Hezbollah, Lebanon

Co-Locating with PMPs: An Assessment of the STL Indictment

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has unsealed its indictment of Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. You can download a copy of the indictment here (PDF, 12.9 megabytes).

I’ve read the document once through and there’s a great deal to mull over, but here are some preliminary thoughts.

The Evidence

The case against the four men accused of plotting and carrying out the Hariri murder rests almost entirely on telecommunications analysis. As was leaked by a Lebanese security official as early as 2006, the investigation discovered the cell phone networks allegedly used to surveil Hariri and coordinate his assassination.

The central methodological tool of the investigation is “co-location”, which determines on the basis of cell-tower data when and where certain cell phones were used to call each other and other off-network phones. Here’s a basic illustration of the principle:

  1. Phones A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H are activated together on the same day, several weeks before the crime. They only ever make calls to each other, and those calls are made from locations in the vicinity of Hariri’s convoy or along his various routes. In the two hours before the assassination, 33 calls were made between these phones with the last one coming just five minutes before the bomb went off. This is the red network, carried by the hit squad.
  2. When the hit squad members need to communicate with people who are not part of the immediate assassination team, they use other phones.  Cell-tower data shows that these phones are always active in the same locations and at the same times as the red network phones, and they were used to do things like purchasing the vehicle used to carry the bomb.
  3. The hit squad also have their own personal mobile phones (PMP’s) which they use to contact family members and friends, and are ultimately used by the investigation team to determine the identities of their owners.  (Note to self: beware of co-locating with PMPs. Always a bad idea.)

Using this method, the investigation team was able to put together a very detailed chronology for the operation build-up and execution, as well as its aftermath (when the Abu Adass claim of responsibility was made).

Question Marks

The first question that comes to mind is: is this it? After nearly six years of investigation, does the case truly rest solely on telecommunications data? What about witness testimony? Forensics? DNA analysis? Magnifying glasses and trench coats?

Secondly, if signals intelligence does comprise the bulk of it, then what did the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) do between 2006 and 2010? The first Mehlis report had already identified the hit squad’s cell phone network in late 2005,  and the 2006 article by Georges Malbrunot in Le Figaro revealed that the investigation had used cell phone data to discover new evidence “leading to Hezbollah”. I understand that piecing all of this together must have been a complicated task, but surely it would not have taken five years to do so.

(Let me reiterate that I don’t buy Neil Macdonald’s claim that the UNIIIC only began analyzing telecoms data in late 2007, which was when they supposedly discovered the hit team. As I’ve previously shown, that simply does not add up.)

The last big question is whether the STL has other indictments up its sleeve. Did Badreddine or Ayyash ever communicate with off-network phones tied to political figures? The CBC report claimed to produce documents from the investigation showing networks connected to Hezbollah political figures, but the indictment makes no mention of these.

As I said, there will be much more to comment on the next few days as Lebanon’s professional and amateur pundits pore over the indictment. In the meantime, the floor is open for thoughts and critiques.

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233 thoughts on “Co-Locating with PMPs: An Assessment of the STL Indictment

  1. Let me ask a different question. I just finished reading Mohammad Raad’s comments about the STL.
    They repeat a refrain we’ve heard since this began. Namely that “Lebanon is being forced to choose between strife and between subjecting Lebanon to American and Israeli hegemony.”

    Besides these sounding like empty boilerplate formulaic words (“hegemony”?), does the audience and base for such words wonder how exactly it is that Israeli/USA hegemony would be imposed via a trial?
    Let’s say the trial takes place and finds the 4 suspects guilty of assassinating Hariri. Let’s even say the 4 are somehow found, arrested and jailed.
    How exactly does this impose “hegemony” on Lebanon?
    Does a verdict of guilty put American and Israeli soldiers in Beirut?
    Does a guilty verdict automatically relinquish the waters of the Litani to Israel?
    What exactly is this “hegemony” they keep speaking of?
    Can someone clarify the concrete manifestations of “hegemony” for me please?

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | August 23, 2011, 12:33 pm
  2. And from the “selective law and order” file:

    The situation in Lassa is expected to escalate in light of an attack against a clergyman, Antoine Hakim, last week and the state’s failure to apprehend the attacker even though he is roaming the town freely

    “Questions are being raised over the state’s lax approach in this matter and its failure to present an explanation to its actions,” he continued.

    “The state has refused to uphold the law against the attacker, which paves the way for several repercussions,” Soaid warned.

