Eliot Higgins has no need for a flak jacket, nor does he carry himself with the bravado of a war reporter. As an unemployed finance and admin worker his expertise lies in compiling spreadsheets, not dodging bullets. He has never been near a war zone. But all that hasn’t stopped him from breaking some of the most important stories on the Syrian conflict in the last year.
His work on analysing Syrian weapons, which began as a hobby, is now frequently cited by human rights groups and has led to questions in parliament. Higgins’ latest discovery of a new batch of Croatian weapons in the hands of Syrian rebels appears to have blown the lid on a covert international operation to arm the opposition.
And he’s done it all, largely unpaid, from a laptop more than 3,000 miles away from Damascus, in his front room in a Leicester suburb…
…The conflict in Syria has been extremely difficult and dangerous for conventional media organisations to cover. But the slew of YouTube footage from citizen journalists has opened up a new way of monitoring what’s happening for those such as Higgins who are dedicated and meticulous enough to sift through it…
…The New York Times veteran war reporter CJ Chivers, author of The Gun: the story of the AK47, says fellow journalists should be more honest about the debt they owe to Higgins’ Brown Moses blog. “Many people, whether they admit or not, have been relying on that blog’s daily labour to cull the uncountable videos that circulate from the conflict,” he says.
Chivers acknowledged that Higgins was on to the Croatian arms story weeks before the New York Times. He and Higgins then worked together to develop the story, with Chivers rooting out extra details about how the weapons were financed.
According to Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, Brown Moses “represents an important development in arms monitoring, which used to be the domain of a few secretive specialists with access to the required and often classified reference materials.”
So Brown Moses isn’t black, or Jewish, and he’s not a war reporter. He’s not even an arms merchant. He seems to be one of those British ‘enthusiasts,’ like these Rail fans or Ian of Ian’s Shoelace Site. If this is where this kind of hobby leads, more power to them.
Hopefully he’ll start getting paid for this.