86: Alex Gibney & Trevor Birney, Wanted in Belfast
Welcome to peer nonfiction. The podcast interviewing documentary film-makers. I'm Tom powers the documentary programmer for the Toronto international film festival and artistic director of the dock NYC festival. On this episode. I talked director, Alex Gibney and Belfast producer Trevor Bernie. They've collaborated on several projects including mea, maxima culpa about sex abuse in the Catholic church and an ESPN thirty for thirty short called ceasefire massacre their most recent film Knowstone unturned examines an unsolved case of mass murder in Northern Ireland. The film uses documents leaked from police investigation. Now the police are pushing back against the filmmakers on August thirty. First police raided the Belfast homes and office of Bernie and journalist. Barry McCaffrey Bernie describes the aggressive tactics. They had a warrant to search a bit like our home that a warrant to search anything that was in relation to Newsom unturned. And but when they got to the office just like our home, they decided then if is a drag. Cnet search, and they began to go through everyone's desk, everyone's drawers. They began taken away computers from people who absolutely no relation to the film. Alex Gibney who's based in New York is also wanted for questioning. When I heard about what. What happens to Trevor to berry and also the fact that I was suspected it, it raised concerns about a growing atmosphere of attempted intimidation of journalists and filmmakers. Gibney has a long track record of telling stories, concealed by governments, his Oscar winning film taxi to the dark side, investigated US lead torture programs. We steal secrets, looked at Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and zero days exposed US cyber-attacks Guinea spoke about zero days. I'm Pierre nonfiction episodes sixteen in the case of Knowstone unturned. The backdrop is Northern Ireland's long conflict known as the troubles for decades, Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups waged war against each other until a peace. Accord with signed in nineteen ninety eight. No stone unturned focuses on an incident in nineteen. Ninety four when members of the Protestant alster volunteer forces or UVF targeted Catholic pub in the rural town of lockin island. Pub goers were watching a World Cup soccer match on TV when three UVF members pulled up in a car. There was a driver, a man who held the door and a third man who fired automatic weapon, killing six billions and injuring five tank was over in seconds. All six men who died, what Catholics, the eldest, Bonnie green was eighty-seven. Is nephew Don. McLean was fifty nine perished with him. The other victims were father of four Ayman berm father of three. Malcolm jenkinson father of two Adrian Rogan. I'm single and Patrick o. Han. The attack appeared to be revenge for the murder of three UVF members killed by Catholic paramilitaries few days earlier, even by the standards of violence in Northern Ireland. The lockin island massacre was shocking at the time. The secretary of state for Northern Ireland vowed that thorns would bring the perpetrators to Justice. Who have killed these people you're going to be caught sooner or later the are. You'll see never give up and you will be caught and you will spend long as interesting. Thank you. But that didn't happen twenty four years later. No one has been brought to Justice. No stone unturned documents, shoddy police investigation in which evidence was destroyed and key suspects were barely questioned years later, the police ombudsman investigated whether there was a cover up to protect an informant. Guinea is two nations at trying to expose the names of the accused perpetrators in the film. He describes his obstacles into turning point, but the investigators weren't taunting to protect witnesses. They were willing to tell us the plot of the story, not the names of the characters. So the Ombudsman's investigation was a bewildering thick of letters and numbers personality personnel, police officer, twelve. These people. The answer came in the form of another anonymous tip. In two thousand eleven somewhat upset by the lockin island cover up leaked document to journalists. Barry McCaffrey, the document came through the post. I still don't know to this day what pricked somebody's conscience that descend. Maybe it was the fact that the the new we were working on on on the story. The the families were getting me answers HUD and been given the answers. With that document and others, McCaffrey and Gibney were able to identify the three suspects who all remain at large today. The alleged shooter still lives in lockin island alongside the victim's relatives. In the film, McCaffrey tells Gibney how he confronted the main police investigator Albert Carroll who now lives in retirement. I got the distinct impression that Mr. Carl wanted to know more what we knew him than what he was going to tell us about locking. Did you show Albert Carol, the leaked report in which he was named? Yes. What was his reaction when he saw how much he knew about his world? Shit himself. He was very defensive. Yeah, he was very defensive in the. No stone unturned was released a year ago. You can watch it on. I tunes Amazon and other platforms, but instead of prompting arrests of the suspected killer's it led to the arrests of the documentary team less than two months ago on August thirty. First last week, I invited Gibney and producer, Trevor Bernie to screen the film at New York's IFC center afterwards. We discussed it in front of a live audience. I asked Bernie to describe his background and that of Barry McCaffrey, they've both worked for multiple outlets including the investigative news website, the detail dot TV. I think Bari and I probably have a very similar career trajectory and that we've been immersed in covering the troubles from probably the mid-eighties Bari worked in newspapers, and I worked in newspapers and. Covering issues such as lockin island and and seminar issues. So it was Bari really, who came to me, I and began to talk to me about it. And then he'd been talking to lock and relatives of the