    Where’s that selective justice somebody was speaking about here the other day?
    Where are the voices who complain about “politicization” of the law left and right when it suits them, but somehow fail to mention these kinds of shenanigans…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | August 23, 2011, 12:37 pm
  3. Gabriel,

    I believe that Syria & HA with Iranian clearance executed Hariri. Telecom data and the rest of the details will be exposed and examined; dissected at the trial. I would rather wait for that then guess. If the accused are found not guilty.Well; I have to accept the verdict and move on; like any law abiding civilized person would do.

    In the meantime will have Raad and other Divine spokesmen labeling everyone as traitors or Zionists if they want justice.

    Quoting BVs quote 201.:”“Lebanon is being forced to choose between strife and between subjecting Lebanon to American and Israeli hegemony.””

    While would there be strife if HA indicted are innocent of all charges? I guess Raad knows the truth. He knows that these four were on a mafioso hit mission. He must know then that the revelation of facts through these trials (Hariri, hamadeh, Murr, Chidiac…and more) will implicate HA beyond reasonable doubt. The “retarded” refrain that these are circumstantial evidence makes me laugh. I guess for them any DNA evidence or other scientific deduction would be circumstantial. I guess they still think they are the greatest force in the ME.

    Again BV. HA loved Dubya so much they have adopted his line. Either you are with us or against us….Thus; if you try to use your brain and question anything that does not conform to HA’s thinking…Wham. You are against us. You are a Zionist…Thus the Israeli hegemony for you.

    Posted by danny | August 23, 2011, 1:14 pm
  4. To add: Circumstantial evidence as used in Hollywood movies…sounds like there is no case. In the meantime so labeled “circumstantial” evidence is more powerful and convincing. As someone so candidly pointed out here: IF they had eyewitness accounts and video evidence of Nassrallah & his buddies detonating the explosives…we still will hear the refrain that that was Mossad agents or data forgery by the Zionist imperialist…bla bla bla.

    Posted by danny | August 23, 2011, 1:20 pm
  5. Well, I think it’s admirable that some of us are actually willing to abide by the verdict, even if it finds the suspects innocent.
    Rule of law!

    I’d venture a guess that if the situation were reversed, many would not say “I’ll accept the verdict and move on”.
    Quite the contrary. They’d refuse to accept the verdict and take up arms (May 7th anyone?)

    Just saying…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | August 23, 2011, 1:25 pm
  6. Danny,

    I agree with you. But I also think we agree that though the case is quite strong, on Telecom alone, the evidence still is cicumstantial.

    But I doubt very much (and he said so himself) that HNA would be happy if he gets a Get Out of Jail Free card based on the cicumstantial nature of the evidence. Nor do I think anyone reasonable accept this.

    This is why I keep hammering back to the point that the allegations of Phone Record Tampering is much much bigger than the story of Hariri’s murder. And the repurcussions of the logic are quite dire and important in how Lebnaese people define the type of accountability they expect from their Leaders. I am throwing it out there to highlight the discrepancy between Actuality and Stated Positions.

    I don’t know if everyone has thought through the whole logic and implications. And I suspect that a lot of people at least secretly accept that there is a strong chance that HA really is guilty as charged.

    Posted by Gabriel | August 23, 2011, 2:17 pm
  7. Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst for CNN wrote this about the DSK case.

    “That’s what the burden of proof means. Prosecutors have to prove their case; the defense need only poke holes, not present an alternative.”

    What is especially interesting about the above is its complete applicability to the STL case. Prosecutors go to court with the best case that they have, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, and the defense has to poke holes. So why can’t we just do that let the prosecutor do his/her job and then attempt to poke holes in it? Because we do not believe in the rule of law.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | August 23, 2011, 2:26 pm
  8. That’s exactly what I’ve been saying over and over again, Ghassan.

    Your conclusion, that we do not believe in the rule of law, is indeed the core problem with Lebanon and the Lebanese.

    The problem – from a legal standpoint – with Nassrallah simply refusing to accept the STL on account of “politicization”, beyond the obvious, is also the terrible precedent that it sets.

    So next time ANYONE (from M14 or M8) is accused of anything, they can dismiss any court proceedings as being “politicized” and refuse to abide by it. Vicious cycle.
    Good luck weeding out corruption or holding leaders accountable.
    Saniora/Hariri were corrupt? Nope. The charges are politicized!
    Berri is accused of embezzling? Nope. Politicized.
    Someone gets arrested for beating up a priest in Lassa? Nope. Politicized.
    Someone gets accused of raping the neighbor’s daughter? Nope. Politicized.

