Eliot Higgins and Christiaan Triebert Discuss Bellingcat

Bellingcat is an investigative news collection of citizen journalists using every available digital resource to find objective truth in a world where it’s increasingly under attack. It has major journalistic coups to its credit, including tracing chemical attacks to Syria’s Assad regime. A new documentary, “Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World,” explores the group’s role in the media realm.

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ELIOT HIGGINS, FOUNDER, BELLINGCAT: So, back in 2014, I launched a new website called Bellingcat and we launched it on July 14, 2014. Just three days later, MH17 was shot down in Eastern Ukraine and acted as a massive catalyst both for my own work, open-source investigation in general, and the adoption of open-source investigation as a field by many different kinds of organizations.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: You know, we’ve got some pictures here and we’re going to go through it. But I want to first ask you both, just explain what that means, open source. You know, what is it? What do you actually do? Because you don’t have the resources of a CNN or big, big organization.

HIGGINS: So, thanks to the growth of social media, tools online like Google Search to Google Earth street view, we have a massive amount of information available online. By carefully examining that, we can cross reference it, verify it and establish information that would previously be completely impossible to establish. Something as simple as having satellite image on Google Earth is a massive change in what was accessible to people. And now, people are sharing every experience of their life on social media, and that’s something we search and we discover.

AMANPOUR: So, here we have a picture, and I’m going to get you both to talk about it, because this is when you started this latest website and Christiaan Triebert also worked with you on this as well as some other issues which we’re going to get to. But what does this picture say to the uninitiated? Remember this is in the aftermath of this MH17 being shot down and the Russians were saying, “Oh, no. It’s not us. It is not our, you know, proxies in Eastern Ukraine,” where there was a battle, of course, going on. What did you look at this in picture?

HIGGINS: So, what we were interested in, in this picture, was this missile launcher on the back of this truck. This truck and this missile launcher had already been featured in other images shared on July 17th and it was suspected this might be the missile launcher that shut down MH17. But we had the question where could this have been filmed or taken. So, we started looking at clues. And in fact, this was very early on in the investigation on July 17th itself. But the first clue that was found was this shop sign here. Now, it’s hard to see, but one of our [13:20:00] volunteers who then became one of our employees, Aric Toler, who also features in the documentary, knows Russian. He was able to figure out what that word was. He Googled it and the name of the town that was supposed to be, which was Torres. That led him to a result that told him, which was a court document, that had the full address in it. Once we had that full address, we could find this location on satellite imagery and start comparing the details, for example, what you see where the garage forecourt, but we can see things like the layout of the buildings and positions. And what was crucial in this one, we actually found two videos of someone whose hobby it is to drive around the streets of Eastern Ukraine, filming his dashboard camera then uploading onto YouTube with a description of where he has been. So, on the Google results, when we put in the address, was this guy’s videos would show the same location as he drove by it.

AMANPOUR: I mean, it really is — and can I just say for the uninitiated, I mean, I would have struggled to even see a missile launcher in this picture. I mean, this picture has everything, trees, cars, shops

About This Episode EXPAND

Emily Lau joins the program to discuss a controversial bill being pushed forward in Hong Kong. Eliot Higgins and Christiaan Triebert discuss the new documentary “Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World.” Former catholic priest James Caroll explains why priesthood should be abolished.