the people who died in about two thousand eleven. We had established the deal taught dot TV, which is which was funded by an organization at a New York call Atlantic philanthropies, a philanthropic organization and pari come to work for us. And when he came to work for seats began Tolkien about locking island and something very close to because he had relatives who lived on in the area. Mozelle. Alex had just been working on maxima culpa at the time. And then Alex is going to say, let them into. Story that still ongoing many years later, but I began to talk to Ali buttered, and we could see the cinematic value in this story and the importance of the story. So Bari has been around and is very well known journalist in in Belfast in lockin. Anna's come to be very much a central part of his work. So Alex, you got drawn into the story through Trevor. You did a short for ESPN called the ceasefire massacre about the World Cup game that was taking place on the day. This massacre took place, and I've heard you describe that. You're not only drawn to the story as you say in the film be because of the the obvious emotions that are stirred by the story. But I've heard you describe that. You also. See it as representing. Wider implications for the way Justice is served? Well, not only just this acerbic you know, how do we reckon with the past. And. I think for those of us who live here, you know, the the cabinet hearings would certainly be a reminder of that. But I think the past in a way is unless you reckon with unless you find a way to deal with it comes back to haunt you on expected ways. And so particularly with something like the troubles, you know, if you leave matters unresolved and Justice is not done, and the truth is not told, you know it, it it haunts the victims and and the society around it. And so that seemed to me to be something that was both peculiar to lock in island and and the troubles, but also more universal. It's something we all grapple with. And the other aspect of it was interesting to me was that. Very often. Governments have a vested interest in making sure that the past stays buried that we move on to the future. So as the President Obama famously said in trying to reckon with the torture debate, he said, well, it's it's better to go forward rather than back. Let's not look back. Let's let's for which if you think about it much as I'm missed President Obama now, nevertheless, you know, that wouldn't be much of a comfort to victims of murder. It's like, well, let's just move forward. Let's forget about the past. So you know, I think understanding and figuring out how to reckon with those issues was was an important part of of of doing this film in addition to being moved by the struggle of the families just to find out what happened. So I wanna come in two minutes to what took place just a couple months ago around this film, but let me ask first, the film was. Released last year start the New York Film festival, I think, played at the London Film Festival and is now available widely. What was the reaction to to people who have followed this case? The fact that you're finally naming the names of the alleged killers. The story was from bad news for for at least several days and in northern and the fact that we'd neom these guys and. Was from news for for several days on in lockin island. The nearest cinema I think was sold for four weeks after the release of the film and and November last year which can indicates just about the local interest was so yeah, it it. It was significant. There is always concerned about naming suspects, sticky, Northern Ireland. The BBC has has neom d- just recently, there's been the name of the the people who are responsible for the Birmingham volunteer back in the seventies. There's been memes associated with the almo bombing than nineteen ninety. Another atrocity in which twenty nine people into on born twins, died on. So this isn't something you. I think that what really affected people was the way that Alex had put together the film on the par in the film on the the the, what the storytelling that he had brought to it. And I think that. I think even those more season doc, you know, people who documented the troubles in northern were surprised by the film and just the level of knowledge in the levels of evidence that we will bring it on. I think that that impacted in and kind of calls a snowball effect in, and you know, it just built and built and built over the the weeks after the film was released. So yeah, I think that an and from that, the relatives brought huge of comfort and the fact that for the first time they felt that the story had been told completely that that everyone knew what they knew and what their live with for the previous twenty two or twenty three years at that stage that everyone was aware that the people who actually were suspected of killing relatives lived on the road lived within a three or four mile radius on that. They had lived with this shadow for all that time on. Yet they had shown incredible dignity and respect, and and there hadn't been as much as a an insult hold at these people despite what the perpetrated. So I think that there was a shock value despite Northern Ireland has come through thirty years of conflict. I think there was a real shock factor with the phone on. I think that that was represented by the response to it in in the days when we offer its release. Let me just follow up that very briefly. I mean, you know, I embarked on this begs to thanks, Trevor. Not expecting to solve the murder order order. Become as close to solving the murders. I think it's possible for people who are not part of the law enforcement community, and it's Tobare it's to Trevor's great credit and Barry's, great credit. You know, in terms of the Spade work that they had done to help us, you know, get to that point that that we really were able to solve it in a way that I think is pretty compelling compelling enough to embarrass the authorities about why they didn't get there. So so that I think was was interesting in and of itself and surprising. The other thing I think that we should point out was that part of what we did in the