Biased independence: what’s wrong with the Bellingcat investigation

© AFP 2017 / ANP/Piroschka van de WouwОснователь the web site Bellingcat Eliot HigginsBiased independence: what’s wrong with the Bellingcat investigation© AFP 2017 / ANP/Piroschka van de WouwВладимир Ardev, a columnist for RIA Novosti

Russia tried to influence the elections in France and the Netherlands, palming the voters in these countries, «dubious sociological research». This statement was made by the research team Bellingcat, which published the results of their next investigation.

The conclusion is, actually, one Russian media broadcasting to foreign audiences (such as Sputnik and RT), the alleged «manipulate public opinion» and trying to influence the internal politics of other States.

As the Kremlin «saved» Fillon

The Central episode of the Bellingcat investigation refers to the end of March this year, when less than a month before the first round of presidential elections in France, the website Sputnik in French published the results of a sociological research conducted by Brand Analytics. According to them, in the first place in popularity among the French left candidate of the party «the Republicans» Francois Fillon, who managed to regain lost ground and to bypass the two major rivals — the leader of the party «Forward!» Emmanuel Makron and the head of the «National front» marine Le Pen.

Bellingcat saw in this fact an attempt «to manipulate the opinions of» the French on the eve of elections, as some polls Fillon took only the third place after Him and Le Pen.

It is not clear what could be the subject of any investigation. Methods of public opinion research, which uses the Brand Analytics, the Agency Sputnik said in the publication — they consist in the analysis of social media, but also include elements of the surveys. Moreover, Sputnik in French, published a review of the Director of the center for analysis Brand Analytics Svetlana Krylova, which explained in detail exactly how the study was conducted.

Finally, every article about upcoming elections in France Sputnik always illustrated the constantly updated data on the ratings of candidates received from other sociological companies — IFOP, IPSOS, Opinionway.

«Garnish» the authors of the investigation Bellingcat reminiscent of the March publication in the Wall Street Journal, where he reported that before held in 2016 presidential elections in Bulgaria, the opposition socialist party allegedly received from Russia’s secret strategy document. He allegedly contained a «phased plan of action which was to lead the party to victory in the elections and called for the use of tools such as misinformation in the news and embellished the results of sociological research».

The very existence of such a document, was never proven — he denied both the Russian and the Bulgarian side. Bellingcat however, it does not stop.

For example, Brand Analytics is accused of participation in joint projects with the Russian centre for public opinion studies (VTSIOM). «The main client is the Kremlin VTSIOM. Brand Analytics company owned by Russian company PalitrumLab, most of the stock which, in turn, owns the system integrator «I-Teco». Integrator customers are Federal security service, Ministry of internal Affairs and the Ministry of defence of the Russian Federation», — according to Bellingcat.

While that, in addition to the FSB and the interior Ministry, the customers of «I-Teco» is also hundreds of agencies and companies, including those unrelated to the government, «investigators» are silent. Moreover, credited with the Russian integrator cooperation with the Ministry of defence, although the Department is not in the list of customers of the company.

The involvement of the British company Bruges Group the Bellingcat investigative attributed to the fact that last year its Director Robert Oulds «passed by the Kremlin-funded by the Donetsk people’s Republic in Eastern Ukraine».

The primitive principle of «who pays the money, the girl dancing» really has a right to exist. But to apply it first and foremost to the Bellingcat group. For example, in early June, the Western media published information that the United States government spends tens of millions of dollars on information war with Russia. In the publication the Daily Beast on this subject says, in particular, on the allocation of grants to «independent organizations», such as Bellingcat and StopFake.org.

Especially popular was the Bellingcat investigation on the fate of the Malaysian airliner Boeing 777 flying flight MH17 shot down in Donetsk region. First, the volunteers studied satellite photos of the crash site, then the photos of military equipment, records, radio intercepts and even a photo of «dembelsky album» the social network «Vkontakte». And came to the «unequivocal conclusion» that the plane was hit by anti-aircraft missile fired from the installation of SAM «Buk-M» from the 53rd air defense brigade of Russia, based in Kursk.

But strikingly different — not that the insights obtained by volunteer Amateurs using techniques that professionals in one voice called «amateurish», to attract attention and easily taken for granted. And that is absolutely competent studies conducted by qualified specialists, are not taken into account. In September last year, the representatives of the concern «Almaz-Antey» presented the results of the investigation of the crash MH17 international investigation team has still not accounted for.

«Experts and the investigation team have used the research principle of computer modeling using powerful program SplitX. We worked on a strong experimental base, building their research on virtual and full-scale tests», — told RIA Novosti adviser to the chief designer of the concern Mikhail Malyshev.

«Almaz-Antey», which produces modern versions SAM «Buk» conducted a detailed study, which included experienced defeat aircraft missile. The target chosen was written off Il-86 in size and a number of other characteristics resembling a Boeing 777. Experts came to the conclusion that the Malaysian aircraft could only shoot down the missile complex Buk 9M38, long discontinued in Russia, but still available to Ukraine.

© RIA Novosti / Andrey to Tinypirate in fotobanka the crash site of the Malaysian Boeing 777 near the town Shakhtersk, Donetsk regionBiased independence: what’s wrong with the Bellingcat investigation© RIA Novosti / Andrey to Tinypirate in fotobanka the crash site of the Malaysian Boeing 777 near the town Shakhtersk, Donetsk region
The principle of glass

Independent Amateur investigation is certainly needed, and there are many cases when their authors were able to prove that that was not possible professionals. However, we must not forget that any amateurish approach increases the likelihood of errors that ultimately leads the investigation and sends him the wrong way. This is especially dangerous when the efforts of the lovers become instruments in the hands of propaganda, said the General-the major of FSB in the reserve Alexander Mikhailov. Biased independence: what’s wrong with the Bellingcat investigation© AP Photo / Andrew Nagpra commented on the investigation against him

If the official investigations have the potential to influence power structures, to investigate unprofessional always affected by the personal bias of the authors, which inevitably occurs in such cases as a group Bellingcat. Higgins and his team always declare that they use only public and open sources of information, and therefore does not have all the necessary materials for competent investigations, says Mikhailov.

«Takes effect well-known principle of the glass, which, according to some, half full, for others half — empty. Interpretation of the facts should not and cannot be a substitute for meticulous research of the information in its entirety. Otherwise, the place of the facts will inevitably begin to take conspiracy building that lead farther from reality. I has had to deal with such cases», — says Alexander Mikhailov.

«Medicine,» according to veteran intelligence, can be only one: maximum openness and transparency of any socially significant information to society. Except that really is a military or state secret.

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