How Online Sleuths Pantsed Putin

It turns out you can use a prank call to expose suspected poisoners, mole patterns to identify a violent demonstrator at a white nationalist rally and online videos to reveal a weapons-smuggling operation to Syrian rebels.

At least, Eliot Higgins and the online sleuths at the open source investigative operation Bellingcat can. Since Higgins founded the organization in 2014, his team has helped break major stories, from unearthing evidence that ties Russia to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to revealing the identities of Russian agents suspected of poisoning the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

In this conversation, Kara Swisher asks Higgins about the perils of taking on Vladimir Putin and how Bellingcat’s work, which Kara calls “gumshoe journalism,” differs from online vigilantism. She presses Higgins on the ethics of paying for data, partnering with political figures like Navalny and building a company that benefits from the shaky relationship Big Tech has with user privacy.

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more information for all episodes at, and you can find Kara on Twitter @karaswisher.

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