Eliot Higgins

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Eliot Higgins
Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs-Preis-2015 Eliot Higgins 3.jpg
Eliot Higgins in 2015
Born 1979 (age 37–38)
United Kingdom
Nationality British
Occupation Blogger, weapons analyst, citizen journalist
Known for Analysis on the Syrian Civil War and the downing of MH17

Eliot Higgins (born 1979), who previously used the pseudonym Brown Moses, is a British citizen journalist and blogger, known for using open sources and social media to investigate the Syrian Civil War, 2014–15 Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. He first gained mainstream media attention by identifying weapons in uploaded videos from the Syrian conflict.[1][2]

Life and work[edit]

Eliot Higgins was born in 1979.[1] In 2012, when Higgins began blogging the Syrian civil war, he was an unemployed finance and admin worker who spent his days taking care of his child at home;[1] he is married to a Turkish woman.[3][4] Higgins took the pseudonym Brown Moses from the Frank Zappa song "Brown Moses" on the album Thing-Fish.[1]

Higgins' analyses of Syrian weapons, which began as a hobby out of his home in his spare time, are frequently cited by the press and human rights groups and have led to questions in parliament.[1] His Brown Moses Blog began in March 2012 by covering the Syrian conflict. Higgins operates by monitoring over 450 YouTube channels daily looking for images of weapons and tracking when new types appear in the war, where, and with whom.[1] According to Guardian reporter Matthew Weaver, Higgins has been "hailed as something of a pioneer" for his work.[1]

Higgins has no background or training in weapons and is entirely self-taught, saying that "Before the Arab spring I knew no more about weapons than the average Xbox owner. I had no knowledge beyond what I'd learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo."[1] Higgins does not speak or read Arabic.[4]

Higgins is credited with being among the first to report on the widespread use of improvised barrel bombs by the Syrian government, a phenomenon which has spread to other troubled nations such as Iraq to combat insurgencies and opposition forces.[5][6]

Other aspects of the Syrian conflict uncovered and documented by Higgins include the use of cluster bombs in 2012, which the Syrian government previously denied using; the proliferation of shoulder-launched heat-seeking missiles known as MANPADS; and the proliferation of Croatian-made weapons which was reportedly connected to the United States, a story later picked up by The New York Times.[1] He has also investigated the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons, including the Ghouta chemical attack in detail.[7][8] Theodore Postol, a professor at MIT, and Richard Lloyd, a former UN weapons inspector, criticised some aspects of Higgins's work.[9]

Higgins used geolocation to publish an estimate of where the James Foley execution video was made outside Raqqa, an Islamic State stronghold in north-central Syria. Higgins used visual markers in stills from the video and his interpretation of satellite images of the terrain around Raqqa.[10]

In 2015, Higgins partnered with the Atlantic Council to co-author the report Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine which examined direct Russian military involvement in Ukraine. The report was the inspiration for the documentary Selfie Soldiers in which Vice News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky followed digital traces left by a Russian soldier named Bato Dambaev who was sent to fight in Eastern Ukraine. In June 2015 on the invitation of former Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, Higgins together with his report co-author Atlantic Council's Maks Czuperski presented Hiding in Plain Sight at the European Parliament alongside Russian opposition figure Ilya Yashin and former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.[11]

Eliot Higgins joined the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab as Senior Non-Resident Fellow in 2016.[12]


Higgins has received significant praise and support from human rights groups, journalists, and non-profit organisations. "Brown Moses is among the best out there when it comes to weapons monitoring in Syria," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch.[1] The New York Times war reporter C.J. Chivers said that fellow journalists should be more honest about the debt they owe to Higgins' Brown Moses blog. "Many people, whether they admit or not, have been relying on that blog's daily labour to cull the uncountable videos that circulate from the conflict," he said.[1] Amnesty International said that the Brown Moses Blog was vital in proving the Syrian government was using ballistic missiles, information then used to send a research mission to Syria.[13]

Eliot Higgins has been a subject of interest for the British and U.S. media. He has been profiled in print by the The Guardian,[1] The Independent,[7] The Huffington Post,[3] and The New Yorker.[2] Television features have been run by Channel 4 News[13] and CNN International.[4] He has also been covered by non-English sources.[14]


