Conclusions (Thus Far) from Reading We Are Bellingcat

Self is about 3/4 of the way through.

It is becoming quite clear that the scale of Russian disinformation in the months leading up to November 2020 was designed with one aim in mind: to sink Hillary Clinton. And Comey’s coming up with the e-mail angle in July 2020 — could that have been any better timing? Comey was a dupe — whether a deliberate dupe or an accidental dupe, who can say. But a dupe, nevertheless.

Recently, during the hearings for Judge Jackson’s nomination to the SCOTUS, the matter of child pornography was brought up repeatedly by Josh Hawley, Lindsey Graham, and Ted Cruz.

There were very strong echoes to the Hillary is a pedo and Joe Biden is a pedo line.

Do the GOP have pedo on the brain, or what?

Now, after reading this far in We Are Bellingcat, I now know why the GOP line is always calling a political opponent a pedo. Because it is undisputedly a line. A line they have been given. A line they all parrot like obedient children. None of it was arrived at by independent thinking. That is why it is always the same: pedophilia and child pornography.

None of them truly believe that Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden are pedos, but it’s a mark of their allegiance to the party line, to say it out loud. A mark of their loyalty.

The next GOP Senator who starts the Biden is a pedo line, you’ll know that person is utterly compromised.

Stay tuned.

How Novichok A234 Entered Salisbury, England

Two Russian intelligence officers allegedly carried the chemical weapon in a backpack, strolling through the heart of a peaceful English cathedral city on 4 March 2018. Upon reaching Sergei Skripal’s house in Salisbury, they allegedly drew out a container, aimed its nozzle at the front door and sprayed.

We Are Bellingcat, p. 155

“Firewall of Facts”: We Are Bellingcat, p. 151

“We all need to stay alert to disinformation techniques. If you imagine that digital natives, those who grew up with the internet, are equipped to handle this environment, you are wrong. A Stanford study from 2016, which tested thousands’ of American students’ ability to spot fakery online, reported that young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak. In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation. Some 82 percent of middle-school students could not tell a news story from an advertisement.

“The Swedes have developed teaching materials to educate kids about fake news, online propaganda and doctored imagery. Teenagers in Ukraine — perhaps the country most assaulted by propaganda trolls — are taking classes on media literacy to good effect: students who participated in a pilot programme were twice as alert to hate speech and 18 per cent better at spotting fake news. In Denmark, ‘Trolls in Your Feed’ is a publication for high-school kids, part of a push there against Russian disinformation. Classes, including cautionary study of false news reports, are working their way into school curricula in parts of the United States.”

Cyber-Dominance: We Are Bellingcat, pp. 76 – 77

Self apologizes for going so so slowly through this book, but it continues to enthrall.

General Michael Hayden, former director of both the CIA and the NSA, recalled a turning point for American intel back in the mid-1990s, when espionage officials faced a question: try to dominate cyberspace, or to dominate the information sphere generally, including diplomacy, public affairs, disinformation, and more? ‘We had a sharp debate, and we finally decided that we’re probably in the cyber-dominance business,’ he recalled. ‘Now the important punchline here is that the Russians went to door number two. The Russians went to not just cyber-dominance, but information-dominance.

We Are Bellingcat, pp. 76 – 77

We Are Bellingcat, pp. 42 – 43: “2.2 kilograms of the nerve agent sarin”

That this nerve agent was used at all, against civilian targets in the eastern and south-western suburbs of Damascus, was a war crime. Consulting online reference material, the author identified the weapons carrying the sarin as “a Soviet 140mm M14 artillery rocket . . . only the warhead had been damaged, suggesting that this had not been packed with high explosives. According to reference material, the potential warhead of the M14 was a chemical payload: 2.2 kilograms of the nerve agent sarin.”

@bellingcat today (28 March 2022): “Bellingcat can confirm that three members of the Ukrainian delegation attending peace talks between Ukraine and Russia on the night of 3 – 4 March 2022 experienced symptoms consistent with poisoning with chemical weapons.”

@bellingcat today: “Three members of the negotiating team retreated to an apartment in Kyiv later that night and felt initial symptoms — including eye and skin inflammation and piercing pain in the eyes — later that night. The symptoms did not abate until the morning.”

We Are Bellingcat, p. 43: How a Uni Dropout from Leicester, England Used Google Earth To Become an Expert on The War in Syria

The dis-information about what Syrian President Assad was doing to his own people was being spread far and wide (getting a major leg up from Russian State Television) and all there was to counter it were a handful of people from Human Rights Watch (“an early user of open-source investigative techniques”) and the author, who made extensive use of Google Earth to find out whether the information the world was getting was accurate. At this point, the author was doing all of this online investigative work for free, even though “by September 2012,” his “blog had surpassed 200,000 page views … “

But, the sense of righteousness, the outrage at the lies!

