Alexei Navalny is a Russian critic of the Putin government. He was nearly killed by a Novichok nerve agent in August. Yesterday, he talked to the FSB agent who poisoned his underwear and got a full confession.
Bellingcat is an investigative organization that developed out of Eliot Higgins’s investigations of Syrian munitions, particularly nerve agent munitions, when he blogged as Brown Moses. They worked with CNN and Navalny in this operation.
Bellingcat uses open source information in their investigations. They exposed the two FSB poisoners of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia and have uncovered large amounts of information about nerve agent use in Syria.
[Disclosure: I consult with Bellingcat and occasionally write for them.]
The Bellingcat folks do a good job of telling their own story, with CNN’s help. So I’ll let them give the details. Here’s their full report on the Navalny investigation. The report on the phonecall, with a recording and transcript. The transcript is in English, and the phonecall video has English translation. CNN report.
Navalny called several FSB officers with no luck, then decided to pretend that he was an FSB higher-up who wanted a readout of the operation. It worked stunningly.
Why did they poison his underwear?
Bellingcat has been wildly successful in using open-source information to scoop conventional news sources and, probably, national intelligence services. National intelligence services have been reluctant to admit that open source information can be as useful as their classified sources. Bellingcat is not the only non-governmental organization doing this kind of work. The James A. Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury’s Monterey campus is also excellent. Datayo is a newcomer and much quieter than I think they should be. The New York Times has recently acquired a visualization unit who use overhead photos.
Bellingcat, with its Skripal and Navalny investigations, have shown that the Russian intelligence services are sloppy in their execution, dropping clues everywhere and leaving far too many things, like telephone numbers out in the open.
Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.