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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
Police continue to fire tear gas and rubber bullets into the biggest protest in years in Hong Kong, that Democratic outlier in China. We ask a
key lawmaker about a controversial extradition bill that could threaten Hong Kong’s one country, two systems principle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don’t believe me? Here’s the evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Could a group of independent citizen journalists be the best hope for truth in the age of fake news? We talk to Bellingcat, standing up
to official lies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why aren’t more Catholics enraged, protesting?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The Catholic church should abolish the priesthood to save itself. That is the radical proposal from a former Catholic priest, James
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
In Hong Kong today, violence erupted between police and protesters after days of escalating tensions over the government’s plan to push forward a
controversial bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China. Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into major commercial thoroughfares
and surrounded the Legislative Council Building, which houses Hong Kong’s main government offices.
More than 70 people are injured in what police are calling a riot. Hong Kong chief executive, Carrie Lam, also condemns the protesters and defends
her decision to bring the extradition bill forward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARRIE LAM, HONG KONG CHIEF EXECUTIVE (through translator): They say I sold out Hong Kong. How could I? I was born here and I grew up here with
everyone. The love I have for this place has led me to sacrifice a lot personally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Now, Lam says the bill is needed to prevent the city from becoming a haven for fugitives from the Chinese mainland. A vote on the bill has been
postponed until next week. Hong Kong is considered to be Asia’s essential financial hub with a substantial expat community, including almost 100,000
American citizens and 1,300 U.S. companies.
Now, the U.S. warns that changes to the extradition law could put Washington’s special treatment for the territory at risk. But as mainland
China flexes its economic muscle, could it no longer consider an autonomous Hong Kong even necessary? I’ve been speaking to Emily Lau, the first woman
elected to the legislative council there and was chair of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party.
Emily Lau, welcome to the program.
EMILY LAU, FORMER CHAIR. HONG KONG DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, thank you very much, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Is it a surprise that the people reacted in this way to this bill, which after all has been under discussion for the last couple of
LAU: Well, not the bill, Christiane. The question of having a comprehensive arrangement for rendition, sending fugitives to mainland
China, has been under discussion for more than 20 years and of course got nowhere. And the reason, the main reason is that Hong Kong and mainland
China have two very different legal systems, and we cannot guarantee, and nobody can guarantee, that anyone sent to mainland China would get a fair
trial because what they have there is complete lawlessness. It’s whatever the Communist Party says.
So, after 20-odd years, we couldn’t get anywhere. And suddenly, the chief executive, Carrie Lam, thinks that because of the homicide case in Taiwan,
this couple that went there, the man killed the woman, he came back and we don’t have any extradition arrangement with Taiwan. So, she thinks that,
“Wow, we can solve the Taiwan case as well as mainland China in just a few months.”
I mean, she’s out of her mind. And one thing is, she has completely underestimated the Hong Kong people’s phobia, the fear of the communists.
And that’s why you see the reactions. A million people marching and then thousands of people today fighting in (INAUDIBLE).
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you about the police reaction. As you know, the police dispute the figures, it doesn’t matter, there are a huge number of
people out on the streets and they are being confronted by some fairly aggressive police tactics, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, the
like. Where is this going to lead? I mean, who is giving the police these orders and the police have also said, you know, “You better get off the
streets, otherwise it’s going to end up badly for you.”
LAU: Well, of course the orders came from the commissioner of police and then — and came from the chief [13:05:00] executive, Carrie Lam. But I
can appreciate the administration is very worried that there would be a repeat performance of the Umbrella Movement, the occupation of central,
which in 2014, that went on for 79 days. They do not want that to happen, which I can appreciate.
But if you have thousands or tens of thousands of people gathered there, I mean, okay, you may send 500,000 policemen. Are you really going to clear
them? So, we need a political solution, not sending out policemen to beat them up with tear gas and rubber bullets. It’s completely wrong. And why?
Just because Carrie Lam wants to bulldoze this extradition bill through LegCo. She wants it passed by Thursday next week, a bill which so many
people are so upset with, are so frightened, and she wants to have it passed in a few days’ time. I mean, isn’t she crazy?
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, you’re the opposition so you would say that. Let me just play what she said about what she believes is a totally natural
bill and you say LegCo, the Legislative Council, just to be able to interpret for our viewers. This is what she’s saying about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAM: There is no question of us ignoring views expressed in society, but Hong Kong has to move on. There are severe deficiencies and gaps in our
existing system to deal with cross border crimes and transnational crimes. There is sort of a very difficult area to understand, why Hong Kong cannot
have any mutual legal assistance on criminal matters with our closest neighbors. That is the mainland of China, Taiwan and Macao.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I put that question to you, then, Emily Lau, why shouldn’t Hong Kong have that kind of extradition treaty with neighbors like many
other countries obviously do have?
