Eliot Higgins

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Eliot Ward Higgins
Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs-Preis-2015 Eliot Higgins 3.jpg
Eliot Higgins in 2015
Eliot Ward Higgins

January 1979 (age 41)
OccupationBlogger, weapons analyst, citizen journalist
Known forAnalysis on the Syrian Civil War and the downing of MH17

Eliot Ward Higgins (born January 1979),[1] who previously wrote under the pseudonym Brown Moses, is a British citizen journalist and former blogger, known for using open-sources and social media for investigations. He has investigated the Syrian Civil War, 2014–15 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. He first gained mainstream media attention by identifying weapons in uploaded videos from the Syrian conflict.[2][3] He is the founder of Bellingcat, a website for the citizen journalist to investigate current events using open-source information such as videos, maps and pictures.

Life and work[edit]

Higgins was born in Shrewsbury in January 1979.[2][4][5] He attended Adams' Grammar School in Shropshire from 1990–95.[6]

He previously worked in finance and administration.[7] In 2012, when Higgins began blogging about the Syrian civil war, he was unemployed and spent his days taking care of his child at home;[2] his wife is Turkish.[7][8] Higgins took the pseudonym Brown Moses from the Frank Zappa song "Brown Moses" on the album Thing-Fish.[2]

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 parliamentary discussion.[2] 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.[2] According to Guardian reporter Matthew Weaver, Higgins has been "hailed as something of a pioneer" for his work. 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."[2]

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.[9][10]

Other aspects of the Syrian conflict uncovered and documented by Higgins include the use of cluster bombs in 2012, which the Syrian government 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.[2] He has also investigated the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons, including the Ghouta chemical attack in detail.[11][12] Higgins has also performed contract work for Human Rights Watch and Action on Armed Violence.[7]

In 2015, MIT Professor Theodore Postol, and Richard Lloyd, a former UN weapons inspector, criticised aspects of Higgins's work. Postol described him as "a one man news agency" adding "he was quoted by the Guardian, the New York Times, as an experienced war correspondent. And that without speaking a word of Arabic, without appropriate training, without studying politics or journalism".[13]

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.[14]

In 2018 Higgins was a visiting research associate at the Centre for Science and Security Studies (CSSS) at the Department of War Studies at King's College London and visiting research fellow at University of California Berkeley's Human Rights Center.[15] In October of that year, Higgins was the subject of BBC Radio Four's programme Profile.[16]


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.[17] Bellingcat's self-taught open-source analysts include Higgins and eight volunteers.[18]

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,[11] and Higgins has been interviewed twice by the investigators.[19] 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.[20] On 31 May 2015, Bellingcat released a report alleging among other things photo manipulation of satellite images released by the Russian Ministry of Defense.[21] The photos concerned the location of Ukrainian Buk missile launchers around the time MH17 was shot down.[22] Bellingcat's use of error level analysis in its report was criticized by Jens Kriese, a professional image analyst.[23] Nevertheless, Bellingcat's findings about which field the missile was fired from were vindicated in September 2016 by the Dutch-led MH17 Joint Investigation Team.[24]

The Atlantic Council[edit]

From 2016 until early 2019, Higgins was a senior fellow in the Digital Forensic Research Lab and Future Europe Initiative; projects run by the Atlantic Council, a leading US geopolitical strategy think-tank based in Washington, D.C.[25][26]

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.[27] Higgins was also one of five authors of an Atlantic Council report released in 2016, “Distract, Deceive, Destroy,” on Russia’s role in Syria.[28]


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.[2] The New York Times war reporter C.J. Chivers said that fellow journalists owe a debt to Higgins' investigative reporting in Syria. "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.[2] 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.[29]

Eliot Higgins has been a subject of interest for the British and U.S. media and is described as "one of the world's foremost citizen journalists" by News Limited reporter Victoria Craw.[30] He has been profiled in print by The Guardian,[2] The Independent,[11] The Huffington Post,[7] and The New Yorker.[3] Television features have been run by Channel 4 News[29] and CNN International.[8] He has also been covered by non-English sources.[31]