    Good luck building a state with this precedent.

    It’s freaking hopeless.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | August 23, 2011, 2:36 pm
  9. I suppose DSK should’ve simply “refused to accept the accusations against him” and taken up arms against the state of New York, if he believed he was being framed for political reasons.

    It’s funny to me that the Lebanese constantly harp on the West for being so terrible and corrupt and malicious. Yet the West is the only place where even the most powerful and mightiest get prosecuted.
    Where transparency touches everyone and everything.
    Where accountability spares no one.

    Even terrorists, bombers, and foreigners benefit from due process and are given the benefit of the doubt.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | August 23, 2011, 2:40 pm
  10. QN, you are busted! Since you are in Beirut, you must be that mysterious Time reporter who conducted the interview.

    Am getting good at this new detective business 🙂

    Posted by Vulcan | August 23, 2011, 5:24 pm
  11. OHHHH! Good call Vulcan! I didn’t even think of that!
    QN lands in Beirut and all of a sudden mysterious reporters are unearthing suspects that no one else seems to be able to find.
    What’s next? Abu Adass gives an exclusive interview here on QN?

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | August 23, 2011, 5:42 pm
  12. BV, for your info Abu Addas is no other than our Iceman ! the plot thickens 🙂

    Posted by Vulcan | August 23, 2011, 6:02 pm
  13. This conspiracy theory game is fun.

    So iceman is Abu A. QN is really Blanford’s associate reporter. R2D2 is probably SHN’s alias, and Danny is Gebran Bassil, in disguise…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | August 23, 2011, 6:16 pm
  14. Not to ruin the fun, may we leave briefly lalaland?

    1) clarification: As per the indictment, the DNA of the driver did not match that of Abu Addas.

    2) Danny, it is not true that the there are only two choices: either HA did it or Not. Reality is never as simple as our constructed dichotomies. But if you are talking about the legal parameters of the case against the accused, there are three possibilities and not two: the accused can have been innocent of any involvement, they could have been complicit, or they could have been the main perpetrators. All evidence provided so far does not support the third possibility, and we should wait to see if the prosecution provides any proof to support the second possibility.

    2) I think that we are all interested in the masterminds behind the assassinations and not just the pions. That’s why apprehending the 4 indicted so far is not really as important as apprehending those who may be implicated more directly in giving the orders to assassinate the various figures that the STL is investigating. It is a deflection to focus on the four and on their arrest. That is not the “rule of law” but rather the “satisfy the masses” or “throw in some bad apples” rules. If anyone is interested in truth and justice, a trial in absentia of the four indicted individuals would not shed any light on who was running the show. Keep in mind that linking the four to HA is NOT the same as linking HA to the assassinations. What is important is to aim at uncovering who ordered and facilitated the assassinations and not just how the assassinations took place.

    3) finally, in an ideal world, as on this forum, we would not want to generalize to the point of racially or ethnically profiling groups of people. NOT all Shia are supporters of strategies implemented by HA leadership, as NOT all Sunni or Maronite are blind supporters of Saad, GMA or Geagea… Even if many in Lebanon do not keep that in mind, we should. Isn’t this how we can move away from sectarianism?

    Posted by parrhesia | August 23, 2011, 9:32 pm
  15. I don’t know about you chaps. But I really miss the iceman

    Posted by Gabriel | August 23, 2011, 9:37 pm
  16. 214,

    RE: #3

    Correct and amen. Tell elsheikh about this simple truth.

    Gabby; I miss Ice as well….He used to be my comrade at times lol…

    Posted by danny | August 23, 2011, 10:02 pm
  17. Why are people fixated on the falsified so-called “evidence”? Even if it were real and, what difference does it make who was responsible at this point?

    Posted by dontgetit | August 23, 2011, 10:05 pm
  18. “Danny is Gebran Bassil,”???? DUDE!!! Where’s Iceman? I think he still is in KSA trying to figure ou his life. He’ll be back by the end of Ramadan.

    BV…I thought you would have equated me with SHN lol. 😛

    Posted by danny | August 23, 2011, 10:10 pm
  19. Regarding identity DNA testing, you always need to compare two samples to conclude whether they are a match or not.

