A former investigator with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s prosecution testified to his expertise in analyzing covert mobile phone networks before of the court Tuesday. The defense argued that Gary Platt shouldn’t be admitted to the court as an “expert” witness due to a risk that he might misinterpret the cell site data to further the prosecution’s case.
“This isn’t simply about putting forth the black and white data. ... It is an analysis that is highly interpretive,” said Ian Edwards, a defense attorney representing the interests of Mustafa Amine Badreddine. “[The defense counsel’s] position is that [Platt] is firstly not an expert. He is a highly experienced analyst.”
The STL is trying five Hezbollah members in absentia over their alleged involvement in the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The prosecution has built their case by focusing on cellphone records, which point to a covert cellular network that was extremely active just moments before the blast that killed the Lebanese statesmam and 21 others.
Platt told the court that he has a strong working knowledge in multiple areas of cell site analysis, even coining himself a police “investigator with expertise.” Regardless of how his knowledge is classified, his former colleagues seem to have high praise for his work. Most notably, Platt employed various cell site assessments to locate a covert cellular network that was used to coordinate a series of suicide bombings on London’s public transport system on July 7, 2005.
“My previous experience on work and investigation crimes and on the usage of mobile phones, gives me a unique insight into how criminals use phones,” Platt told the court. “But there isn’t a textbook into how criminals use mobile phones. In a sense, it’s quite limited.”
However, defense counsel was unconvinced that Platt would be suitable to help the court as an “expert” witness despite his previous experience. Thomas Hannis, the defense attorney representing the interests of Salim Jamil Ayyash, expressed particular concern into how Platt could be able to rely on cell site assessments without possessing any other evidence at his disposal.
He referred to Platt’s benefit of having CCTV footage or an automatic plate recognition system that enabled him to better analyze the cell site data he retrieved when working on high profile crime cases in the United Kingdom. That same benefit isn’t available to him in the case of locating the suspects who assassinated Hariri.
“Another difference in your experience [referring to Platt] from that in Lebanon and yours in the U.K is that you have no CCTV footage of the site of the crime. The automated number plate recognition system, that’s something you also have no evidence for [in Lebanon],” Hannis told Platt during his witness examination.
But Platt defended himself, providing numerous examples where his knowledge of covert cellular networks has helped him catch myriad high profile criminals in the U.K. He also dismissed any notions that his analysis would be compromised due to his prior professional relationship with the prosecutor.
“As I have said from the [outset], my [indictment] reports provided the foundation for the case. It was done independently and then [the prosecutors] built their case from that,” Platt reassured the court.
“In a sense I have used covert phones and I know how it works,” Platt said. “The same thing the villains were doing, we [police] did to a certain extent ourselves. It’s nothing unique. These networks are not unique. The only thing unique about them is the scale.”