In 2019 he was announced as one of Foreign Policy magazine's Global Thinkers.[32]


  1. ^ "Eliott Ward Higgins". Companies House. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Weaver, Matthew (21 March 2013). "How Brown Moses exposed Syrian arms trafficking from his front room". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
  3. ^ a b Keefe, Patrick Radden (25 November 2013). "Rocket Man". The New Yorker. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  5. ^ "Eliot Ward HIGGINS". Personal Appointments. Companies House. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  6. ^ "Adams' Grammar School Alumni". Adams' Grammar School. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d 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.
  8. ^ a b Shubert, Atika (1 April 2013). "In his living room, blogger traces arms trafficking to Syria". CNN International. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
  9. ^ Higgins, Eliot (30 August 2012). "The Mystery of the Syrian Barrel Bombs". Brown Moses Blog. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  10. ^ Marcus, Jonathan (20 December 2013). "Syria conflict: Barrel bombs show brutality of war". BBC News. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden (29 March 2014). "The blogger who tracks Syrian rockets from his sofa". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  13. ^ "Ein-Mann-Nachrichtenagentur" [One man news agency]. Suddeutsche Zeitung (in German). 1 June 2015. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  14. ^ Josie Ensor (24 August 2014). "Is this where James Foley was beheaded?". The Telegraph.
  15. ^ Martin Hieslmair (12 June 2018). "Bellingcat: Looking for Traces in the Digital Environment". ars.electronica.art.
  16. ^ Presenter: Mark Coles; Producer: Smita Patel; Researcher: Oliver Jones; Editor: Emma Rippon (14 October 2018). "Profile: Eliot Higgins". Profile. BBC. BBC Radio Four. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  17. ^ Higgins, Eliot. "Bellingcat, for and by citizen investigative journalists". Kickstarter. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  18. ^ Tucker, Maxim (22 June 2015). "Meet Eliot Higgins, Putin's MH17 Nemesis". Newsweek. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  19. ^ Alfred, Charlotte (16 October 2015). "The Citizen Journalists Challenging Assad And Putin's Story Of War". The Huffington Post.
  20. ^ Borger, Julian (8 September 2014). "MH17: Dutch Safety Board to publish preliminary report on disaster". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  21. ^ "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.
  22. ^ "MH17 – Forensic Analysis of Satellite Images Released by the Russian Ministry of Defence". Bellingcat. 31 May 2015. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  23. ^ Bidder, Benjamin (4 June 2015). "'Bellingcat Report Doesn't Prove Anything': Expert Criticizes Allegations of Russian MH17 Manipulation". Spiegel Online International. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  24. ^ Harding, Luke; Luhn, Alec (28 September 2016). "MH17: Buk missile finding sets Russia and west at loggerheads". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  25. ^ "Eliot Higgins - Nonresident Senior Fellow, Digital Forensic Research Lab, Future Europe Initiative". Atlantic Council. Archived from the original on 22 February 2016. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  26. ^ Higgins, Eliot (16 January 2019). "I actually left the Atlantic Council at the start of this year to focus on justice and accountability work and a major Yemen project, so you'll need to update your conspiracy theories".
  27. ^ "Boris Nemtsov's "Putin.War" & Atlantic Council's "Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine"". Putin. War. ALDE Group.
  28. ^ "DISTRACT, DECEIVE, DESTROY: Putin at War in Syria" (PDF). Atlantic Council. April 2016. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  29. ^ a b O'Brien, Paraic (30 March 2013). "Brown Moses: the British blogger tracking Syrian arms". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
  30. ^ Victoria Craw (29 January 2015). "Bellingcat citizen journalist Eliot Higgins is holding global governments to account". news.com.au. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015.
  31. ^ Higgins, Eliot (16 April 2013). "The Brown Moses Blog Fundraiser Launches!". Brown Moses Blog. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  32. ^ Foreign Policy global thinkers

External links[edit]