Bellingcat Disrupts MH17 Trial
They began ridiculing the defence attorneys and discrediting witnesses. Could it be that Bellingcat is being played by intelligence services to steer the MH17 trial in a particular direction? And who is their mysterious 'partner in crime' Black Mirror?
The British-based website Bellingcat has played a remarkable role in the MH17 case throughout the past six years. Founded by Elliot Higgins, the site went online two days before the air crash. At the time, Higgins had already established a reputation as a blogger about the war in Syria known by the alias ‘Brown Moses’. Despite reporting from his living room, speaking no Arabic and possessing no expertise or experience in weapon systems, his work resonated widely in mainstream media. And it is no wonder: his findings fit perfectly with the mainstream narrative of moderate rebels waging a noble struggle against a merciless dictator who gassed his own people while at the same time pulverizing them with barrel bombs.
Jump start Bellingcat
The clues the SBU was disseminating to journalists and social media pundits were picked up immediately by Bellingcat. Within days, the open source researchers professed precise knowledge about what had taken place in eastern Ukraine: MH17 was shot down with a missile that was fired from a farm field with a Buk system that was brought in from Russia. The possibility that Ukraine itself was involved in the disaster quickly disappeared from public discussion. And Ukraine achieved the result it sought: a Western audience was absolutely convinced that Russia was to blame even before the official investigation had begun.
Next, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which is led by the Dutch and in which the prosecution services of The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Malaysia and Ukraine are represented, adopted the pre-packed story of the SBU and Bellingcat.
Bellingcat’s success in shaping the narrative around MH17 seems to have emboldened its personnel to assume the role of deputy sheriff of the JIT. The site has continued to scrape the internet for additional evidence shoring up the official version of events, and successfully so. In 2015, Bellingcat published a report in which it was alleged that the notorious Buk system was derived from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian Ground Forces in the city of Kursk. This claim was faithfully adopted by the JIT the following year.
For years, Bellingcat staffers have ridiculed anyone who contented that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet, or was accidentally hit by a Buk missile that was intended for a hostile jet. Now, the site is targeting the defense team. Higgins has taken to Twitter to pump out attacks, branded the lawyers a bunch of clowns, “a total car crash...recycling truther nonsense”, accusing them of calling long-dead witnesses, spending their time googling "MH17 Ukraine did it", etcetera.
Fighter jets witness scammed
As Bellingcat’s ‘lead Russia investigator’ Christo Grozev has taken the lead in attacking the MH17 defense team.
However, Bellingcat has not provided any evidence that the witness ever made this claim. In fact, it appears to be a lie.
Russian journalist Yana Yerlashova from Bonanza Media visited the witness, known as Artyom, in his hometown. In Yerlashova’s video report, "Bellingcat Scams MH17 Warplane Witness", Artyom stated adamantly that he had never withdrawn his testimony.
The images of the chat that Artyom provided to Yerlashova show that the mysterious journalist identified himself with the name, “Pieter Huis.” There is a Dutchman working at Bellingcat who is named Pieter van Huis. Had he been talking to Artyom? I asked him. He denied it.
By Higgins’ logic, the chat that Artyom showed to Yerlashova was fake and the witness had been pressured to pretend it was genuine. The Bellingcat founder has provided no evidence to support the highly unlikely scenario he conjured.
I have asked Higgins several times reveal the 'real chat' that Grozev is said to have conducted with Artyom, but he ignored my request.
Private detective smeared
On November 5th, the MH17 defense lawyers requested permission to interview Dutch private detective and electric bicycle dealer Max van der Werff about the research he conducted in Eastern Ukraine. Van der Werff said he has spoken to dozens of people in Pervomayskyi, the village near the agricultural field from where the fatal Buk missile was supposedly fired. None of the residents would have seen the plume of smoke visible in the photo promoted by the SBU, he has declared.
Van der Werff was also the first to enter the apartment from where the smoke plume photo was allegedly taken. He went on to investigate the route that the low-loader with the Buk Telar battery would have travelled.
The JIT interviewed him on two occasions for several hours about his findings. His research resulted in his name being placed on a blacklist of Myrotvorets, a malicious ultranationalist website in Ukraine that targets journalists who criticize Kiev’s policies. Several reporters who were listed on the website have been murdered. The Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) spoke out against the act of intimidation against Van der Werff, but the Dutch government and parliament did not raise a peep.
Because it was impossible for Bellingcat to discredit Van der Werff on the basis of the well-researched content featured on his blog and in his recent documentary, Higgins opted to wage a campaign of disinformation.
According to Higgins, Van der Werff claimed that MH17 was downed by a fighter plane and that the entire incident was a false flag. Yet Van der Werff never claimed anything of the sort. On the contrary, he has always emphasized that he does not rule out the possibility Russia was involved in the disaster. Van der Werff does something that Bellingcat and the Dutch mass media have failed to do: He questions the official narrative and thus retains the possibility of alternative scenarios.
This kind of critical thinking is not appreciated; not by Bellingcat and also not by the Dutch political establishment and their mouth pieces in the Dutch media. In November this year Bellingcat opened a full-frontal attack on Bonanza Media and indirectly on Van der Werff as a former contributor. Its attack piece is entitled: "The GRU's MH17 Disinformation Operations Part 1: The Bonanza Media Project".
Slander by Dutch media
Articles co-written by the GRU?
