Elon Musk is right: Bellingcat is a Western ‘psy-op’


by Aaron Mate, The Gray Zone:

The Twitter CEO draws establishment media outrage for criticizing a NATO state propaganda outfit.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk has triggered headlines by claiming that the website Bellingcat, a trusted source for establishment US media outlets, engages in “psyops.”

Musk invoked Bellingcat’s role in “psychological operations” while expressing skepticism about the group’s claims that the mass shooter in Allen, Texas was motivated by white supremacist views. Prominent voices came forward to defend Bellingcat as a “a great journalistic organization” (CNN anchor Jake Tapper), and “a treasure trove of hugely important investigative journalism” (Yale professor Timothy Snyder).

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While the available evidence supports Bellingcat’s findings about the Allen gunman, Musk is correct about the group overall. With complete uniformity, Bellingcat’s media cheerleaders omit that the group is funded by NATO states and their contractors. And just as Musk suggested, Bellingcat has regularly promoted propaganda that advances its backers’ foreign policy objectives.

Since 2017, Bellingcat’s top financial donors have included the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. government organization founded by Ronald Reagan’s CIA chief, Bill Casey. From its inception, the NED has served as a front for US intelligence operations, including destabilization and regime change in targeted states. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly twenty-five years ago by the CIA,” the NED’s first director, Allen Weinstein, told the Washington Post in 1991. NED board members have included veteran neoconservative bureaucrats Elliott Abrams and Victoria Nuland.

The NED conceals its funding for Bellingcat, to the point where a search of its database does not return any results. For several years, Bellingcat also refused to specify its NED funding, until finally admitting that the US government organization was its highest “non-profit” donor: more than €112,000 in 2020 and €212,000 in 2021. (Bellingcat has potentially received more NED funding via other conduits, according to Declassified UK).

Bellingcat takes in more money from other Western governments and cut-outs, including the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Bellingcat was a founding partner in the Open Information Partnership (OIP), which is funded by the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, FCDO. Another OIP partner, Zinc Network, which is funded by the UK and US governments, has given Bellingcat at least €160,000.

Bellingcat also rakes in donations from firms that profit from from NATO-backed regime change operations. These include the scandal-plagued foreign aid profiteer Adam Smith International (ASI), one of the largest recipients of UK government contracts abroad. In 2017, a UK government agency suspended all future contracts with the company over what it called “inappropriate” conduct and “serious lack of judgement”, including fabricating glowing testimonials about its aid services. As The Grayzone has reported, ASI and another private Bellingcat donor, Chemonics, have received Western contracts to aid and abet sectarian insurgents in the regime change war against Syria.

A number of Bellingcat’s staffers and contributors have NATO intelligence and military backgrounds, including the UK army, the GCHQ, the Royal United Services Institute, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Pentagon.

Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins spent several years as a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, the arms industry and government-funded think tank that serves as NATO’s de-facto lobbying arm in Washington. During his tenure, Higgins encouraged the US government to make better use of open-source data, which happened to become Bellingcat’s professed specialization. Higgins’ collaborators at the Atlantic Council included John E. Herbst, the former US Ambassador to Ukraine; Frederic Hof, a former US special envoy to Syria who has vocally advocated regime change there; and Ben Nimmo, a former NATO press officer who now serves as “Global Lead for Threat Intelligence” at Facebook’s parent company Meta.

While partnering with a network of NATO state sources and receiving their lavish funding, Bellingcat’s own state partners have privately raised doubts about the group’s credibility. A leaked assessment produced for the UK Foreign Office by Zinc Network concluded that: “Bellingcat was somewhat discredited, both by spreading disinformation itself, and by being willing to produce reports for anyone willing to pay.”

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