making of the film was to make sure that we went to the Ombudsman's office and also the police in Northern Ireland to let them know that we were going to name names. And if there was any concern by the police that they felt that you know those suspects might be. Risk they could take steps to do so or they could take steps to try to join the film if they felt it was necessary. So we, we were pretty assiduous even though you know, the families hadn't gone Justice for many years. We were pretty assiduous about trying to protect the rights of those accused. So let's talk about what happened on August thirty first of this year. Trevor can. Can you describe what took place. Well, the the last weekend in August is, is a Bank holiday weekend and the UK an Ireland and. We woke up at about five to seven on the Friday morning on my wife actually saw was on coming to wrap the door, looking for money look into bed, and she opened the window and said on my call, there's a lot of cars in the drive, and then there's a lot of police cars drive. Why are the police there? And I have to say majorly knew that it was Judah, Alex Gibney in the lock and film and thought, what time is in New York? Can I ring. On worrying about what was happening in New Jersey at the same time. But anyway, I as I immediately, I said, listen, it's it's locking island. So she been done and open the door. And I would try to run your lawyer and Cam through how many police will we. We reckon there was at least somewhere between twenty five thirty police fully armed in, you know, fully kitted for a search with kind of boiler suits and guns. And at the same time or roughly on the same day, similar visit was taking place very McCain, Bari by my husband's full of sort of five kids for adult Spar as a single man living sort of a three miles away from me on. I'd no idea. I'm in of a suspected. I was worried for everyone else who was involved in the film when I. Was going through the right trying to rationalize what was going on working out. You know, there's, there's. There's several other people within our company that don't wanna neom who are involved in thinking, I'm thinking, oh my God. Are they doing this to everybody? Or is this just me or who else is in fulled and then suddenly pleased. We're going through the bedrooms and I wanted to get dressed, and they said, no, you can't dress in your own and had to send per some poor and fortunate young policeman up to watch me getting dressed and brush my teeth and getting chard didn't chart to to brush my teeth and wash and get ready. So on the relatives from London that they were there, they were watching all this going on. I think at that stage they felt that we were some sort of drug dealers or money launders or something. And I remember the Gallagher, the guy GM's my nephew go, and you must be some sort of fucking this. Can't happen over a film. Why were police consider the doors on? I mean there were there were also the same number of people over Barry's house. Yes, yes. So the same. Number of people who are barring house, then our office time Belfast they were going. They were going through the doors there as well total. What do you reckon hominy we've calculated in bringing together. There's over at least one hundred police officers involved on the day three sites in my Heison Bari's. So Bari thought Barry told me later he he'd been through the summer expense and he just thought they were coming to search the high. So he can listen when you're finished and search through the keys through the door and they said, no, no, no, you're not going away. We're arresting. So the rested Bari and I was arrested in my living room on. You were questioned for the length of the day. We were taken away and by, you know, instead of leaving off my daughter at school by twenty pasta in the morning. I was in a police sale where I was left and for four hours. On then I was taken out of there on brought to a series of interviews across the next six hours which you know were were were complete sham on. I only realized when I was brought from this sale at, I can look run some left on. I could see a pair of boots that I recognize Bari McCaffrey's boots that he normally wears. So I knew then, okay. So Barry's here and I don't know who else was going to be right on. We're in this holding center of fifty sales on the. They had cleared everybody else to the left at just for the two of us to be comfortable on. So we spent about fifteen hours in the police station, but on but notes to me, then they were onto my lawyer arrived. They were in our offices in again about thirty or forty police officers arrived at the office at about eight AM on. They had a warrant to search bid like our home that had a warrant to search anything that was in relation to Newsom turned on. But when they got the office just like our home. They decided then it was a dragnet search and they began to go through everyone's desk. Everyone's drawers. They began taken away computers from people who up Sidley no relation to the film. They the most invasive thing is that that then said they were one of the take away our server. Now we have a company about fifteen years. Everything on the server linked to. Films are making a Colombian Honduras and an all over the world that they sucked every single item out of the server over the course of the fifteen hours. In fact, leaving you a copy or just they wanted to take the server itself except art, our our colleagues really stop themselves and said, no, listen, you can't take the server and we're making a film street gangs and some Pedrosa lower. There are people who are omitting to murder and who are on mast in their mosques and we couldn't. So they were trying to protect all of the sources and all the people who've been very, very brave enough to speak to Seoul. Ron pause you there just because I want to make uses time, Alex. Let me turn to you. I know that your lawyers have been in touch with authorities in the UK. What if those conversations been like? Well, I followed the lead of of. Of Trevor and Barry, I mean, we learned by I learned by Trevor and Barry. I mean, I was on my when I heard about this. I, I was in