Defense attorneys in The Hague have concluded four days of examination of an U.N. communications analyst, exploring the methodology and sourcing used by investigators to attribute cellphones to the alleged bombers.
The identification and tracking of individuals using cellular data constitutes a key part of the prosecution’s case. Five members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for their alleged roles in the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.
Philippe Larochelle, representing the interests of defendant Hussein Oneissi, resumed questioning of analyst Kei Kamei, who worked for the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission. The UNIIIC investigated Hariri’s murder until being superseded by the STL in 2009.
Larochelle placed particular emphasis on divulging details on how investigators attributed numbers and questioned Kei extensively about how they queried the data.
“It’s a very manual process,” Kei said. “You might be surprised, but it’s not that we have software where we click a button and everything is shown.” She testified that investigators developed different degrees of attribution using evidence derived from subscriber databases, interviews, and insurance documents.
Larochelle sought to cast doubt on the process. “Everybody depends on the quality of the attribution work. All these attributions built this house of cards on which the prosecution’s case is resting.”
He continued this examination over the repeated objections of prosecutor Alexander Milne.
“The suggestion that underlies all these questions is that we’re sitting on some secret store of numbers which would help the defense but that we’re trying to keep from them, which is a gross misrepresentation of the truth,” said Milne, who claimed his office had repeatedly shared information with defense counsel per the tribunal’s rules. He revealed that the prosecution’s database contains some 5.7 million numbers.
Larochelle pressed Kei on whether the UNIIIC had adequately investigated links with the so-called “Al-Qaeda 13,” a group of individuals arrested in connection with the assassination. One reportedly confessed to involvement in the bombing but later retracted his statement, and all were subsequently released.
Both Larochelle and Iain Edwards, who represents the interests of defendant Mustafa Badreddine, focused on establishing whether attributions had been arrived at independently. Kei confirmed that some of the numbers were brought to their attention by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, which conducted its own investigation. The insinuation the attorneys sought to make was that U.N. investigators had been steered toward numbers, and suspects, by the ISF. “Maybe those people had their own reasons to provide you with those phone numbers,” Larochelle said.
The Canadian attorney seemed agitated during his examination, sometimes responding to questions or objections with mock disbelief and sarcasm. In a bizarre interruption, he was admonished by the bench. “We are disappointed by your comportment, your tone, your demeanor today,” Judge David Re said. Larochelle abruptly concluded his questioning, and excused himself from the court.
The court heard brief additional testimony from another prosecutorial analyst, before giving the floor to defense attorney Guénaël Mettraux, representing the interests of Assad Sabra. Mettraux was asked to summarize his contention that a different group of conspirators were behind the bombings, individuals who had ties to the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services and the Islamic charity organization Al-Ahbash.
Though the defense has yet to present its version of events, Mettraux had questioned Kei earlier on dozens of disparate elements related to the theory, which confounded judges. The case he put forward revolves around individuals connected to Ahmad Abu Adass, a man who appeared in a tape aired on Al-Jazeera claiming responsibility for the attack, but was never seen again.
The court will convene again Tuesday Dec. 1.