Mongoose: Elliot Higgins & BellingCat Blown

Civil Society, Corruption, Media

Comments by Abe made in response to Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) “A Call for Proof on Syria-Sarin Attack,”, provide compelling indictment of Elliot Higgins and BellingCat, pretenders in the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) world who have taken in the gullible in the mainstream media. We find these comments so useful we are preserving them in their entirely here below.

Abe December 22, 2015 at 2:15 pm

As Ray McGovern pointed out in “Propaganda, Intelligence and MH-17” on Consortium News (August 17, 2015)

“The key difference between the traditional “Intelligence Assessment” and this relatively new creation, a “Government Assessment,” is that the latter genre is put together by senior “White House bureaucrats or other political appointees, not senior intelligence analysts. Another significant difference is that an “Intelligence Assessment” often includes alternative views, either in the text or in footnotes, detailing disagreements among intelligence analysts, thus revealing where the case may be weak or in dispute.

“The absence of an “Intelligence Assessment” suggested that honest intelligence analysts were resisting a knee-jerk indictment of Russia – just as they did after the first time Kerry pulled this “Government Assessment” arrow out of his quiver trying to stick the blame for an Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus on the Syrian government.”

The primary source in both “Government Assessment” episodes — both the 2013 chemical attack in Syria and the 2014 crash of MH-17 in Ukraine — the one person in common who generated the “pseudo-intelligence product, which contained not a single verifiable fact”, was British blogger and media darling Eliot Higgins.

In March 2012, using the pseudonym “Brown Moses,” Higgins purportedly began “investigative” blogging on the armed conflict taking place in Syria, claiming this to be a “hobby” in his “spare time”.

A mainstream media darling, Higgins “arm chair analytics” have been continuously promoted by the UK Guardian and New York Times, as well as corporate sponsors like Google.

Higgins’ “analyses” of Syrian weapons were frequently cited by mainstream and online media, human rights groups, and Western governments seeking “regime change” in Syria.

Higgins’ accusations that the Syrian government was responsible for the August 2013 Ghouta chemical attack were proven false, but almost led to war.

Richard Lloyd and Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology observed that “although he has been widely quoted as an expert in the American mainstream media, [he] has changed his facts every time new technical information has challenged his conclusion that the Syrian government must have been responsible for the sarin attack. In addition, the claims that Higgins makes that are correct are all derived from our findings, which have been transmitted to him in numerous exchanges.”

Despite the fact that Higgins’ accusations have repeatedly been disproven, he continues to be frequently cited, often without proper source attribution, by media, organizations and governments.

Higgins and the Bellingcat site serve as deception “conduits” as defined by the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Joint Publication 1-02), a compendium of approved terminology used by the U.S. military.

Within military deception, “conduits” are information or intelligence gateways to the “deception target.”

A “deception target” is defined as the “adversary decision maker with the authority to make the decision that will achieve the deception objective.”

The primary “deception targets” of MH-17 propaganda are key “policy makers” and the civilian populations of the United States and Europe Union.

The Internet offers a ubiquitous, inexpensive and anonymous “open source” method for rapid propaganda dissemination.

This new capacity for “open source” deception was demonstrated in Syria-Sarin attack.

As noted by journalist Phil Greaves in “Syria: Media Disinformation, War Propaganda and the Corporate Media’s ‘Independent Bloggers’

“The working relationship between Higgins and the corporate media became almost uniform during the course of the Syrian conflict; an unsubstantiated anti-Assad, or pro-rebel narrative would predictably form in the corporate media (cluster bombs, chemical weapons, unsolved massacres,) at which point Higgins would jump to the fore with his YouTube analysis in order to bolster mainstream discourse whilst offering the air of impartiality and the crucial ‘open source’ faux-legitimacy. It has become blatantly evident that the ‘rebels’ in both Syria and Libya have made a concerted effort in fabricating YouTube videos in order to incriminate and demonize their opponents while glorifying themselves in a sanitized image. Western media invariably lapped-up such fabrications without question and subsequently built narratives around them – regardless of contradictory evidence or opinion. Yet such media, and more importantly, the specific actors propagating it fraudulently to bolster the flimsiest of western narratives has continued unabated – primarily as a result of the aforementioned ‘old media’ organs endlessly promoting it.

