Global Affairs

Belling the spooks

The success of Bellingcat in shedding light on the downing of Flight MH17 and the poisoning of Skripal and Navalny is a lesson to governments and spies on how difficult it is to keep things secret in the electronic age.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a hearing in Moscow on Feb 20, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

It is fair to say that much of online journalism is still a profession searching for a reputation. For although every established, mainstream newspaper or media organisation now has a robust online presence - and some major daily newspapers actually derive more revenue from their online rather than traditional paper products - the Internet is still often seen as an unpoliced jungle where trolls and conspiracy theorists predominate, and where fiction morphs into reality with what former United States president Donald Trump's counsellor once gloriously referred to as "alternative facts".

Yet there is one person who has given the concept of "citizen journalism" an entirely new meaning: Mr Eliot Higgins, a 42-year-old Briton who founded the Bellingcat online investigative organisation, is responsible for some of the most extraordinary media scoops in recent times, including the unmasking over the past decade of no less than three Russian secret operations, each worthy of a James Bond movie plot.

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