaries win International Emmy awards". DutchNews.nl. 26 November 2019. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- Evans, Gareth (27 September 2018). "Bellingcat: The website behind the Skripal revelation". BBC News. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
- Matthews, Owen (20 October 2018). "Fact cats: The inside story of Bellingcat and the Skripal scoop". The Spectator. pp. 18–19. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
- Tracy, Marc (1 December 2019). "These Reporters Rely on Public Data, Rather Than Secret Sources". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.