LAU: Christiane, you know we were a British colony. And when the British government departed in 1997, they deliberately crafted the legislation in
its current form, which Carrie Lam wants to amend, that you know, we cannot send fugitives to China. And some people would call that a gap or a
loophole and people like Chris Patton will say that is a protection, that is a firewall, which separates Hong Kong from mainland China, under one
country, two systems.
And what Carrie Lam wants to do is to drive a truck through this firewall. And what will we get? It’s one country, one system. We will be reduced to
just another Chinese city. And there are millions of people here, Christiane, who don’t want to see that happening.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you then whether you think you’ll get enough support from your friends outside or even the people on the street. Do you
think that it will get passed? You seem to think that it won’t and that Carrie Lam’s aspiration for passing it next Thursday is pie in the sky.
But I just want to read you what the U.S. State Department has said and they, of course, have a special status for Hong Kong. They say, “The
continued erosion of the one country, two systems framework puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs.” How
much does that help Hong Kong for the state department to say that?
LAU: Well, in a way, it helps, but in the other way, of course, the Chinese government will be hopping mad, saying its foreign interference.
But I think that many people in Hong Kong, particularly the business community, they are very concerned about the U.S. government policy,
particularly treating Hong Kong as an independent customs territory under the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act.
And just today or yesterday, the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, said, “If this bill is passed, then they would — Congress would have to look at
this act again and to see whether it should be scrapped or amended.” And some business people, including the leader of the pro-business Liberal
Party, Felix Chung, has said, is that, “If that is amended, the game is over.” So, the business people should know. They should be very worried.
AMANPOUR: Since 1997, and since the handover, how has China’s relationship with Hong Kong changed since Xi Jinping became, you know, president of
China in 2012?
LAU: Yes. I mean, initially, it was OK, we were really one country, two systems. Then, of course, we had the big march in [13:10:00] 2003 against
this bill on national security. Since then, Beijing got more and more worried. But when Xi Jinping became president in 2012, he adopted a very
harsh policy on the whole country, including Hong Kong.
And now, as we speak, we’re talking about over a million people being locked up in camps, the Uyghurs. And also, I am a member of the China
Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group and we support the human right lawyers. And some of them are in jail for years, the wife cannot visit them, the
lawyer cannot visit them, this is their legal system. This is what Xi Jinping liked.
So, we are very, very concerned that the freedoms we enjoy — we have never had democracy but we have freedoms, personal safety, underpinned by the
rule of law and an independent judiciary but we see all of that diminishing, crumbling, and people are saying, “Oh, no, no, we can’t have
that.” Our free lifestyle, we’ve had that under British rule and for the last 20-odd years, and now it’s disappearing and the people are very
AMANPOUR: I can hear it in your voice. And just to point out, there has already been a group of Hong Kong book sellers who were abducted in 2016.
There’s a Chinese-born billionaire who was abducted in 2017. So, it does seem that people like yourself are very concerned about the security
apparatus of Beijing and its encroachment on Hong Kong.
Can I just broaden this out and ask you to comment on what former secretary of defense, Ash Carter, of the United States, has said about Beijing’s
aspirations going forward, that it’s not just about Hong Kong but it’s about really positioning themselves as an equal if not a better than the
United States. This is what he said to me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASH CARTER, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: China has an agenda and you can talk to them about their agenda. I understand where they want to go.
They’re a communist dictatorship, number one, they want to keep that going. Number two, they want to spread their economic and maybe increasingly
political influence around the world, which I don’t want to see happen but is certainly an understandable objective. They don’t set themselves the
goal of screwing the United States, per se. They set themselves the goal of establishing themselves as an equal and maybe someday a superior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That’s just a snippet of an interview we’re going to play later this week. But do you agree with that, that actually, under Xi Jinping,
China is determined to be even a greater force than the United States?
LAU: Well, I’m sure President Xi Jinping has that ambition, he thinks that China is a rising power and it should assume its rightful place in the
international community. And the trouble is, where there is a conduct of behavior that we expect from responsible members of the international
community, something like human rights, something like respect for the rule of law, and these things don’t exist in China.
And, Christiane, I don’t know whether you saw the news yesterday in New Zealand. New Zealand does not have an extradition arrangement with China,
but they can still, on a case by case basis, China asks for New Zealand to send a fugitive back, and that happened about five, six years ago.
The man was locked up and then recently it went — the government of New Zealand said, “Yes, we should send him back,” but it went to the Court of
Appeal and the judge said no. The judge asked the New Zealand government to think again because of the legal system in China, which is so bad. And
she fears that he would not get a fair trial. So, in New Zealand, you can see.