On 15 July 2014, Higgins began a new website called Bellingcat for citizen journalists to investigate current events using open-source information such as videos, maps and pictures. Its launch was funded by a Kickstarter campaign.[15] Bellingcat's self-taught open-source analysts include Higgins and eight volunteers.[16]

Among its major projects, Bellingcat has investigated the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine. Its work is being considered by the Dutch police investigating the crash,[7] and Higgins has been interviewed twice by the investigators.[17] Bellingcat has suggested that the anti-aircraft missile that hit the plane was fired by a Russian unit, the 53rd Buk brigade, based in the city of Kursk.[18] On 31 May 2015, Bellingcat released a report alleging among other things photo manipulation of satellite images released by the Russian Ministry of Defense.[19] The photos concerned the location of Ukrainian Buk missile launchers around the time MH17 was shot down.[20] Bellingcat's use of error level analysis in its report was criticized by Jens Kriese, a professional image analyst.[21] Nevertheless, Bellingcat's findings about which field the missile was fired from were vindicated in September 2016 by the MH17 Joint Investigation Team.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Weaver, Matthew (21 March 2013). "How Brown Moses exposed Syrian arms trafficking from his front room". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Keefe, Patrick Radden (25 November 2013). "Rocket Man". The New Yorker. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Bosker, Bianca (18 November 2013). "Inside The One-Man Intelligence Unit That Exposed The Secrets And Atrocities Of Syria's War". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Shubert, Atika (1 April 2013). "In his living room, blogger traces arms trafficking to Syria". CNN International. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Higgins, Eliot (30 August 2012). "The Mystery of the Syrian Barrel Bombs". Brown Moses Blog. Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Marcus, Jonathan (20 December 2013). "Syria conflict: Barrel bombs show brutality of war". BBC News. Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Burrell, Ian (18 January 2015). "With Isis, Assad and Putin exposed, who's next on citizen journalist Eliot Higgins' list?". The Independent. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden (29 March 2014). "The blogger who tracks Syrian rockets from his sofa". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "Ein-Mann-Nachrichtenagentur" [One man news agency]. Suddeutsche Zeitung (in German). 1 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Higgins, Eliot (23 August 2014). "The Hills of Raqqa – Geolocating the James Foley Video". Bellingcat. Retrieved 27 August 2014. 
  11. ^ "Boris Nemtsov's "Putin.War" & Atlantic Council's "Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine"". Putin. War. ALDE Group. 
  12. ^ "Eliot Higgins - Nonresident Senior Fellow, Digital Forensic Research Lab, Future Europe Initiative". Atlantic Council. Archived from the original on 22 February 2016. 
  13. ^ a b O'Brien, Paraic (30 March 2013). "Brown Moses: the British blogger tracking Syrian arms". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  14. ^ Higgins, Eliot (16 April 2013). "The Brown Moses Blog Fundraiser Launches!". Brown Moses Blog. Retrieved 22 June 2015. 
  15. ^ Higgins, Eliot. "Bellingcat, for and by citizen investigative journalists". Kickstarter. Retrieved 22 June 2015. 
  16. ^ Tucker, Maxim (22 June 2015). "Meet Eliot Higgins, Putin’s MH17 Nemesis". Newsweek. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  17. ^ Alfred, Charlotte (16 October 2015). "The Citizen Journalists Challenging Assad And Putin's Story Of War". The Huffington Post. 
  18. ^ Borger, Julian (8 September 2014). "MH17: Dutch Safety Board to publish preliminary report on disaster". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  19. ^ "Forensic Analysis of Satellite Images Released by the Russian Ministry of Defense: A bell¿ngcat Investigation" (PDF). Bellingcat. 30 May 2015. Retrieved 22 June 2015. 
  20. ^ "MH17 – Forensic Analysis of Satellite Images Released by the Russian Ministry of Defence". Bellingcat. 31 May 2015. Retrieved 22 June 2015. 
  21. ^ Bidder, Benjamin (June 4, 2015). "'Bellingcat Report Doesn't Prove Anything': Expert Criticizes Allegations of Russian MH17 Manipulation". Spiegel Online International. Retrieved June 22, 2015. 
  22. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/28/flight-mh17-shot-down-by-missile-brought-in-from-russia-ukraine-malaysia-airlines

External links[edit]