    As the DNA of the driver originates from the crime scene, where does the DNA of the mysterious Abu Addas come from since Abu Addas is not available? Without those two samples, it is impossible to state whether the driver and Abu Addas are a match. It appears that the DNA of Abu Addas was lifted from the videotape, but what if that DNA sample was not that of Abu Addas, but simply that of another individual who handled the tape? That brings up the issue of chain of custody, which is what really courts look at to rule on identity testing.

    This is like a paternity test, one needs to compare a child with an alleged Dad to determine if they share significant DNA markers that are not due to chance alone, but to actual parentage. It is critical to track the alleged Dad’s sample from the time it was collected to the time it was delivered to the lab for DNA testing.

    Seems to me that the chain of custody has not been met, so no valid conclusions regarding DNA testing can be ascertained.

    Posted by Fred | August 24, 2011, 2:21 am
  20. Thanks a lot, Vulcan and BV.

    The ISF swung by my grandmother’s house and picked me up yesterday because you blew my cover. I’m writing this from a dingy cell in Maghfar Hbeish on Bliss St.

    In all seriousness, my sincere apologies for the blogging hiatus, but you all know how it goes when one returns to the old country. People to see, places to be. I’ll try to find some time later today to say a little something about what seems to be going on these days…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | August 24, 2011, 3:14 am
  21. Fred, I see that the level of competence of UN investigators has been put in question…and it worked. I remember vaguely that the guy had a father and a mother that where mentioned in the news… Whatever the clumsiness shown so far, I really don’t doubt the ability of the team to make a correct DNA test! And there IS a defense team that is part of the tribunal too, that will review each and every piece of evidence presented by the prosecutor.

    Posted by mj | August 24, 2011, 4:35 am
  22. Fred,

    They knew where Abu Adas lived. I am sure they collected DNA evidence from there. I hope this answers your question.

    Does anyone know someone who knows someone who can spring QN from his cell with apologies? yalla call your neighbor. 😀

    Posted by danny | August 24, 2011, 7:11 am
  23. nesw flash to Fred, Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau is not in charge of this investigation.

    Posted by Vulcan | August 24, 2011, 10:02 am
  24. According to the HA crowd, Clouseau is indeed in charge….

    QN, They have internet at Maghfar Hbeish now? And here I thought Lebanon was a backwards country with barely any internet access!

    More seriously, I for one, would be very curious for a view into the current mindset on the Lebanese “street” (since I don’t currently live in Lebanon). Maybe your next entry can touch on the subject? Taken any good Service rides lately? Or spent any time with your buddy Abbas of “Qnion Conspiracies” fame?

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | August 24, 2011, 12:45 pm
  25. Both Miqati and Hariri are in Saudi performing Umra.

    Posted by R2D2 | August 24, 2011, 3:53 pm
  26. Courage, indeed, is contagious.

    There is a very deep lack of courage outside of what either SHN or GMA are willing to go out on a limb for.

    Geagea seems to be the only one in the opposition courageous enough to actually bring forward concrete proposals to counter the current majority’s ideology of Lebanon “needing” to partner up with the current regime in Iran and Syria … for a safe and secular way forward for the Lebanese sate.

    Posted by R2D2 | August 24, 2011, 6:37 pm
  27. Both SHN and GMA have been the Champions on focusing all their attention on how everyone but they themselves are influenced in any way by any “foreign” non-Lebanese financial donors.

    I guess the Hizb and the FPM enjoy the full financial backing of solely Lebanese compatriots.

    Posted by R2D2 | August 24, 2011, 6:49 pm
  28. The big question is who is financing GMA today and who are FPM members counting on to finance their ideologically empty rhetoric and movement tomorrow?

    Posted by R2D2 | August 24, 2011, 6:58 pm
  29. Jumblat the Smeagol gets what he deserves from the voice of HA

    Posted by Vulcan | August 25, 2011, 12:19 am
  30. wikileaks released quite alot of cables on the 24th. i’ve just finished the damascus cables and starting on the beirut ones. interestingly there were several from the civil war era. happy reading.

    Posted by blueblood damascene | August 25, 2011, 3:53 am
  31. Congratulations to Al Akhbar for the English version, and congratulations to all who, like myself, are too slow readers in Arabic! By the way, QN 220, just curious, did you happen to cross Khaled Saghieh in the corridors of your Bliss St accomodation?:)

    Posted by mj | August 25, 2011, 3:56 am

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