So, I mean, China has all these ambitions, which is fair enough if you’re a rising power. But come on, treat your people decently. I mean, respect
their human rights, respect the independence of the judiciary, let the lawyers be free to practice. Then, you can be a rightful member.
AMANPOUR: And I guess just to end this conversation, do you believe, once and for all, that one country, two systems is a dying idea, a dying
LAU: Well, you know we were a British colony. A few months ago, the House of Commons, Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report on Hong Kong and they
call this one country, two systems no more. They say it’s now one and a half systems. So, even according to British parliament, it’s dying, maybe
slowly or quickly. So, it is crumbling [13:15:00].
And we are only 22 years because they promised Britain and China, when they signed the joint declaration in 1984, they say we can have one country, two
systems. For 50 years after ’97 up to 2047. Now, it’s only two years and we are already one and a half system and some would say even less. So,
that’s why. You know, they are reneging on their promises, Britain and China.
And of course, Britain is embroiled in this Brexit thing. But still, even British people tell me, they say, “Emily, Britain has a responsibility for
the millions of British citizens in Hong Kong. They are called the British national overseas, the BNO.” And, Christiane, you know what it stands for?
It’s Britain says no. But now, these people are asking me to go and ask Britain to help them and Britain has a responsibility.
AMANPOUR: Well, we hear you loud and clear. Emily Lau, thank you very much for joining us from Hong Kong at this very critical time.
LAU: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, that was a really fierce and passionate defense of democracy. And we’re turning now to yet another group struggling to defend
democratic principles. Bellingcat, the investigative news collective of citizen journalists who use every available open digital resource to find
objective truth in a world where that is increasingly under attack.
And the group has some major journalistic coups to its credit. Identifying the culprits in the downing of the Malaysian Airlines Flight, MH17, and
tracing chemical attacks to the Assad regime in Syria. A new documentary called “Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World ” sets the group in the
broader context of the media universe, exploring how the culture of fake news took root and showing us how this group is standing up against it.
Eliot Higgins laid the groundwork for Bellingcat as a stay at home dad in Leicester (ph) in the middle of England. And he became an unlikely
forensic expert during the Syrian civil war. And Christiaan Triebert, he is a Bellingcat alumnus because he has joined the mainstream as he brings
open source investigative journalism of this kind into the hallowed halls of none other than the “New York Times.”
Wondered how long it would take the mainstream to gobble you guys up. But let us talk about what’s — what you have actually done and what you have
So, Eliot Higgins, welcome back. The first time we talked, you had a different name, it was called Brown Moses?
ELIOT HIGGINS, FOUNDER, BELLINGCAT: That’s right.
AMANPOUR: And you were really on the cutting edge of helping us figure out who was responsible for what during the Syria war and the height of the
Syria chemical attacks and all the rest of it, and you brought us stuff that journalists actually didn’t. In those intervening years, just
describe for us how you collected your collective, how you have done these things that have frankly outpaced many journalists.
HIGGINS: 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.
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
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 (ph), 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 and all there in the shadows is this missile launcher, which you focused on and
this is what led to knowing what it was.
Let me ask you, Christiaan, because you are Dutch and a majority of the people who were killed in that shootdown were actually from the Netherlands
and there was launched a massive investigation by the Netherlands and others, other government agencies, who had citizens who were also on that
plane. What did you feel about being involved in this? Was it sort of personal to you?
CHRISTIAAN TRIEBERT, JOURNALIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, I was still a student when I first heard of Brown Moses, of Eliot’s blog, and
which later become Bellingcat. And I wasn’t involved since the beginning. I was just really fascinated about the way that Eliot and Eric that was
mentioned and others within Bellingcat were figuring out the whole story about — around MH17.
And being a Dutch citizen, obviously, we followed it very closely in the Netherlands and that’s how I got really fascinated by this. And I did work
freelance in Syria and Iraq. And I was like, “Well, I’m on the ground but actually, these methods that Bellingcat is using, I can actually use that
here with air strikes.”
And I got more involved with other topics like air strikes, U.S. air strikes in the Middle East. And a year later, after MH17, I joined
Bellingcat. Eliot and others wrote me a message. And since that day and until I joined the “Times” it was basically day in, day out or I should
night in, night out, staring at my laptop all around the world and contributing as much as I could to the investigations of Bellingcat.
AMANPOUR: You just said, you know, you joined the “Times” and you have, you’re no longer with Bellingcat. You’re in the mainstream now. I mean,
essentially, this was, I guess, always going to be the case. The journalistic organizations, the big ones, that for some reason couldn’t
actually do this kind of reporting, and it wasn’t in their DNA to go open- source, have now taken you on.