“Following award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s groundbreaking essay in the London Review of Books, which exposes the Obama administrations intelligence surrounding the alleged chemical attacks in Ghouta as reminiscent of the Bush administrations outright lies and fabrications leading to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, Higgins took it upon himself to rush through a rebuttal, published by the establishment media outlet Foreign Policy magazine – a predictable response as Higgins represents the principal source for the ‘Assad did it’ media crowd. Accordingly, the ‘old media’ stenographers that originally promoted Higgins became the vanguard force pushing his speculative Ghouta theories above Hersh’s – to hilarious effect.

“A particularly revealing example of Higgins’ unwillingness to depart from mainstream discourse came shortly after the alleged Ghouta attacks. The findings of a considerable open-source collaborative effort at the WhoGhouta blog were repeatedly dismissed as ridiculous or unverifiable by Higgins. The bloggers at WhoGhouta drew more or less the same logical, and somewhat scientific conclusions outlined in the Hersh piece, but in much greater detail. Yet Higgins chose to ignore WhoGhouta’s findings and instead rely on his own set of assumptions, dubious videos, and an unqualified ex-US soldier that seems determined to defy both logical and scientific reality. The estimated range of the rockets allegedly used in the attack, with the alleged azimuth that pointed to Syrian army launch points breathlessly promoted by Higgins and his patrons at Human Rights Watch (HRW), and of course corporate media, were convincingly debunked mere weeks after the attack at the WhoGhouta blog, yet Higgins chose to stick to his orchestrated narrative until the bitter end, only revising his wild speculation on rocket range once the obvious became too hard to conceal.

“As Higgins is a self-declared advocate of ‘open source investigative journalism’, it is perplexing that he attempted to marginalize and dismiss the many findings from independent observers and instead concentrated on bolstering the dubious narratives of the US government and western corporate media. Unless of course, he is tied to a particular narrative and desperate to conceal anything that contradicts it.”

Abe December 22, 2015 at 6:19 pm

The WhoGhouta site has a review of the Turkish MP’s allegations concerning the attempted purchase of chemicals for production of sarin by Al-Nusra operatives.

WhoGhouta is an open collaborative effort to overcome governments’ propaganda and disinformation about the August 2013 chemical attack in Ghouta, Syria.

All evidence relating to the August 21st chemical attack indicates it was carried out by opposition forces.

According to the most likely scenario, the opposition forces used looted incendiary rockets, refilled them with sarin they manufactured themselves, and launched them from a rebel-held territory 2 km north of Zamalka.

Abe December 22, 2015 at 4:56 pm

The purpose of using fake “citizen investigative journalist” deception operatives like Eliot Higgins and the Bellingcat website is to provide a channel for Western “Government Assessment” claims to more effectively reach the public and be perceived as truthful.

It was the New York Times that elevated Higgins to prominence in 2013 with the claim that he had offered a key tip that helped the newspaper prove that Saudi Arabia had funneled arms to opposition fighters in Syria. Never mind that this was already well known.

After a couple of well-gnawed bones of truth “verified” by the somehow ingenious Higgins, the MSM and social media was flooded by a tsunami of “investigations” by Higgins.

Here’s how it works. Higgins provides “investigation reports” that “confirm” the Western government narrative. Higgins then “fact checks” the Western “Government Assessment” and rubber stamps it with the Bellingcat “digital forensics” seal of approval, further advancing the dubious Western narrative.

Higgins promoted this deception strategy in his article, “Social media and conflict zones: the new evidence base for policymaking”

Citing “Bellingcat’s MH17 investigation”, Higgins declared that “a relatively small team of analysts is able to derive a rich picture of a conflict zone” using online information and social media.

Higgins extolled the virtues of this “new evidence base” of “open source” information — side-stepping the obvious opportunities for deceptive information being planted in these media from not-so-open sources.

The “overarching point” concludes Higgins, is that “there is a real opportunity for open source intelligence analysis to provide the kind of evidence base that can underpin effective and successful foreign and security policymaking. It is an opportunity that policymakers should seize.”

