On October 16, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Euronews, a European paid television network headquartered in Lyon, France, that the open-source intelligence (OSINT) organization Bellingcat is connected with Western intelligence agencies, who supposedly leak information to the outfit in order to influence public opinion.
Lavrov’s comments came in response to Bellingcat’s recent investigation which, with the help of the privately-owned Russian Website The Insider, uncovered the identities of the two main suspects in the Salisbury poisoning case.
To date, neither the Russian government nor their media outlets have come up with an explanation to counter the Bellingcat and Insider claims, and instead have been touting the narrative of Bellingcat’s alleged ties to Western intelligence agencies. For example, on October 12, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Alexander Yakovenko, told reporters at a press conference the same line about Bellingcat and Western intelligence agencies. When asked by a reporter if he could provide any evidence to support this claim, the ambassador replied in a London news conference.
“I cannot present you the evidence,” Yakovenko said in front of the cameras.
Despite Lavrov’s claim that Western intelligence agencies “leak information” to Bellingcat, the Salisbury story cites a series open source information, passport records, Russian residency documents and even school yearbooks.
It is interesting to note, however, the reaction to Bellingcat from Russian state media in the past has sometimes run counter to the notion that the media organization has deep connections. For example, state media typically dismissed Bellingcat’s founder, Eliot Higgins, as an “amateur” and “full-time blogger.”
“Higgins’ own work involves ‘investigating’ war and conflict from the comfort of his home in England,” one RT article in the news section, not the op-ed section, reads. It goes on to mention that Higgins allegedly worked for “an underwear company in a previous life.”
In the same piece RT states, that Eliot Higgins refused a debate with Professor Theodore Postol. However Higgins confirmed to Polygraph.info that the debate that is the subject of this RT article is set to take place on October 20.
An article by the Russian state-owned news agency TASS cited the press secretary of the Russian embassy in Britain, who referred to Eliot Higgins as an individual who "turned from a video gamer into an 'icon of independent journalism' practically overnight." The press secretary also claimed that Bellingcat’s funding was not transparent, a claim which Polygraph.info has addressed in a past fact check.
Higgins, responding to the TASS article, answered some questions about his background and how he got into journalism in a thread on Twitter, where he explains he started blogging six years ago, focusing on the Britain phone hacking scandal and not on Russia.
We gave the “misleading” verdict based on three main findings of this fact check:
- The Russian statements regarding Bellingcat and its founder are contradictory – ranging from denying credibility to accusing the organization of ties with intelligence;
- The Russian accusations against Bellingcat have never been supported by evidence;
- The character and the pattern of these repeated and synchronized messages fit in a recognizable disinformation strategy Russia employs when dealing with international actors Moscow perceives as adversaries.