There's evidently only room for one "people's intelligence agency," as Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins demonstrated in a recent twitter tirade against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, over the descriptor.
A new book by Higgins on Bellingcat bills the organization as an "intelligence agency for the people." Which ‘people' he means is up for debate, given that Bellingcat is partially funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and spends a good deal of that money smearing anti-establishment candidates, accusing Russian media of stoking race riots and shooting down airplanes, and drumming up support for war in Syria.
The slogan "an intelligence agency for the people" was first coined by WikiLeaks founder Assange, whose own investigative work has seen him jailed in the UK and facing extradition to the US on espionage charges. In a tweet namechecking Bellingcat on Tuesday, WikiLeaks said that while it is "great to see others adopting ‘intelligence agency of the people' to describe themselves...not all measure up."
Higgins, it turned out, had been criticized a day earlier for poaching the slogan (though he blames his publisher), and the accusations set the amateur sleuth off on a scorched-earth Twitter tirade against his critics, Assange, and WikiLeaks itself.
"Seems it turned into an intelligence agency for Julian Assange in the end," he scoffed, even though the documents that saw Assange exiled and arrested revealed shocking evidence of US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as more than a quarter of a million diplomatic cables that painted a grim picture of international skulduggery.
"We've done a lot better with the concept than Assange ever managed," Higgins continued. "Publishing a bunch of leaks and helping Trump get elected doesn't really rise to the concept, does it?"
In his Trump reference, Higgins drew on unfounded criticism that WikiLeaks' publication of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails in 2016 was somehow a deliberate effort to install Trump into the White House, on behalf of Russia. The idea that WikiLeaks worked in cahoots with the Trump campaign is a spurious one, and the notion that Russia "hacked" the emails has never been substantiated.
Higgins continued squabbling with "Assange stans" into Tuesday. When one Twitter commenter proclaimed that the Bellingcat boss "couldn't hold a candle to Julian," Higgins sniped back: "Well, I'm not in prison, so I'm definitely not going to be able to get close enough to hold a candle to him," before descending into altogether more puerile territory.
Though WikiLeaks and Bellingcat operate in a similar space, their different treatment in the media and by governments reflects the deeds their work exposes. Assange's work has seen him vilified in the media and thrown in jail by the British government, with 175 years in a US prison hanging over his head. Higgins' work has been lauded by the media, with the armchair investigator regularly consulted by newspapers like the Washington Post as an "expert" on all things geopolitical. His organization is funded not just by the British and American governments, but by the Dutch government and a handful of Dutch NGOs too.