Will MH17 be our 9/11? (27) How The Intercept gets mixed up over major fake news provider Bellingcat

On 2 November The Intercept carried a piece by Avi Asher-Schapiro about the role played by social media images in the prosecution of war crimes. It highlighted the removal policies of violent video material by social media companies. However, in this case the web magazine, launched by Glenn Greenwald of Snowden revelations fame, gets mixed up in the admittedly tricky subject. It calls as a witness Elliot Higgins, the founder of ‘Bellingcat’ (pictured); according to The Intercept piece, ‘a reputable U.K.-based organization devoted to analyzing images coming out of conflict zones including Syria, Ukraine, and Libya.’ 

However, Bellingcat has meanwhile been found guilty of spreading fabrications often enough and should be the last to be recruited as an impartial arbiter on how to separate fact from fiction. 

YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, earlier this year deployed an artificial intelligence system to weed out extremist propaganda. It did that by having the AI system look for violent content, and the result was that almost 1,000 groups and individuals had their reports on the Syrian crisis removed. This then included our ‘reputable U.K.-based organization.’

In the Syria conflict Higgins operates as ‘Brown Moses’. Thus he supported US government claims that a gas attack at Ghouta in 2013 was the responsibility of the Assad regime. Seymour Hersh’s analysis that this instead was a provocation to get the United States to intervene in Syria, was attacked the next day by Higgins. But his claims were debunked in turn by MIT specialists who flatly declared that Higgins ‘doesn’t know what he is talking about’—never mind the enormous amount of material he collected.

The role of fake news about the misdeeds of enemies is to massage an unwilling public into supporting military adventures. This holds for the fictional Gulf of Tonkin attack byVietnamese patrol boats on American warships that led to the US air war against North Vietnam, for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and for many other cases.

On 15 July 2014, Higgins went online as ‘Bellingcat’ to report on the civil war in Ukraine, provoked by the US-supported ultra-nationalist coup in Kiev in February of that year. Two days later, on the 17th, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was brought down near the Russian border. As I document in my forthcoming book on the issue, the Netherlands and Australia for a week or more considered a military operation in eastern Ukraine with possible US support.

Bellingcat from day one disseminated the implausible claim made by Kiev’s interior ministry that the plane had been shot down by a Buk anti-aircraft missile fired from a launcher supplied by Russia to the eastern Ukrainian rebels and transported back again. Ever since, Bellingcat was treated as a most serious news source in the Western mainstream media. The opening shot in the Dutch referendum campaign on Ukraine’s EU association in early 2016 was a broadcast on all channels that Bellingcat had just ‘discovered’ that the downing of MH17 had been ordered by Putin personally.

By Higgins’s standards of proof, going online two days in advance of the tragedy would be enough to demonstrate Bellingcat’s complicity in fabricating a case for war. Or was it a lucky coincidence?

It is a different matter when Higgins is described as a ‘citizen journalist’, or Brown Moses/Bellingcat ‘a reputable U.K.-based organization devoted to analyzing images coming out of conflict zones including Syria, Ukraine, and Libya’, as The Intercept has it. For on Ukraine too, Bellingcat has been found ‘reading tea leaves’ (Der Spiegel). Its agenda is the NATO agenda.

Higgins is up to his ears in the Atlantic security structure. He is a Non-Resident Fellow of the ‘New Information Frontiers Initiative’ of the Atlantic Council, the key NATO planning forum. In mid 2015 he co-authored a report for the Council on the ‘Russian war in Ukraine’, which he presented in the European Parliament at the invitation of Guy Verhofstadt, another new Cold Warrior. General Breedlove, whose hacked e-mails I cite extensively in my book, complimented Bellingcat for its work on tracking Russian troop movements in Ukraine. Higgins is also a Visiting Research Associate at the Centre for Science and Security Studies in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.

So when YouTube decided to work with Higgins to develop a tool called ‘Montage’ to crowdsource analysis of conflict videos (in spite of first removing his material) they were collaborating with a known asset. But then, as documented by Nafeez Ahmed, Google/YouTube, Facebook, and other social media companies have all along worked with the US national security state.

In a tweet Higgins has called my forthcoming book a ‘monument of stupidity’. From a man treating his evidence so carefully, I can only take that as a compliment. For even the German translation, which will be published first, is not yet out and he cannot have read a single line.

But perhaps The Intercept should be a bit more careful in selecting its sources too.

Kees van der Pijl

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