What are you finding if at all different, Christiaan, from working for Bellingcat and working for the “New York Times”?
TRIEBERT: Well, I mean — what the interesting thing is that, I mean, this new kind of field of open-source investigation, I mean, Bellingcat is one
of the prime pioneers in this field, and I think has inspired lawmakers, human rights lawyers, and journalists alike to expand their toolbox. And I
think “The New York Times” has been one of the first, if not the first, medium that has really been willing to embrace these kinds of
investigations, and because it takes a lot of time, right? And you need to tell editors like, “Well, I’m going to maybe spend a day or two or maybe
even a week looking at my computer and maybe I don’t even find something.”
But they have been willing to invest in this kind of journalism, led by an Irish guy, to set up a team called Visual Investigations. Already a while
back, and that team is growing now. I was the fourth member to come on board, led by an Irish guy called Malachy Browne. And I think what is
really — I mean, for me, who was great to be joining from like a niche group like Bellingcat, to join, indeed, the mainstream media is that, well,
they already embrace these kind of investigations and where sometimes open- source investigation ends we can then use the resources on the ground to look further.
And I think the great thing is that you can see the influence of Bellingcat all around, not only in journalism but also in human rights activism and
even in international courts.
AMANPOUR: I mean, it is really remarkable. Just quickly, Eliot, just sum up. I mean, you found out that despite the Russian denials of having had
anything to do with this, I mean, ahead of the official investigation’s conclusion, you found out that?
HIGGINS: Well, first of all, we tracked the missile launcher through Ukraine to the likely launch site and then we examined the launch site and
we’re able to establish that, you know, lots of people were pointed to that direction as a [13:25:00] launch site. Then we were able to track the
missile launcher as it was being transferred through Russia to the border with Ukraine.
We tracked where it came from. We managed to actually discover all the members and the soldiers of that unit who was in the convoy that
transported it. In fact, next week, releasing a new report that identifies more of the people involved with the downing of MH17.
AMANPOUR: And these were pro-Kremlin separatists?
HIGGINS Yes. So, it’s a combination of the separatists in Eastern Ukraine as well as Russian backers, including the GRU supporting them.
AMANPOUR: So, I mean, we’re going to get to some criticism in a moment from those. But I just want to put something else out here that is truly
amazing in terms of figuring out what’s true and what’s not. So, in Iraq, you basically describe and you do an after action report on some video that
went kind of viral around the world of a suicide car bomb explosion, lots of dead people around, and this was picked up by the wires, it was picked
up by TV, it was picked up by “The New York Times” and it became gospel truth.
I’m going to play this clip and we’re all going to have a look at the extraordinary nature of, in fact, what you bothered to search and look for
and then we can discuss it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRIEBERT: This shows how important, but also how difficult fact-checking is. A day later, this suddenly appeared on the internet. So, this car
explored and there’s no one nearby. Now, look at what happens.
Now, look at what happens. These people are now taken away from the place where that car bomb exploded. Maybe they’re even taken to the hospital.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, you know, Christiaan was there narrating. It is bizarre. What caused you to go back? Let me ask you, Christiaan, since
you’re actually doing it there. What did — why did you even bother to look at this piece of video? What made you go back and look at it again?
TRIEBERT: Well, the very interesting thing is, even when I see it now, I’m like, “Whoa, that’s bizarre.” I saw it appearing on my timeline, on my
feed on Twitter, and some people were saying, “Hey, these are the Syrian White Helmets faking an attack.” And I was like, “That’s interesting.”
So, I started looking into it, “Hey, can I confirm this is in Syria or is it somewhere else?” And it took quite a lot of time to connect the dots
and eventually find out this is in Iraq, this is in Baghdad, and this was actually a reported car bomb attack and allegedly people died. And health
and security sources confirmed this. And I was like, “This is really weird.”
So, that’s like — that kind of fascination is what you need, I think, to figure out what is going on. And I think anybody with that fascination,
even people that are watching right now, if you have a laptop and if you have an internet connection and you’re fascinated or passionate about
something, you can do the same stuff. It’s like out there on the internet, and you just need the willingness to dig deeper.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you now are at the “New York Times,” you’re in the United States and you probably feel the pressure of your organization
that’s constantly under attack by the accusations of fake news, I mean, it was happening, you know, from the top levels of government not only in the
United States but elsewhere, to the — you know, against the most reputable news organizations.
How do you put this, what you’re doing now, in context? I mean, give us how you feel about what you are doing versus the fake news, fake
Although that was fake news.
TRIEBERT: Yes, I think what is very important is simply we start our investigations, whether it was with Bellingcat, whether it’s with “The New
York Times,” we investigate and it doesn’t really matter where the truth leads.
