The ink has hardly dried on the CBC report about the Hariri investigation, and I’ve already heard at least two substantive critiques of it, which I thought I’d share with you.
The first comes from T_DESCO, a smart commenter at Joshua Landis’s Syria Comment blog, who has been following the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) very closely since 2005 and can recite passages from its reports in his sleep. He points out that both the fourth and fifth STL reports expressly state that they are relying upon telecommunications data in their investigation:
STL Report #4:
51. Communications analysis is a major task, with the collection of up to 5 billion records by the Commission currently under way. All must be sifted, sorted, collated and analysed. This work is painstaking in its depth, with any linkage established almost exponentially generating further linkages. The Commission has devoted a project team of analysts and investigators to this task and is acquiring specialized software and hardware to accommodate the project requirements. (…)
52. The traffic and intercept analysis has expanded beyond the immediate utilization of the six subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, referred to in the Commission’s previous reports, on the day of the attack. Complex linkages, associated calls and geographic locations of a broader time period are being scrutinized and added to the overall investigation findings.
STL Report #5
39. The Commission has devoted considerable resources to the analysis and investigation of the communications traffic aspects of the case. This topic has yielded important results, and enables the Commission to establish links that otherwise would not be evident. Much of the work is reactive in nature. However, some of the analytical work is also proactive and speculative, and builds upon known facts and develops investigation themes. It has elicited a number of leads and continues to provide the Commission with better understanding of the communications linkages relevant to the crimes.
40. The links that are being established through the communications work demonstrate a complex network of telecommunications traffic between a large number of relevant individuals, sometimes through intermediary telephone numbers or locations and sometimes directly. A series of investigation leads has been developed as a result of these analyses, which the Commission regards as a priority.
The second critique comes from an eagle-eyed friend and long-time reader of this blog, Ben Ryan, who sent me this commentary (which I post with his permission).
“Great post on this “new” report – as usual, one of the best analyses/round-ups I’ve seen. I think there may be a couple things that need extra highlighting. This didn’t fit nicely into a blog comment, but if you think that’s better I can try to re-tool and comment that way:
1) From Erich Follath’s October 2005 Der Spiegel report: “Unknown men bought ten mobile telephones in December. As the Mehlis team discovered, the phones were activated in northern Lebanon on Jan. 4, 2005 and used almost daily in the weeks before the attack, frequently in places where Hariri also happened to be located. [...] According to the UN team’s investigation, six of the mobile phones logged in at Beirut’s Place de l’Etoile and along the motorcade route on February 14… At 12:53 p.m., a member of the assassination team made four calls, apparently reporting that Hariri was leaving the café. The bomb was detonated minutes later, and the mobile phones were never used again. The analysis of the mobile phone records, one of Mehlis’ most important pieces of evidence, led to a group of five high-ranking intelligence officials the UN investigator believes made up the core of the conspiracy group.”
- Phone records of the “red” team are reported about in detail. Ten of them, six at the site on the February 14, 2005, all activated 1/4/2005.
2) Le Figaro, August 21, 2006 (trans from French): “Everything starts with the identification by the Internal Security Forces (ISF) of a group of mobile phones, which has been used before and just after the crime. [...] But one of them has committed a mistake by calling a friend, who was not part of the network of accomplices. Through phone records, police have recorded the number of this friend, then interrogated him. He gave them the name of his correspondent. The individual has since been found. … According to a source close to Saad Hariri, he is a Lebanese, operating in the movement Hezbollah and its intelligence services.”
- Phone records of the “red” team and a reference to Ghamloush and his girlfriend. “A dozen” phones “at most”
3) Der Spiegel, May 23, 2009: “Captain Eid’s team eventually identified eight mobile phones, all of which had been purchased on the same day in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. They were activated six weeks before the assassination, and they were used exclusively for communication among their users and — with the exception of one case — were no longer used after the attack. … But there was also a “second circle of hell,” a network of about 20 mobile phones that were identified as being in proximity to the first eight phones noticeably often. … sometimes located near the site of the attack. The romantic attachment of one of the terrorists led the cyber-detectives directly to one of the main suspects. He committed the unbelievable indiscretion of calling his girlfriend from one of the “hot” phones. It only happened once, but it was enough to identify the man. He is believed to be Abd al-Majid Ghamlush…”
- Eight “red” team phones, 20 “blue” team phones reported, sounds like the same time for activation reported before, and now the details on Ghamloush.
4) CBC, November 19, 2010: “UN commission in Lebanon did no telecom analysis at all for most of its first three years of existence. At that point, in October of 2007, things began moving fast… in December, a specialist from FTS began examining what the computer was spitting out. … He had identified a small network of mobile phones, eight in all, that had been shadowing Hariri in the weeks prior to his death. … when the investigators began their due diligence, double-checking their work, there was another revelation, this one even more earth-shattering. Someone digging though the commission’s records turned up a report from a mid-ranking Lebanese policeman that had been sent over to the UN offices nearly a year and a half earlier, in the first months of 2006. …”
This tracks with the previous stories and appears to explain why all this is finally coming out now, and possibly why leaks of it surfaced back in 2006. But it doesn’t explain the 2005 report, and it doesn’t explain why the 2006 report claimed that the Brammertz investigation was handling the phone records.
These points are important because 1) the phone records were on the radar as of October 2005, and rather than getting shoved in some drawer and forgotten they were being reported on in the international media. And 2) they were reportedly a key part of the Brammertz-era investigation too, if Le Figaro is accurate (and again, they were being reported in the international media so were hardly gathering dust in a filing cabinet somewhere). The timeline for these records as laid out in the CBC report just doesn’t make sense. Also, I find it very convenient that so much of the plot in this story is being driven by one super-human mathematical genius dead man who can neither confirm nor deny any of it.
What’s more, someone at the UN seems to rediscover these phone records and leak them to the international press every time the suspect du jour needs a public relations wupping. They got buried in the scandal of the 2005 UN report actually (accidentally..) naming names and pointing at Syria, but the timing of the 2006 report, right after the “Divine Victory,” and the 2009 report right before the elections, and now this one as things appear to be ratcheting towards a confrontation, both target Hezbollah. I’ve seen no attempt at an explanation of how these magical phone records could point to the Syrians in October 2005 and then Hezbollah in 2006, 2009, and 2010.
Basically, I smell a rat. Maybe these are real and maybe they say exactly what MacDonald says they do. But this story is being peddled, not investigated. An investigative reporter capable of discovering all this would also be capable of the 15 minutes of Googling and Google Translating that I did to compile these discrepancies, and either explain them in the new report or at least start asking these questions.
I think that both of these commentaries deserve a response from CBC. Anyone have a connection to Neil Macdonald? Actually, come to think of it, I do. I’ll try to get him to comment on this.