we are bellingcat: an intelligence agency for the people

I just finished We Are Bellingcat, by Bellingcat’s founder, Eliot Higgins. It’s an incredibly interesting read; an insight into how he went from enthusiastic online searcher to blogger to creating a global network of professional and volunteer sleuths who gather up, sort and make sense of the vast data that hides in plain sight online.

Bellingcat have been key players in solving puzzles related to some of the most important intelligence challenges of the last decade; chemical attacks in Syria, the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 over the Ukraine and the Salisbury poisonings, to name just a few.

Do they replace our intelligence agencies? No, of course not. Should they make those agencies think again about what’s possible and how to make the most of open source data? Absolutely.

One theme – minor to the book, but which struck a chord with me – was ‘vicarious trauma’. For Bellingcat’s people, that’s about the impact it takes to watch horrific videos of death, torture, mutilation and more. Higgins describes one of his team chancing upon a cauliflower on the pavement and it making him physically shake as it triggered memories of some of the awful scenes he’d witnessed scrawling through thousands of hours of murder videos from Syria.

As someone who’s worked alongside hostages and their families, I’ve experienced these kinds of triggers myself and have worked hard to ensure the teams I’ve managed are properly supported, including with access to psychologists and psychiatrists. It’s a real thing, and it’s becoming relevant for more people as access to graphic materials becomes common place.

I’d highly recommend this book; fascinating subject matter, well written and accessible. All you’d hope from a book like this.



Categories: civil society, Foreign fighters, foreign policy, hostages, internet, kidnapping, mental health, radical right, re-traumatization, security, survivors, syria, terrorism, trauma, what I'm reading

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