So, one time, like last week, we published on investigation which proved the U.S. military wrong. They denied twice that they conducted an air
strike, which we believed killed 11 — a woman and 11 children. And after an investigation, they changed their story and they actually admitted that
they conducted the air strike but they still denied the civilian casualties. But in another example, we will just — we start an
investigation and we don’t know where it ends. So, when there was an eight convoy allegedly set on fire by pro Maduro security forces in the border
between Venezuela and Colombia, people were fast to jump to conclusions that these pro Maduro forces were responsible.
But the investigation showed that it were actually the anti-Maduro protesters that accidentally, probably, threw a Molotov cocktail that went
apart and fell on one of the aid convoys. So that was maybe not a very popular conclusion but we would still publish it because wherever the truth
So I think one of the antidotes to the kind of fake news era is just like we will investigate anything, and wherever it leads. And whether it’s
Bellingcat’s, whether it will be a human rights watch, whether it will be a “New York Times,” I think the more people will engage in this kind of
investigations, the better it is.
AMANPOUR: You know, it’s very interesting that you say that. And Elliot, because obviously, you’ve heard that those who oppose what you’re reporting
and publicizing say, “Oh, they’re just a tool of the U.S. and the U.K. and the West.”
So, I think you know, just to have an example, at least one or maybe more, in fact, including Venezuela, of actually the other side also being outed
is very, very interesting. I want to play this bit from the Syrian representative at the U.N. in response to all these things that you
discovered about Syria, chemical weapons, et cetera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The delegation stating unfounded allegations against my country are depending on amateur bloggers and videos. And among one of
them is a very famous British citizen called Elliot Higgins whose online inputs about the situation in Syria are intensively yet mistakenly adopted
by my media outlets as well as governments.
Higgins’ analysis of Syrian weapons began as a hobby, out of his home in his spare time. Higgins has no background or training in weapons and is
entirely self-taught. And he said before the Arab Spring, I knew no more about weapons than the average Xbox owner. I had no knowledge beyond what
I had learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I can see a smile on your face. I mean there are two things there, the armchair general, the stay at home dad. I mean even we said
that you were a stay at home dad. I don’t know how that goes down.
But what do you say to the obvious pushback, that you guys are just amateurs, what are you doing identifying weapons and weapons systems and
HIGGINS: Well, when I started off doing this, I very systematically taught myself kind of almost weapon by weapon in Syria what these things were,
looking at tiny details. One good example is early 2013, I discovered weapons being smuggled to the Syrian rebels.
And one of the weapons was a type of grenade launcher. I had a copy that was very, very similar so I spent weeks looking for one photograph that
showed a single bolt and one of these grenade launchers to prove it was one type or another. So that kind of obsessiveness over the details is how I
And then I spoke to arms experts and went on from there. But the way we work is because we’re using open source information, we can share the
information we’re using.
We aren’t saying we have this secret sauce. We’re saying here’s the photograph, here’s, you know, another reference image, here’s satellite
imagery, here’s all the information you need.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about you also broke the story of the identity of what turned out to be Russians of the GRU, the military, the intelligence
there, who were responsible for the Novichok poison chemical attack against the Skripals here in the U.K.
Again, Russia, President Putin denied it. And you came out with their names, their faces, their identities, and traced them back to the Russian
Some people have pushed back on how you use personal data that was available in Russia, passports, names, all sorts of personal data. Is that
going too far, to publicize that kind of stuff? How did you even get it?
HIGGINS: Well, I think, in this case, about 95 percent of that investigation was through open sources but we got to the point where we had
a really good idea of who it was but we needed to go an extra step to get a photograph of this person.
The only way that was possible, considering these are GRU agents, so not people who are posting on Facebook very regularly, we had to basically use
the kind of gray market in Russia to get a copy of their passports.
Now, some people have said well, you must have just been browsing through all the photographs and samples that was a match but the documents we had
were literally the first best guesses and they matched perfectly to who we were looking for.
But this was a very exceptional case. Normally, we wouldn’t go that far but because of the severity of the case, the unusual kind of, you know,
aspect of the case, it was really our only option to conclude it.
AMANPOUR: So now you’ve basically exploded from a guy with a little website, Brown Moses, to a guy with several people at Bellingcat, a film
being made about you, major scoops and major resolutions [13:35:00] of these investigations before the official government investigations and
Who funded you? How do you even do this? Where was the money to have Christiaan traveling around the Middle East and Timmy in Germany and the
others who are profiled and you yourself?
HIGGINS: So, initially, when I launched Bellingcat, I ran a kick starter campaign that raised about 60,000 pounds. They’re not a massive amount of
money but that was enough to pay for the Web site and my own wage.
