“It is not a war on Russian TV,” Stanislav Kucher, a Russian television host, told the New York Times in an article published March 8, 2022. “You will not see explosions, you will not see strikes on neighborhoods where civilians live, you will not see a lot in terms of troops, soldiers, heavy armored vehicles or anything like that.”
How to debunk—or even prebunk—Russia’s propaganda and disinformation? One answer is the work done by an open-source intelligence (OSINT) organization called Bellingcat. Founded by British journalist/blogger Eliot Higgins in 2014 and headquartered in the Netherlands, Bellingcat has researchers in more than 70 countries; it uses “publicly available data and citizen journalist analysis” to advance “narratives of conflict, crime, and human rights abuses.” Geolocation tags, radar data, and satellite images are among the tools that Bellingcat researchers have employed in investigations from Syria to Yemen to Eastern Europe.
Bellingcat’s elegant wordmark
You can learn more about Bellingcat from its excellent website and Twitter feed; from a March 2021 interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”; from a February 27, 2022, CBC story about Russian disinformation,; from a February 1, 2022, PBS interview with Eliot Higgins; and from a March 8, 2022, story in the Atlantic headlined “The Information War Isn’t Over Yet.” Higgins has also published a book, We Are Belllingcat (2021); when The Guardian reviewed it in February 2021, it called the book “a manifesto for optimism in a dark age”:
It argues that “cyber-miserabilism” – the doomy belief that big tech and bad actors have permanently screwed our democracy – is wrong. Instead, Higgins hails the internet as an “extraordinary gift”. In his view, facts still matter, accountability is possible, and people still care about the difference between truth and lies.
(I wrote about “miserabilism” in 2016. “Cyber-miserabilism” is a nice new twist.)
My focus here, however, is the Bellingcat name, which I’ve admired for years. I' regret only that it took Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to prompt me to finally write about it.