Open-source investigations site Bellingcat today launched a new project to investigate global networks of crime and corruption.
The London Project Investigathon is a collaboration between Bellingcat, Hacks/Hackers London and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
It will bring together journalists, investigators and researchers to share knowledge on the latest open-source tools and techniques required to carry out investigations, by organising regular events to work on live projects.
"Because these are transferable skills, we can set them up doing projects that we're giving them but they'll learn stuff that they can use in their own projects," said Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses blog on munitions used in the Syrian conflict.
Also involved in the Investigathon are journalists from the Financial Times, members of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and Bellingcat contributors Peter Jukes, Chris Brace and Oz Katerji.
Their first project will be centred around money laundering and, more specifically, money from Eastern Europe which is suspected of being laundered in the UK property market. Higgins said the project is an "extension" of Google Investigathon, held in July to showcase the OCCRP's Investigative Dashboard.
Participants will learn to use tools including the OCCRP's Investigative Dashboard, which scrapes data from business registries around the world and makes it searchable to assist those working on cross-border investigations.
Other resources will include online court records, and new tools that Higgins gets sent to test by various technology companies.
A large part of the London Project Investigathon, Higgins explained, is to inform people of where to find open-source information and how to piece it all together.
"That's kind of a theme, time and time again," he said. "The information is out there and it's quite easy to get to, it's just being aware you can actually get to it."
Bellingcat, which launched in July, regularly shares tips, tools and how-to guides on verifying stories and videos using open-source information alongside its own investigations. Two recent projects include locating an Islamic State training camp in Mosul, Iraq and identifying the Buk missile launcher alleged to have shot down flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine.
In a similar fashion, the London Project Investigathon's work, tools and techniques will be written up on Bellingcat "so other people can go and do it themselves and learn from us", said Higgins.
"Long-term, what we'd like to have is cities across the world with groups like this meeting at regular times, working on local projects that have this international kind of connection," he said.
And Higgins explained that this "global perspective" is essential in investigating high-level crime and corruption, where cross-border criminal activities can often cover vast areas, posing a serious challenge for anyone without the resources and skills to track them country to country.
"We're trying to make this as big as possible because we think there's a lot that can be done with it," he said.
"It's teaching people about all kinds of different investigative skills that they can deploy in investigations, and trying to get those skills spread as far and wide as possible."
Free daily newsletter
- Croatian investigative startup Telegram bets on subscriptions to drive revenue
- Tip: How to get started as an investigative journalist
- Tip: Leadership advice for women in investigative journalism
- Tip: Experiment with tried-and-tested tools for investigative journalism
- James Slack: ‘Every journalist is appalled that the government is even considering doing something so draconian’