And then over time, if you’ve ever worked in an organization that has to raise funds and you go to funders and they say, “Do you have any money?”
And you say no. And they’ll say, “Well, we can’t give you money then.”
So that kick starter amount allowed us to be funded so we’re currently funded by groups like the Open Society Foundations in Netherlands and
Porticus, the National Endowment for Democracy. But also about 50 percent of our income comes from workshops we run.
And what we’re trying to do, it’s in a way the way the media has changed and because we have this funding from these sources and because we have our
workshops that we run, rather than having to get stuff out constantly to get advertising revenue, we can take our time and do investigations and we
have people who have worked five years on the MH-17 investigation and are still working on it because they have the flexibility to do that at
AMANPOUR: Very quickly, Facebook, which has been under huge criticism for not deleting bad stuff, for allowing, you know, all sorts of inappropriate
information, has deleted graph search function. You are not happy about that. It makes it harder for people to find and access information.
In a sense, you’re sort of working at cross purposes with those who are fed up with Facebook’s, you know, I guess, not having stepped up to the plate
to stop some of the predatory behavior but you need it.
HIGGINS: I feel sorry for Facebook because they can’t win because they try to crack down on the privacy issue and it affects all these open source
investigators. So graph search allows us to do advanced searches that help with our investigations into air strikes.
So many people have been affected by this but we hope that we can talk to – – communicate with Facebook, explain our position. I hope we come to a resolution that helps the privacy advocates and also the open source
AMANPOUR: Amazing story. Really well done. “Bellingcat” the film is now out. “Truth in a Post-Truth World.” Elliot Higgins, Christiaan Triebert,
thank you both very very much indeed for joining me.
And now we move on to the Catholic Church, almost two decades after the sex abuse horrors were brought to light, a new Pew poll finds almost 70 percent
of U.S. Catholics say abuse by the clergy is an ongoing problem. The poll also found more than a quarter say they’re skipping church more often and
pulling back on their donations because of this scandal.
Author James Carroll is one of the disillusioned but he is no ordinary churchgoer. He is a former priest and he now has this radical idea for how
the church can save itself, abolish the priesthood altogether. Our Michel Martin digs in.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: James Carroll, thank you so much for talking with us.
JAMES CARROLL, CATHOLIC SCHOLAR/JOURNALIST: My privilege, Michel.
MARTIN: Your piece, “Abolish the Priesthood”, posted a couple of weeks ago now, and almost immediately there was this very emotional and angry
reaction. And I was wondering what you make of it.
CARROLL: Well, I’m not surprised. I’m proposing something that sounds radical. I’m calling for a fundamental change in the structure of the way
the Catholic Church is organized, understands itself, in a way that focuses on the single most central figure in the church, the priest.
And to call for the abolition of the priesthood, by which I mean the dismantling of the structure of the priesthood as we know it, seems
especially to priests to be a kind of assault on them individually. So, a good bit of the pushback was from priests who felt insulted by what I was
MARTIN: This notion, the central notion of your piece, that the priesthood must be abolished in its current form, what was the breaking point for you?
CARROLL: Well, the breaking point came last summer when there was an avalanche of fresh new wave of scandalous revelations about the church, the
grand jury findings in Pennsylvania. There were civil actions against the church in Germany.
There were U.S. attorneys and district attorneys and attorneys general bringing charges against the church in diocese around the United States.
And then for me, there was the climactic visit of Pope Francis to Ireland which took place at the end of last summer.
Ireland is ground zero of the church abuse scandal. Almost every family in Ireland has some intimate connection with a victim. The Catholic Church
has been devastated in Ireland.
When Pope Francis went there, I expected a kind of major signal of reckoning with this. Why go to Ireland and pretend that’s not — that’s
not what’s been [13:40:00] happening?
And he went to Ireland and expressed what felt like bromides of shame and sorrow but no signal of reckoning, no indication of a new structure of
accountability, no looking hard at the ways in which cover-up bishops are still not held accountable, no looking hard at severe and real and lasting
penalties for predator priests.
So, Pope Francis’s failure to reckon with this scandal in Ireland was the breaking point for me because I so admire Pope Francis. He has been the
center of my hope as a Catholic now for most of a decade.
And when a revolutionary figure like him shows signs of being in the grip of clericalism, which I identify
as the problem, that tells you how deeply into the imagination of the church clericalism goes. Francis, too, is at the mercy of it.
And when I realized that, when I saw it in a way I couldn’t deny, I began this journey into what I’m calling my own fast and abstinence from normal
practice of the church as a way of refusing to go on with business as usual as a Catholic.
MARTIN: You write that clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny and its hierarchical power is at the root of Roman
Catholic dysfunction. Talk to me about that, if you would.
