Bellingcat: Inside the website that claims to have unmasked a Salisbury suspect

Bellingcat founder

Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins

Thursday, September 27, 2018

After claiming to have uncovered the true identity of one of the Salisbury Novichok suspects, we take a closer look at the website Bellingcat, as well as its previous investigations.

Established in 2014 by citizen journalist Eliot Higgins, the website bills itself as the "home of online investigations".

Behind the website is a group of volunteers and full-time investigators who use social media and data collected from publicly available sources, including academic journals and newspapers (known as open source investigation), to uncover stories.

On Wednesday, it posted that it had "established conclusively" that one of the lead suspects in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who went by the name of Ruslan Boshirov, was actually a highly decorated Russian officer called Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga who had been made a Hero of the Russian Federation, a medal typically awarded by the Russian president.


How did they do it?

WATCH: Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee calls the suspects 'a couple of jokers'

Investigators behind the story said they carried out image searches on several online search engines, contacted former Russian military officers, browsed photos of a military academy yearbook, searched specific terms online, and scoured leaked Russian databases in their quest to uncover the supposedly "true" identities of the suspects.

They then obtained extracts from the passport file of Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga which contained a photograph that strongly resembled a younger "Boshirov".


Previous investigations

Sadiq Khan blimp flies over London

Two Bellingcat investigators were behind a viral video this week, which showed how they uncovered the identities of a group of soldiers that shot women and children in Cameroon from a graphic video that first surfaced in July 2018.

Working with the BBC to analyse the original footage, the investigation proved exactly where the killings happened, when they happened and who was responsible.

The footage had originally been dismissed as "fake news" by the government of Cameroon.

In August this year, the website uncovered an old Twitter account belonging to Yanny Bruere, the 28-year-old campaigner behind the Sadiq Khan blimp which flew over Parliament Square in London.

In an article, Bellingcat included screenshots of tweets from Mr Bruere which included comments on Israel and the Jewish community.

Responding to a tweet about Ken Livingstone - who was suspended from Labour in April last year after claiming Hitler supported Zionism - Bruere wrote: “Speak out against the Jews at your peril. You know who’s in charge when you’re not allowed to speak about them #jewsruntheworld."

Mr Bruere told talkRADIO he was "pro-Israel" adding: "Just beacuse I'm pro-Israel doesn't mean I can't criticise their policies."

Bellingcat previously investigated Russian involvement in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which resulted in the death of 298 people.

The website identified that a satellite photograph of the crash shown on Russian television had been doctored using Adobe Photoshop to include an image of a jet closing in on the aircraft.