Moscow on my way back home. I heard about the airport and it started tweeting. But I, I learned that. There were charges being considered. Nobody's been charged with anything yet, but there are charges being considered relating to the theft of documents and also possibly as I understand it. The official secrets act violation of the official secrets act. So. Which can lead to a term of up to two years in prison. Now, I had that been meted out to journalists and in recent memory, there have been attempts very few attempts to go after journalists and onto the facial secrets. But there were some attempts on on on Thatcher's time on. There was a famous Kias were off the falcons war. Somebody leaked talking to journalists and the guardian on. They tried to go after them, but every attempt on the Fisher secrets actors afield, which means. Makes us even more inexplicable why the hell they're doing this. So anyway. Not too long. After this I knew I had to go to London part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland is. And so I did. I had to hire a lawyer and find out indeed whether or not I was a suspect is I've been told it likely I was, and indeed the police confirmed that I was also a suspect and they wanted, and they were planning to arrest me. It would have been awkward if you had to take refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy alongside Julian Assange the subject of your previous I, I knew that one was crowded. I was looking around for another possibility. Columbia might have been available. It's hard to know. And indeed I should note that the the firm that I hired originally represented Julian Assange. So that was a nice bit of harmony. I mean, Alex, it makes me think of a recent film of yours zero days which was which was uncovering. Documents that the US government had not previously made public about the nitro Zeus program the cyber attack America's cyber attack on Iran, when you were dealing with those kinds of. Leaked documents. How does that case compared to this one? Well, those weren't documents that was testimony. But in any event, you know, also, in that case, you know, we made it known to the US government that we had this information artists bozo and said, you know. You know if. If there's any reason you feel there should be harmed. They would cause people harm or put people in harm's way you should let us know. We never heard from them, but you know, let's just say that Jim Reisen also was leaned on pretty heavily the New York Times New York Times reporter to give up his sources. And there was a brief period where the Obama administration was considering going after. I believe it was a an AP reporter also with the for the purpose of trying to make them reveal sources because you know, part of the essence of this is. Filmmakers, journalists get leaked material or find out information from people which is classified or secret, but may be in the public interest. And you know, journalists serving important role in terms of trying to show that sometimes governments keep secrets for reasons that are not good. They're not protecting people, in fact, except for the government officials who've done corrupt things so. But for that reason, governments tend to want to go after not only leakers but increasingly journalists. And so when I heard about what would happen to two Trevor into berry and also the fact that I was suspected it, it raised concerns about a growing atmosphere of attempted intimidation of journalists and filmmakers. So in the case of Knowstone unturned, and this questioning this investigation. What do you think is going on here in in your film now a year ago, you've name some names. These were names that were already known to the authorities because the documents your reporting on and our documents that the authorities have. Why year later. Do you think there's been pressure put on this case. Well, the thing Northern Ireland's. Conflict was supposed to end with the nineteen ninety eight Good Friday agreement. But unfortunately, conflict as being is still continuing bail. The means and I think that there are still many people in the shadows who still want to prevent films like no stone unturned being made and and the truce in films like no stolen turn coming into the public to me and on. I think that part of what happened to us certainly has got to be a bite. They frustration and not. The profile of this film has has taken on that many people around the world who cannot get access. This film can see exactly what was going on Northern Ireland out that time and innocent people were were being murdered on. The killers were being protected onto are still being protected. Dot is the the problem. And I think that northern Arnold is Alex is as explained is up is is just having difficulty in dealing with the past on. I think that there's no duct that are arrests were up by. Trying to send a chill factor at all. The journalists to whistle blowers to people who are prepared to provide documentation like the the documents that Bari was sent on. I think that that's that's universal global issue. I don't think it's as just about Northern Ireland of the northern island is an particularly difficult position at the moment. And I really don't think that if we were BBC, journalists are times journalists in London, guardian journalists, this would have happened to us. I think that this is is is peculiar to Northern Ireland on on fortunately puts Northern Ireland right up there with Turkey and Myanmar and Russia, and on and on what's going on in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey right now. And and what happened there on. I think that. It, it just seems to me that. There are still those in the shadows who really want to to pursue this this campaign to ensure that journalists don't get access to the truth and don't provide that truth to the to the world. I'd say northern. Alex, let me pick up on a point that Trevor was saying that this pressure might not be put on the BBC or the guardian. And what we've seen in recent years in the media landscape is a string of larger networks of of news, big organizations that dominated news for the late twentieth