BEIRUT: Telecoms expert John Edward Philips testified before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Wednesday, launching into a detailed presentation of the covert phone networks allegedly used to plot the 2005 murder of statesman Rafik Hariri. Philips is the prosecution’s foremost expert on cell siting and call data records, and testified last year on the technical foundations and methodology behind its analysis. Tuesday he explained to judges how the behaviors of certain phones can reveal their part in a conspiracy.
Philips testified that while people use multiple phones for a variety of reasons, the closed networks used to coordinate organized crime leave telltale patterns in call data records.
He explained that a group of numbers, dubbed “red phones” by prosecutors, were only in operation for a month before the attack. Their usage massively increased in the week before the bombing, after which they were never used again.
Using a series of graphs, charts and cellular maps of Beirut, Philips demonstrated that these phones were used almost exclusively to call one another, only at specific times and from specific areas of the city. They were paid for and topped up in cash, and a substantial amount of credit was left unused when they fell silent. Though the numbers were purchased in Tripoli, all of the members had swapped them into new handsets before traveling to Beirut. He testified that such patterns were typical of “mission phones,” used to carry out a specific crime. Prosecutors contend were used to carry out the massive car bombing that killed the former prime minister.
A group of 15 “blue phones,” allegedly used in the support operation, exhibited similarly strange behavior. The first few phones identified as part of this network came online in October 2004, when Hariri resigned from office and his security detail was reportedly cut back.
The group expanded and began operating in concert on Jan. 15. But as soon as the red phones increased their activity, users of a core group of six blue phones saw their call patterns change dramatically. Their usage spiked, and they began being operated outside their traditional territory. Instead of pinging cell towers south of the city, the phones were now operated in central in west Beirut. On Feb. 14, these six numbers saw their usage decline and they reintegrated into the patterns of larger group.
“[The] only reason we can surmise for that is there were some potential other missions to be undertaken,” Philips said.
Three “green phones” also exhibited signature behavior. One of the phones was in contact with the two others, but they never called each other. Philips testified that the operation of the green group, and its relationship with other groups that were otherwise discrete, indicated it was being used by the leaders of the operation.
Prosecutors have chosen to limit Philips’ testimony to call data records, and he repeatedly suggested that he had little knowledge of the details of the case. The move appeared to frustrate judges at times; technical evidence continues to be laid out piecemeal, with little accompanying narrative. The prosecution has argued their intent is to independently establish the veracity of the critical telecoms evidence before seeking to develop it in context.
Philips’ presentation will likely continue into next week. He will return to testify during the third phase of the prosecution’s case, when he is expected to present data that ties the mission phones to personal numbers used by the defendants.
Source & Link : The Daily Star