The cross-examination of an Alfa network representative resumed Tuesday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, as defense attorneys try to undermine the credibility of key telecommunications data. U.N. investigators have built their case on phone records turned over by Lebanon’s two GSM cellular networks, Alfa and touch. Prosecutors allege the data revealed a highly organized conspiracy to assassinate Rafik Hariri. The former prime minister was killed by a massive car bomb in central Beirut in 2005. The tribunal is prosecuting five members of Hezbollah in absentia for their involvement.
Witness PRH 707 has given wide-ranging evidence on company practices, specifically the production and handling of data requested by investigators. The importance of this evidence to the prosecution’s case cannot be overstated. The defendants have been both identified and charged based on these call records.
Experts have testified before the court on the use of the technology in other criminal investigations, and prosecution analysts have given evidence on how the data was processed and evaluated. But PRH 707’s testimony goes directly to genesis of the records. Accordingly, he has already spent several weeks on the stand.
The defense has repeatedly sought to emphasize the levels of uncertainty in the data. At issue Tuesday was the security of the physical records themselves and their potential for manipulation. The witness testified that call data records are backed up on magnetic tapes and kept in a safe at Alfa headquarters. He estimated only three people currently have access, but said he had no knowledge of prior arrangements. PRH 707 also testified that the magnetic tapes have a limited shelf life, and noted that technicians were unable to retrieve some of the data requested by prosecutors as the files had corrupted.
Defense Attorney Mylene Dimitri, representing the interests of Mustafa Badreddine, pressed the witness on the accuracy of propagation models supplied to prosecutors. The models are used to create maps of predicted coverage. Such models are usually used to plan the location of future cell sites, but Alfa also produced maps for investigators estimating coverage in 2005, to help them retrace the movements of suspects.
The defense has repeatedly contended that Alfa’s reconstituted maps cannot be relied on, as changes in the orientation of cell-site antennas were not kept by the company. Technicians later recorded the position of the antennas, but their configuration at the time of the attack is impossible to ascertain.
Cross-examination of PRH 707 resumes Wednesday morning.