Who's behind Black Mirror?
Bellingcat’s attack on Bonanza was filled with irony. Its anonymous authors had accused Yerlashova and Van der Werff of relying on a foreign intelligence service for their information about the MH17 investigation. However, those same supposed ‘open source’ researchers have continued to obtain information that is nowhere to be found on the internet. Indeed, Bellingcat’s information is drawn from sources so secretive that it is almost impossible to believe that the site is not doing exactly what it accuses Bonanza Media of doing: sharing information provided by a state security service.
Among the more significant financiers of Bellingcat is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an entity funded by the American government. NED co-founder Allen Weinstein stated in The Washington Post: "A lot of what we do today was done covertly by the CIA 25 years ago." Recently, in an article in Foreign Policy, CIA’s former deputy chief of operations for Europe and Eurasia Marc Polymeropolous praised Bellingcat for their work. “I don’t want to be too dramatic, but we love this," he said. "Instead of trying to have things cleared or worry about classification issues, you could just reference their work.”
According to the website Wikispooks Bellingcat assists the media in promoting “Anglo-US-NATO narratives” by providing them with quotes the media “are wary of claiming their own” and “can not be made attributable to those who ultimately control the narrative - i.e. the spooks”.
Strangely enough, the financing of Bellingcat is never seriously questioned in the mass media. Nor the sourcing of some information Bellingcat obtains that is anything but ‘open source’. Telephone communications of Russian GRU officers and the content of their mailboxes are highly confidential. They cannot be found on the internet. Still Bellingcat claimed to have obtained this information. Passport data aren't open source either. Still Bellingcat got its hands on the passport data of Van der Werff and Yerlashova. In 2018 Bellingcat received passport data of two Russian nationals suspected by the British government of carrying out the poisoning of the former Russian military officer and double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury.
Sensitive information about GRU officers, whether fake or not, keeps popping up on the Bellingcat website. And as in the cases of the Skripals and Bonanza Media, it also appears on The Insider, a key Bellingcat partner run by dissident Russian journalist Roman Dobrokhotov. Several times, the alleged hacked GRU information that surfaced on both websites was attributed to the mysterious entity called Black Mirror.
What's Black Mirror? According to Bellingcat it's an hacktivist group, meaning: a group of ethical hackers. Now this is highly unlikely. Only a competing intelligence agency would be capable of such operations, and not a single intelligence service anywhere in the world would allow its own citizens to perform such actions. It may happen once, but then they will make sure it won't happen again.
In their latest article, "FSB Team of Chemical Weapon Experts Implicated in Alexey Navalny Novichok Poisoning", published in December 14, Bellingcat claimed to have obtained voluminous telecom and travel data that implicates Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny. For this piece Bellingcat again collaborated with Dobrokhotov of The Insider. But this time there was no mention of Black Mirror. Bellingcat stated that the information was bought on the black market. In an interview with the Latvian website Meduza Bellingcat's lead investigator Christo Grozev said that he had paid for it from his own pocket.
Lawsuit against Bellingcat
Dobrokhotov has claimed on Twitter that Van der Werff is paid by the GRU. Van der Werff responded by announcing a lawsuit against the Russian publisher, inviting him to prove his incendiary claim in a Moscow court. Van der Werff is confident he will win because he has insisted that he never received a cent from the GRU or Russian government.
It may not be long before Bellingcat faces a lawsuit as well. According to Van der Werff, Igor Bezler is preparing a case against Bellingcat. Bezler is a Russian citizen who for the past six years has been harassed by the SBU and Bellingcat for his association with the MH17 crash.
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service declared on March 9, 2020 that Bezler was not suspected of any involvement in the downing of the Malaysian Boeing. On that day the prosecution vindicated two more Russians who had experienced a trial by media organized by Bellingcat. Some Dutch media have reported this, but only casually, and without telling the public they had been fooled and by whom.
Bellingcat’s position in The Netherlands is practically untouchable. Its pronouncements are widely regarded as the gospel truth on MH17. Colleagues I know who are not fully convinced of everything put forward by Bellingcat self-censor out of fear of career destruction. Anyone who criticizes Bellingcat or the official narrative risks being called a conspiracist, truther or useful idiot of the Kremlin - or will be accused of disrupting the criminal investigation and the court proceedings. At worst, they will be accused of working for the Kremlin. It is safer to color inside the lines.
When mainstream Dutch reporters slander dissenting journalists like Van der Werff, their chief editors seem to approve. Requests for corrections on false reports have been turned down. Even chief editor Dolf Rogmans of Villa Media, a monthly magazine for members of the Dutch association of Journalists NVJ, refused to remove the slander of De Groene, on which they had based the headline and lead of their article.
On August 30th 2020 Bonanza Media announced that it would take a break due to a lack of funding. On December 19 the website stated that it "was brought back to life by Bellingcat and its partners in crime in the Dutch media" and that it intended to start crowdfunding for legal action.
In the past few months Bonanza Media posted three videos:
- an exclusive interview with one of the MH17 suspects, Sergey Dubinsky, that was subsequently screened by the lawyers in court;
- a fun video of Yerlashova and Van der Werff celebrating their shared accomplishments;
- an interview of Yerlashova with Van der Werff about the turmoil around him.
The MH17 trial continues on February 1st 2021. The main phase of the criminal proceedings will start on June 7, 2021.