Amateur war-crimes investigator and full-time blogger at the Bellingcat website, Eliot Higgins, has turned down an invitation to debate a prominent MIT physicist on the issue of chemical-weapons use in the Syrian conflict.
Journalist Aaron Mate attempted to set up a debate between Higgins and Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at MIT, a month ago. Responding to Mate’s request on Twitter, Higgins promptly refused on the grounds that the professor – who once worked as a scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon – is “an idiot.”
Higgins’ own work involves ‘investigating’ war and conflict from the comfort of his home in England. He does this by watching videos on YouTube and ‘examining’ and ‘analyzing’ photographs posted on Twitter for clues. He does not, however, visit the locations he claims to be investigating, which is what real investigators and journalists typically do. Nonetheless, Higgins is beloved by pro-NATO Western media and frequently referenced by them as an “expert.”
Mate confirmed in a separate tweet that Postol had agreed to the debate, but Higgins continued to lob insults, calling the professor a “war-crime denialist” who doesn’t even have a “basic understanding” of the material with which he works.
This is a strange insult coming from Higgins, a man with no training in science, who worked for an underwear company in a previous life – before he found a lucrative career in online investigations. Higgins’ bio on the Bellingcat website lists no expertise and simply explains that he uses “open-source investigation tools” to investigate the Syrian conflict.
Higgins has received funding from the neoconservative think tank, the Atlantic Council, which could go some way toward explaining why his “investigations” somehow always result in conclusions that are pleasing to fans of American military interventions.
The prospect of a debate between Higgins and Postol resurfaced on Twitter in recent days in light of the latest alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.
Independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone challenged Higgins about his reasons for turning down the debate with Postol. Johnstone wanted to know why exactly an MIT professor was not worth Higgins’ time, given that he spends quite a lot of his time arguing with random people on Twitter.
Others tweeters chimed in on the debate – some defending Higgins and others slamming him for his “garbage propaganda,” and asking him to prove his claim that Postol is an “idiot” by being brave enough to actually debate him.
One could easily surmise that Higgins feels more in his comfort zone on Twitter than he would being challenged by an MIT physicist on camera. Why that might be is anyone’s guess.