“barrel bombs became an emblematic weapon of Assad’s forces, which rained down thousands more as a devastating and cheap alternative to conventional munitions. By the end of 2017, regime barrel bombs had killed nearly 11,000 civilians, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Assad had denied that his forces had dropped even one. “I haven’t heard of Army using barrels, or maybe cooking pots,” he joked in a 2015 interview with the BBC. “There’s no indiscriminate weapons. When you shoot, you aim. And when you aim, you aim at terrorists in order to protect civilians. Again, if you’re talking about casualty, that’s war. You cannot have war without casualty.”

We Are Bellingcat: Global Crime, Online Sleuths, and the Bold Future of News, by Eliot Higgins, p. 43

Marie Colvin: We Are Bellingcat, p. 22

If tabloid manipulation represented the ugliest side of reporting, Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times stood for its nobler motives. In early 2012, she was among the few foreign journalists to risk a trip to Homs, a Syrian city under bombardment from the Assad regime. An experienced war correspondent of fifty-six, she was renowned for courage and her distinctive eye patch, worn because of a wound in another war zone. “It’s a complete and utter lie that they’re going after terrorists,” she told CNN via satellite link-up. “The Syrian Army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.” The following day, Assad forces attacked a makeshift media centre, killing Colvin herself. Some believe that the live TV linkups hours before allowed them to obtain GPS coordinates of her location.

After Colvin’s death, even fewer Western journalists dared to enter Syria. In their absence, the war grew crueller.

I thank the journalists who are reporting right now from a war-torn Ukraine. If not for them, ‘I Stand With Ukraine’ would not have turned into such a worldwide phenomenon. We would not have SEEN the courage of Ukrainians and Zelensky.

Introduction, We Are Bellingcat

This discipline is so new that it lacks a single name. Most common is ‘OSINT’, for open-source intelligence. But that shorthand derives from government intelligence, whose secretive practices diverge from the open and public mission of Bellingcat. A more accurate description is ‘online open-source investigation’. What we do is far more than just internet research, though. We counter the counterfactual forces warping society. We insist on evidence. And we show ordinary citizens how to expose wrongdoing and demand accountability from the powerful.

Guess That’s One Way to Do It

Germany’s World War I siege of Namur, in Belgium, is described in Essay # 2 of When We Cease to Understand the World:

The Germans’ advance was impeded by a mist that rose up without warning, so thick it it turned midday to night. Both sides were shrouded in darkness and unable to attack for fear of shooting their own men.

When We Cease to Understand the World, pp. 50 – 51

“What is it about this strange, chaotic climate of this country that it so doggedly resists our knowledge and control?” the German scientist Karl Schwarzschild, who had been placed in charge of an artillery unit, wrote to his wife.

His superior chose to withdraw the troops to a safe distance and engaged in massive, indiscriminate bombings, firing without care for wasted munitions or civilian casualties, using 42-centimetre ordnance shot from a gigantic howitzer the troops nicknamed “Big Bertha,” until the citadel, which had stood fast from the time of the Roman Empire, was nothing more than a mountain of rubble.

WWCTUTW, p. 51

Shattered: Essay # 1, Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease To Understand the World

Self finds that so many of the books she’s read this year have a bearing. For instance, the book she started the year with: My Heart, a translation from the Bosnian by Semezdin Mehmehdinovic. The author is one of those displaced immigrants who cannot feel at home, not here in America, even though he has raised a son who is so very American in his nonchalance.

And All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, by Rebecca Donner, about Donner’s great great-aunt Mildred Harnack, who was part of a plot against Hitler and was executed in 1942.

Essay # 1 in her current read, Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World, is about Fritz Haber, the brilliant Jewish chemist who directed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry and is credited with the invention of Zyklon.


  • Haber had converted to Christianity at twenty-five years old. He identified so closely with his country and its customs that his sons knew nothing of their ancestry until he told them they would have to flee Germany. Haber escaped after them and sought asylum in England, but his British colleagues scorned him, aware of his instrumental role in chemical warfare. He had to leave the island not after arriving. Thenceforth, he would travel from country to country in the hope of reaching Palestine, his chest gripped with pain, his arteries incapable of delivering sufficient blood to his heart. He died in Basle in 1934, clutching the canister of nitroglycerine he needed to dilate his coronary vessels, not knowing that, years later, the Nazis would use in their gas chambers the pesticide he had helped create to murder his half-sister, his brother-in-law, his nephews and countless other Jews who died hunkered down, muscles cramping, skin covered with red and green spots, bleeding from their ears, spitting foam from their mouths, the young ones crushing the children and the elderly as they attempted to scale the heap of naked bodies and breathe a few more minutes, a few more seconds, because Zyklon B tended to pool on the floor after being dropped through hatches in the roof.

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