What is clericalism for people who are not familiar with it? Why is it at the root?
CARROLL: It’s the basic idea that priests are in a different category of being. They’re above us.
When a priest is defrocked, what do they say? He’s reduced to the lay state. He’s brought down to be like the rest of us.
This notion of priests as a caste apart, especially when it’s built on the denigration of sexuality, the symbol of that is mandatory celibacy, as if
sexual activity on the part of priests would somehow make them impure. And clericalism is also built on the all-male character of the priesthood,
which is especially outrageous because it’s a grievous offense against justice.
It’s a way of essentially denying the equality of women in the church, in the human species. Why aren’t more Catholics enraged, protesting this
unjust exclusion of women from the priesthood?
If the Catholic Church said that black people can’t be priests, what would the world reaction be? The world would not tolerate it. It’s not the same
to say women can’t be priests but it’s akin to it.
And the world deflects that. Essentially, the Catholic Church deflects it and priests deflect it. Women are equal to men.
Hello? Is this a moment when we can reckon with that in a new way? I hope so. Why does the Catholic Church exempt from that reckoning?
MARTIN: Well, I think then, some might argue then the answer is not to abolish the priesthood but to include women, right, but that’s not what
CARROLL: Well, if you include women, if you include married people, if you remove the identification of clerical power from sacramental ministry,
these are elements of a reconstituted priesthood, a dismantling of the priesthood as we know it.
I’m not calling for the end of sacraments. I’m not calling for the end of the mass. These are the central, core elements of the Catholic faith.
There will always be the mass. There will always be someone enabling the mass to take place. Does it have to be a member of this pyramid of power
that is by definition denigrating of women, denigrating of people who are not clergy?
The pope at the top, bishops at the next level, priests at the next level, and down here, the population of lay people? No, the church is the people.
And a priesthood that reflects that basic truth would look very different from the priesthood we have now.
MARTIN: So, I want to go to some of the criticisms of your piece. Your theology is flawed. You’re mad because people don’t listen to you, et
But there was this argument that look, if — as you’ve said yourself, a small minority of people, even though the number is large in the aggregate,
the harm is very large in the aggregate, it’s a minority of priests. So, one argument is that if the problem was a structural, as endemic to the
priesthood as you say, it would be larger. What would you say to that?
CARROLL: Well, I’m not saying that priests are more inclined to abuse children than [13:45:00] other people. The most dangerous place in the
world for children is their family, uncles, boyfriends, parents abuse children.
So, I don’t want to be understood as saying priests are especially dangerous. The signal of dysfunction comes, yes, from the misbehavior, the
predatory behavior of priests, which is, frankly, in a category of its own because of the claims we Catholics make for priests.
But the real signal of dysfunction is what happens when abusive priests are uncovered and when the vast majority of bishops, a minority of predators,
the vast majority of bishops protect the predator instead of the children. Look, if it weren’t for the press and now law enforcement, the abusive
behavior of that minority of priests would still be going on. It would still be covered up and the bishops would still be enabling it.
That’s the signal of a grotesque dysfunction of the whole structure of clericalism, that pyramid I’m talking about.
MARTIN: I do understand your argument but if you’ll indulge me —
CARROLL: Sure, sure, sure.
MARTIN: — I do want to hear a little bit more about you for people who aren’t familiar with you.
CARROLL: Of course.
MARTIN: You were born a Catholic. You embraced the church through your entire childhood and frankly, you made the very specific and difficult
decision to join the priesthood or maybe it wasn’t a difficult decision. I was wondering what attracted you to the priesthood, to begin with.
CARROLL: Well, I was a religious boy, raised in a — I hesitate to use the word devout, make it sound like my parents were pious, they weren’t. But I
was raised in a solidly Catholic family, Irish Catholic.
The church was at the center of our family life. For God and country, that was my father’s motto and I took it in.
It was very natural for me as a child to look up to the priests. The priest was the source of consolation, encouragement, affirmation, meaning,
especially for us Irish Catholics.
I loved being a Catholic priest. I was lucky because I was a priest during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement. I was recruited into it,
challenged in my conservative and racist upbringing. It was the heyday of the Peace Movement.
I grew up in the military. My dad was in the military. I became a part of the Peace Movement.
All of that because I was in the seminary and the priesthood. The Catholic priesthood gave me my stance on life to which I am trying to be faithful
And when I left the priesthood after a mere five years, I found it possible to embrace my Catholic identity in a new and equally firm way and I’ve been
a Catholic all these years.
MARTIN: Would the Catholic Church be Catholic without priests?
CARROLL: It would be different. The form the priesthood will take after this crisis is unpredictable in some ways.