Western governments have enthusiastically seized the opportunity to use deception operatives like Higgins to disseminate propaganda.

Higgins has consistently jumped to the fore to “confirm” Western reports of:

1) unproven accusations against Syrian president Bashir Assad that the Syrian government used “barrel bombs” against opposition forces and claims that Assad “gassed his own people”.

2) unproven accusations against Russian president Vladimir Putin of a “Russian invasion” of Ukraine, and claims that a Russian Buk-1 missile launcher (allegedly operated by a Russian crew or pro-Russian separatists) caused the destruction of Malaysian Air flight MH-17 over eastern Ukraine

Mainstream and online media have been lapping it up.

Most recently, Huffington Post published “The Citizen Journalists Challenging Assad And Putin’s Story Of War”, a puff piece interview with Higgins. Higgins echoed the recent Western government narrative that Russian airstrikes in Syria are not targeting ISIS: “The hidden part of this is Russia lying about what it’s doing. You can clearly tell they aren’t bombing ISIS”.

Abe December 22, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Al Arabiya is a Saudi-owned pan-Arab television news channel based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Al Arabiya aired American president Barack Obama’s first formal interview as president back in January 2009.

The Saudis are very concerned about allegations of Assad’s ability to ““gas his own people”. And they aren’t the only ones.

In a November 2015 Al Arabiya article with the ominous title, “Is a new Syria chemical weapons massacre looming?” columnist Brooklyn Middleton raises alarm about what she terms “the continued consequences of failing to adequately address the Assad regime’s usage of chemical weapons”.

According to Middleton, “In May of last year, the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism published a paper exploring what it referred to as ‘The Strategic Significance of Syrian Regime’s Chemical Attacks.’ The piece provides an overview of regime chlorine attacks from January-April 2014 (citing Eliot Higgins’ peerless work) and also makes the critical point that the Assad regime has set a new standard for chemical attacks in the Middle East.”

Middleton’s citation is noteworthy, and not only for its lavish praise of Eliot Higgins. She cites a May 2014 Times of Israel article and paper written by Ely Karmon, a representative of a major Israeli national security think tank and an associate of a key U.S. pro-Israel lobby organization.

Karmon, the Times of Israel article’s author, is a fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, all located on the grounds of a former Israeli Air Force base.

The ICT describes itself as “an independent think tank providing expertise in terrorism, counter-terrorism, homeland security, threat vulnerability and risk assessment, intelligence analysis and national security and defense policy.” The IPS is a Israeli military and strategic affairs think tank. The IPC hosts Israel’s premier global policy gathering, the annual Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security.

Karmon also is a former advisor to the Israeli Ministry of Defense and visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). In their book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt identify WINEP as “part of the core” of the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States: “Although WINEP plays down its links to Israel and claims that it provides a ‘balanced and realistic’ perspective on Middle East issues, this is not the case. In fact, WINEP is funded and run by individuals who are deeply committed to advancing Israel’s agenda … Many of its personnel are genuine scholars or experienced former officials, but they are hardly neutral observers on most Middle East issues and there is little diversity of views within WINEP’s ranks.”

In the Times of Israel article cited by Middleton, Karmon accuses the Syrian government of “using chemical terror to advance its strategic military goals, becoming the first regime since Saddam Hussein gassed the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 that can be defined as a non-conventional terrorist state.”

Karmon’s report presented as evidence “a list of videos collected by blogger and reporter Elliott [sic] Higgins, alias Brown Moses, of alleged chemical attacks in Syria” from Higgins’ Brown Moses blog.”

Middleton has published 49 columns on Al-Arabiya since January 2014, and is described as “an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City”.

If Middleton seems unduly impressed by the “authors” of the Israeli report and the “peerless work” of Higgins, a closer examination of her credentials may be informative.

Al-Arabiya somehow neglects to mention that Middleton was based in Tel Aviv, received her MA degree from Tel Aviv University, and has written extensively for The Times of Israel, Ynet, Hurriyet Daily, and the Jerusalem Post.