century. They shrunk in the early twenty first century. A lot of what's filled the breach are independent documentary, filmmakers who don't have the staps of lawyers or the resources that an ABC news would NBC your or or BBC. So can you reflect on the vulnerability of independent documentary makers? Yeah, I think it is true. Not just documentary filmmakers, but also journalists who who do the kind of investigative work. That used to be part of the big networks, but. Part of what is been done, particularly at the network level. And and sometimes at the papers, though I would commend a lot of the magazines like the New Yorker or the Atlantic elsewhere in terms of continuing to do that investigates the, but you know, I, it's the independent people who are most at risk. There's an organization behind you. It's just you. And I think in this case that was very much known. I mean, we know about the case of Laura Poitras and for many, many years. She was harassed of going in and out of the country as was even before she had reported under Edward Snowden just days of reporting in Iraq. Yes, from my country, my country, and and they felt that that she had been part of. She did know why she's being targeted over time. It came out that that that that authorities felt that she'd been part of a literally helping a group in Iraq target American soldiers, which was completely false and baseless. But nevertheless, when after her. And it's becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Thankfully, some organizations, notably the organization, Laura Poitras works where they have a a fund for journalists and filmmakers who are caught in these circumstances. Also places like the are CFP the report reporters committee for the freedom of the press and others are trying to to. Present pro Bono legal services to independence because it's becoming increasingly a problem. The independence are doing good work, but they're really much more vulnerable than the big organizations. I think that that is, you know, it's a very good point. We are lawyers when straight into court in order to try to protect the stuff that they that taken from the office, and but it was a very sober conversation. When I subsequently method said, you know that the the legal Bill for what we are doing is probably going to reach summer in and around one hundred fifty thousand pines just to try to protect the materials. So when I was in when I was in custody, the request to me are lawyers went into court to say that the execution of the warrant in our office wasn't being properly executed in not. They were taken materials quite clearly had nothing to do with no store on taken are taken everything out of her server. Taken drives, but films that nothing quite quite clearly had nothing to do with no still turn and the Lord Chief Justice in northern at the time. Then granted an interim injunction dot. That the police had to put everything that taken from her office and CD bags on the techs go anywhere near those city bikes. Right now, we've launched what's called a judicial review in order to try to say that the obligation for the warrant to search your homes and arrests. The the grunting of those Warren's on the execution. The warrants were on awful on all three constant were unlawful. Now, if we end up. Winning not case. We still face a legal of one hundred fifty thousand pounds of which we have no insurance for. Can you sue the state? We consider the state, but you know the all the computers ever taken from our our, our desks Mike computer. My wife's phone, my daughter's phone, my my my, my sixteen year old daughter is delighted in the fact that they took a USB key, but she says it has all our science homework on, but I doubt it. But she continues to claim that they're science. Homework was on that USB key, which was a lollipop ship thing on. But we've been devised that that's going to by the time, the police Honda spike, it'll be at least two years. So. We are. We are being punished right now we have had is detrimental effect on our on our ability to be able to do our job. And there are many sources which Alex knows of that helped us in this film on those sources know very well that the police I know who they are in terms of the chill effect that has a huge -ly detrimental to our ability to be able to do our job as journalists and filmmakers on there there. There are many people out. They're very nervous, but exactly what was stone. So this is costing us a huge amount of money, right? Ni- an will continue to in order to defend journalism, and we're not the New York Times or the times in London on, but we feel that there is a principal obviously, and and ports to our sources and everything that we've been trying to do at the company that with this is something that we have to do, but it's it's, it's worrying. And Alex, where do you stand in your negotiation with being questioned. I was successfully able to avoid being hooded and whisked to Belfast upon arrival at Heathrow. We discussed with the police that you know online my next trip to London that I would at least make myself available for for questioning, but we'll see what the in the meantime, what the result of judicial review is, but that's still so far as I'm aware. I still remain a suspect. I want to thank Alex. Give me and Trevor Bernie. For speaking with me, their film Knowstone unturned is now available an IT tunes Amazon and other platforms. Thanks to our team series producer, Sarah modo sound mixer, Tom mica and web designer cross strategy. Our theme music is composed by Andre Williams, and our executive producer is Rafael and may housing. I'm Tom powers. You can follow me on Twitter at t. h. empowers if you love nonfiction films, look out for America's largest documentary festival, doc NYC. If your professional filmmaker or looking to become one check out the dock, NYC pro conference both festival and conference last eight days running from November eighth to fifteen for more information go to dock and. I see dot net. Pure nonfiction is distributed by the tiff podcast network, you can read our show notes, learn about live events and sign up for our newsletter at pure nonfiction, dot net.