February 26, 2015


Weapon of Mass Discovery : How a gamer created 'Bellingcat' and became a world-famous military expert (MEDUZA, 2/25/15)

When he started Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins, who's 35-years-old today, had no professional experience in journalism. He had no connections with human rights organizations and he didn't speak a word of Arabic. In 2012, however, he became known as the man who uncovered the plot to ship illegal arms to Syria. He tracked down Croatian weaponry, proved that Sarin gas was used in the suburbs of Damascus, and got the attention of the British Parliament. What's more, he managed to do all this without leaving his small house in Leicester. The only tool at his disposal, while sitting in the living room among his daughter's scattered toys, was an ASUS laptop.

In his youth, Higgins was expelled from the Department of Journalism at Southampton University. He then became a bank clerk, and the last place he worked at was a lingerie store. He married a woman of Turkish descent, whom he met on ICQ, and in October 2011 they welcomed a daughter into the world. Higgins found himself no longer glued to the computer for 36-hour sessions of World of Warcraft, Fallout, and Command and Conquer. Now he had other priorities. But after six months, he needed something to replace his old habit, and he became interested in the conflict in Syria. Under the pseudonym of Brown Moses, taken from a Frank Zappa song, he became an active commentator on Internet news articles: On the Guardian's website alone, he left about 5,000 comments. Today, he says he was "just bored."

"I guess I'm a bit argumentative," admits Higgins.

In January 2012, he started a blog, where he published his views about the war in Syria and the fighting between the opposition and the forces of Bashar al-Assad. He had no background in weapons, but they became the focus of his investigations. With incredible attention to detail, he meticulously studied the videos and photos that appeared on the Internet. Every evening he sifted through Syrian accounts on YouTube, Twitter, and Google+ (distracted only by the TV series Eastenders and Columbo). When he began, he was following only 15 channels on YouTube. Today, he says the number is closer to 600 channels. Comparing the materials available there, he could, for example, confirm that cluster bombs made in China were being used in Syria. Higgins compiled a database that included information about the use of cluster bombs in 491 separate videos, and added a detailed map. Some journalists say Higgins must have sold weapons, because he knows so much about the subject, but these accusations just make him laugh.

"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."

Higgins catalogued tens of thousands of messages on the social networks. The flow of information, which no journalists had time to sift through, began to make some kind of sense. Definite patterns started to emerge from what before had just seemed like "white noise." A few months later, Brown Moses Blog was being read by employees at all the major media outlets, as well as by British and American officials. Higgins' anonymity almost backfired on him: he was accused of having links with the CIA, MI5, MI6, Mossad, and even with the Bilderberg Club.

Posted by at February 26, 2015 3:47 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus