we are bellingcat

  • author: eliot higgins
  • ISBN: 978-1526615756

overview

higgins provides a nice and reasonably chronological account of what led to the creation of bellingcat. from his days lurking on the guardian and various message boards while working a standard office job to the creation of his brown moses blog and eventually the creation of the bellingcat project.

notable escapades/investigations include:

  • detailing the acquisition of expertise in identifying war crimes during the civil war in syria as well as chemical attacks on the part of the assad regime.
  • a compelling rundown on how they (a collection of likeminded online investigators) were able to track down the source and transport BUK missile launcher used in the downing of the malaysia airlines flight 17.
  • how they were able to track down the GRU agents associated with the poisoning of sergey skripul and his daughter. this included not just the agents who conducted the actual poisoning but exposing a number of the command hierarchy.
    • this was particularly interesting in that they were able to buy mobile phone data from less than scrupulous operators in the russian mobile phone industry.
    • additionally, they were able to expose the vehicle registration information for russian spies. (oops!)

adjacent learnings

  • other countries have been steeped in disinformation either at the hands of their own government or as a function of being directly targeted by russia.
  • during obama’s 2nd term, during the syrian conflict notably, the russian’s were really honing their disinformation chops. in retrospect, it’s not at all surprising that the US was caught so flat footed during the 2016 elections.
  • it’s also clear that the right-wing media domain has been steeped in misinformation for 10+ years.
    • the sections in the book regarding the syrian conflict are filled with examples of disinformation being spread through InfoWars and other right-wing media hotspots. they’ve been softening up the ground on this front for years.
  • it’s also telling that the american media has been incredibly late/lax on understanding this development. you would be forgiven for thinking that InfoWars was just a fat moron spewing conspiracy theories in order to peddle boner pills and vitamins. turns out that the dude was apt to spew syrian propaganda on behalf of the russians, et al. not insignificant chunks of the populace have been steeped in this for the past 10+ years.
  • it’s also clear that the US educational system is likely not up to the task of educating critical thinkers. the steps that the nordic countries are taking here are particularly interesting. even the ukraine has stepped up to the plate here to educate their citizens as to how to review online news sources and be aware of disinformation.
  • it was interesting to get higgins' take on deepfakes. he wasn’t concerned about the impact on researchers, given the need to x-reference the content in the context of all sorts of additional information. but i do suspect that the dangers of their presentation to an ill-informed citizenry will cause no end of problems going forward.
  • if white parents in the U.S. can’t tolerate discussions of critical race theory in their schools. i can’t imagine the shitfits that will take place if their kids are told to evaluate their news sources critically. what happens when little johnny and becky are told that daddy’s fox news ticks off all the hallmarks of being a disinformation source?

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  • location: lanesboro, mn
  • weather: ☁️(Overcast) +30°F