There will still be people presiding at, enabling the sacraments. There will — they will be, in my own view, they will come from the community,
but they won’t be bureaucrats in the power structure of a futile and monarchical church.
That’s what the priesthood has become. That’s what the priesthood is now. The priesthood as we know it owes more to the middle ages and to the Roman
empire than it does to the Gospel.
Look, one of the ways in which I’m criticized is to say, well, he just wants the church to be a democracy. Well, actually, that’s true.
I think that — I don’t mean by that it has to go by majority rule but the values of liberal democracy need to be brought into the life of the church,
transparency, accountability, radical commitment to the equality of every member of the community. None of those three things are characteristic of
the Catholic Church today.
MARTIN: Other denominations, if I may say, that are more democratic than the Catholic Church are also struggling.
MARTIN: And they are struggling with people who have abused the vulnerable. They are struggling with impulses that many people consider
anti-LGBT, OK? So what I’m saying is democracy doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a more humane, inclusive approach, right?
CARROLL: No, but it lends itself to structures of self-criticism and ways of reckoning with the flaws that are part of every institution. I’m not
foolishly calling for a perfect institution.
[13:50:00] There would be no place in it for me if it were perfect. Believe me. I’m calling for an institution that is capable of correcting
Three weeks ago, the Vatican issued the long-awaited new policy on how to deal with the abuse by clergy of children and it’s yet another failure of
self-correction. Most powerfully symbolized by the fact that it requires the reporting of allegations of abuse but to church officials, not to civil
I beg your pardon. This is the end of this long process we’ve been going through for years. The bishops are finally going to tell us how they’re
going to do it and the way they’re going to do it is report allegations to other bishops, bishops looking after bishops.
I beg your pardon. This is an institution that still is not showing signs of being able to be self-critical and change and that’s what I’m looking
MARTIN: How do you feel now that you put this before the public? I know that you have been sort of grieving, privately, for some time.
CARROLL: I feel two things. I’m quite distressed to have come to this place because I am a practicing Catholic or I have been.
I’m insisting now on my Catholic identity but in a new way. It’s — there’s a kind of loneliness of the exile. That’s what I feel.
But I feel something else, more powerfully. I feel that this is a turning point moment in the history of the church. This is a moment of full
revelation of the dysfunction.
It’s blatantly obvious. And one of the signs of that is the way in which so many people are walking away from the church.
I think those people are still Catholics. And I think they’re walking away as an affirmation of value and I’m inviting them to continue to think of
themselves as Catholic even if they don’t want to submit to the disciplines of the bishop or the clericalists.
MARTIN: And you said yourself —
CARROLL: In other words, I feel like this is a moment of grace for the church because the truth is that — is the beginning of real authentic
change and we’re seeing the truth of the church’s condition now.
MARTIN: I’m reminded of –I don’t know who was the author of this. I sort of think of it as the underdog’s creed.
First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Do you envision that in your lifetime, things will change?
CARROLL: Well, I don’t see winning. But even the priests and the critics who are pushing back at what I’m saying have to reckon with the problem I’m
lifting up and to which I’m responding, however imperfectly.
They have to reckon with it. And the fact that the Vatican has yet to fully begin to reckon with this problem only is going to force the issue
The single largest reason I have hope for institutional change is the power of the feminist revolution. I wouldn’t presume to speak for women. But I
am a feminist and I have been brought through feminists to understand the urgent importance of affirming the equality of women in every sphere.
And clericalism is built on the affirmation of the inequality of women. Clericalism is an institution of male supremacy.
The Catholic priesthood is an institution of male supremacy. That’s the single largest point about it.
And my hope, of course, is that the Catholic priesthood will not be the only institution on the planet that is able to push back and stand up
against the feminist revolution. Women are simply too powerful for that to happen.
MARTIN: There are those who would say, join another religious group, become an Episcopalian.
CARROLL: Yes, it’s true.
MARTIN: There are women priests. There are women bishops.
CARROLL: It’s true.
MARTIN: And there’s a —
CARROLL: And I fully respect the impulse to move to another denomination and many Catholics I know have quite happily. My wife’s an Episcopalian.
I’ve often worshipped with Episcopalians.
I have a kind of home feeling for the Episcopal Church which does embody many of the values I’m calling for with Rome but my Catholicism is in my
marrow. If I had left the church and was hurling my criticisms from outside of it, they would mean something different.
I’m declaring my loyalty to this [13:55:00] institution, but I’m a conscientious objector to it. That’s different than someone who’s left the
country. So that’s my largest reason for not leaving the country.
MARTIN: James Carroll, thank you so much for talking with us.
CARROLL: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
And that is it for our program tonight.
Thank you for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS.
Join us again tomorrow night.