bellingcat
Credit: Screenshot from Bellingcat.com
Eliot Higgins, better known as Brown Moses for his work investigating munitions in the Syrian conflict, today launched a Kickstarter campaign for his new website for open-source investigations.

The site, Bellingcat, aims to act as a hub for stories and techniques based around open-source information, combining freely available tools and resources in innovative ways to verify or investigate news stories.

It's quite stunning how few people actually know how to do these kind of open source investigationsEliot Higgins, aka Brown Moses, Bellingcat
"A problem I keep seeing is that despite these amazing tools and techniques on display, not many people are picking up on them and using them," Higgins told Journalism.co.uk, "but I do know there are a lot of people out there who are producing really good work using open-source information."

Much of Higgins' work has focused on weapons and attacks in Syria, using YouTube videos, maps, social media and other public resources to investigate the sources and locations of rocket fire or shelling campaigns.

While he blogs all his findings, interest is growing from major news organisations and NGOs, he said, with a high point being a New York Times article claiming the Saudi government was arming Syrian rebels with weapons from Croatia, citing Higgins as the first to notice the connection.

"It's quite stunning how few people actually know how to do these kind of open-source investigations," Higgins continued.

"It sometimes feels like you can count them on one hand per subject, and I have people coming to me all the time saying 'Are you looking at Iraq and Ukraine? Because we can't find anyone who is'."

Beside the stories and investigations, Bellingcat contributors will share tips, tools and techniques to aid other journalists and investigators researching particular issues, said Higgins, with regular case studies and podcasts.

In so doing, he hopes to inspire more researchers to adopt the same techniques and shed light on conflict zones like Ukraine, and grow the community around open-source investigations and the site itself.

(Some readers may find footage from the Syrian conflict in the following video distressing)


Video from the Bellingcat Kickstarter page

The initial target for the Kickstarter is £47,000 ($80,000), which will be used to cover costs and grow the number of contributors and full-time staff available.

"I really want to expand the site and give those contributors who are relevant money to work on these different projects and support them directly," said Higgins.

"I already know they produce great work, and they know how to use open-source information, so if I'm in a position where I am working and sharing it out with them, and get them the kind of support they need to keep doing it, then all the better."

Contributors to the site so far confirmed include Aaron Stein, Aaron Zellin and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, who are focused on conflict zones like Iraq and Syria, an expert on Boko Haram in Nigeria and Peter Jukes, best known for his live-tweeting of the phone hacking trial.

Higgins said Jukes suggested the name for the site, based on an old fable in which mice fix a bell to the collar of a neighbourhood cat to act as an early warning system.

"It's highlighting that there's something big and dangerous and important," he said.

"In the story these mice come up with this fantastic idea to warn them about the cat, but then they realise that no one actually knows how to put a bell around a cat's neck.

"So a part of the site is actually teaching people how to do that."

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