"Bellingcat's information is seriously being looked at and included in the investigation. In the interest of the investigation and because of restrictions in relation to privacy, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) can not elaborate on information about individuals."
Almost everyone is familiar with the publications of the research collective Bellingcat. Based on 'open sources', i.e. research in open sources, they get important information on the table. Also valuable information about the downing of flight MH17.
Gerrit Thiry, team leader of the Netherlands National Police: "Of course, the JIT itself also conducts research in open sources. The police have extensive experience in this field, and we have also found a lot of information ourselves. But a big difference with the gathering of evidence by Bellingcat, or others that are involved in these matters, is that the JIT cannot rely solely on open source material. Our investigation must provide proof that can serve as conclusive evidence in a criminal court. We cannot afford any inaccuracies in this respect. That is why we also pay a great deal of attention to the validation of our findings, with or without experts certified by the examining magistrate. And the JIT must naturally comply with the rules of criminal procedure and international legal assistance.”
Bellingcat regularly forwards its research results to the JIT. "We always take this information seriously and make our own assessments. Sometimes it is a starting point for new JIT investigations, sometimes the information is already known to the JIT, but we have not yet made it public. We always check whether the results match information from our own criminal investigation, or whether information in the JIT investigation points in a different direction. And if the information was not yet known, we always investigate whether the JIT itself can also establish the results of Bellingcat. For example by following up on the research method followed, by engaging forensic experts (such as the NFI or KNMI) and by making combinations with other techniques of criminal investigation. It is important to remember that not everything that appears on the internet is true. You will always have to verify and validate the published information."
TV program “Opsporing Verzocht”
"It is not new that citizens contribute to an investigation. The well-known Dutch TV program Opsporing Verzocht (detection required) is a good example of this. But because of the rise of social media, there are many more people who can contribute to an investigation. So much is shared on social media", according to Thiry.
Gerrit Thiry also has a warning: "People have to realise the possible consequences of publishing their findings publicly. For example, it may mean that potential evidence disappears or worse that people may be at risk if public attention is paid to their role in an event. On the other hand, it may also be that a publication gets things moving. Witnesses may contact the investigation team, people may come forward with new relevant information. A good example of the latter is the photo of the BUK installation that we had published online. We had the coordinates within no time. Shortly afterwards, photos were sent from that exact location. That is precisely why we do it. "
Open source research (Open Source) is mainly research on the internet. It is information that is freely available through social networks, for example, but also from online published aerial photographs and government documents. Partly due to the work of Bellingcat, the possibilities of open source research have become much better known.
Open source research is also taken seriously in criminal cases. For example, the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently issued an arrest warrant for the Libyan commander Al-Werfalli, which was partly based on open-source research.
Submarine, a Dutch production company, has made a documentary about the working method of the research collective Bellingcat. A few shorts quotes from the JIT, represented by Wilbert Paulissen, have been included in this documentary, which will be shown at the IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam).