On Tuesday April 5 the pro-NATO think tank Atlantic Council is hosting a panel featuring Eliot Higgins, a controversial blogger and self-described open source researcher from Leicester, United Kingdom. In the description of the event titled “Distract, Deceive and Destroy: Putin at War in Syria”, the Atlantic Council says, in describing the Russian air campaign in Syria, “Russia almost exclusively targeted non-ISIS targets” in the country.
Coming days after a Russian soldier died while directing some of the hundreds of Russian air strikes that aided the Syrian Arab Army in liberating the UNESCO world heritage site of Palmyra, this claim should be challenged by those attending the event as dishonest.
Higgins history is well known to many, but remains obscure to the general public. A stay at home father and former office worker, Higgins admitted he had no qualifications whatsoever in weapons or military affairs when he first began covering the Syrian civil war at his previous ‘Brown Moses’ blog in 2011. When chemical weapons were used against civilians in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus in August 2013, Higgins became the point man for the George Soros-funded NGO Human Rights Watch claims, heavily cited by the State Department, that only pro-Assad forces could have committed the atrocity. Subsequent allegations by legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and Turkish oppositionists that Syrian jihadists could have or did obtain chemical weapons ingredients from Turkey have been dismissed by Higgins. However, President Barack Obama’s recently released interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine (“The Obama Doctrine”), in which Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted to the President that there was no ‘slam dunk’ intelligence proving Assad’s guilt in the East Ghouta chemical atrocity, vindicates Hersh and other Brown Moses/Eliot Higgins skeptics.
The entire East Ghouta episode as well as Higgins and his Bellingcat team of amateur bloggers becoming the Anglo-American media’s ‘go to guys’ for ‘proof’ whenever Russia or a Russian ally is said to have done something horrible illustrates a troubling trend: the amateur-ization or some would say ‘neocon’-ization of U.S. intelligence presentation, and the outsourcing of Washington’s arguments for major policies including war and peace to think tanks, bloggers and yes, foreign governments. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Colin Powell, but he personally presented what we now know was flawed intelligence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and later accepted blame when this proved wrong. Unfortunately for the American people, Powell’s successor John Kerry and fellow diplomats such as UN Ambassador Samantha Power are unwilling to present the satellite pictures or other U.S. intelligence they insist Dutch investigators into the MH17 shoot down have seen in secret. Instead, despite the tens of billions Washington spends on intelligence annually, the specifics of key incidents — whether in Syria or Ukraine — keep getting outsourced to hawkish groups like the Atlantic Council or ambitious amateurs like Eliot Higgins.
It should be noted by all attending the Atlantic Council event presenting a point of view sympathetic to the anti-Assad rebels supported by Turkey that multiple Turkish energy corporations as well as Turkey’s Army College were listed as donors to the Atlantic Council in 2013, when then U.S. Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel had to disclose this information prior to the U.S Senate approving his nomination. Also disclosed in the February 2013 report for U.S. Senators was the fact that the Sunni-sectarian and oppressive governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have donated to the Atlantic Council within the last five years. The question of how far Saudi money goes in Washington and especially in support of those advocating ‘regime change’ in Syria at any cost, was also highlighted this week by a Bloomberg report on a $1 million donation from the Saudis to Senator John McCain’s foundation in Arizona. In light of the thuggish behavior exhibited by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail against pro-Kurdish protesters and journalists alike outside the Brookings Institute on March 31, the question of whether a pro-NATO think tank like the Atlantic Council can be objective when discussing Turkish smuggling oil stolen by the Islamic State or Ankara’s not so covert arming Al-Qaeda aligned Jabhat-al-Nusra terrorists fighting alongside the U.S. supported ‘Free Syrian Army’ must be asked. Just as Brookings should be asked whether the millions it has accepted from the Qatari government for its ‘Doha Center’ haven’t influenced its positions on the ‘moderate’ Syria rebels and hosting Qatar’s ally Erdogan.
Mr. Higgins has repeatedly shrugged off, and his mainstream media promoters ranging from Newsweek to The Washington Post have ignored, incidents where experts ranging from MIT professor Ted Postol to FotoForensics.com founder Dr. Neal Krawetz, have dismissed Higgins as ‘not knowing what he’s talking about’ or an ‘idiot’, whether Higgins’ subject has been Syrian army free flight rockets or forensic analysis of Russian Defense Ministry satellite photos. Unfortunately many journalists, themselves unqualified in the same fields of expertise that Mr. Higgins lacks, seldom challenge Higgins to substantiate his assertions or authenticate his ‘open source’ material that in many cases, comes from Ukrainian security service assets or Syrian rebels with their own agendas. This is because Mr. Higgins and Bellingcat’s visual ‘evidence’, however challenged by other bloggers as dubious or manipulated via Photoshop (see for example, the notorious funhouse mirror distorted ‘Paris Match photo’ of a BUK missile launcher), matches up with the positions of the U.S. and UK governments. With the honorable exception of the Associated Press’ Matthew Lee, most journalists in the U.S. and Europe refuse to ask why Washington prefers to cite open source ‘social media’ over releasing satellite imagery or other crucial intelligence regarding MH17.
Perhaps it’s time Eliot Higgins faced the tough questions the mainstream media won’t ask, and on camera. To that end, we call on any and all individuals who are able to attend the Atlantic Council event — show up at 1030 15th St. NW at 2:30 p.m. Be respectful, but do the job mainstream media won’t do. Ask Eliot Higgins the tough questions, and bring your camera phones to record the answers.