Claudio Gallo writes for EA:
The flaw in the affairs of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) brings to mind the course of Italian justice: the latest news about the investigation's findings --- real or alleged --- resounds first in media headlines rather than in courtrooms.
A case in point is the latest scoop about the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, put out this week by Neil MacDonald of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. MacDonald claims that UN investigators have rescued the forgotten report of a Lebanese intelligence official from archives. Through traffic analysis of mobile phones on the day of the attack, the UN's report accuses Hezbollah of involvement in the Hariri murder.
This is the latest twist in the attribution of guilt. When the UN investigators began work in 2005, four years before the Tribunal was established, their fingers pointed at Damascus. Over time, the Syrian track has crumbled, undermined by testimonies that were proven false. Last September, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader, said that Syria had been accused unjustly. Political relations subsequently flourished again between Beirut and Damascus.
Now the search for truth about the Hariri case has once more sunk into a poisonous marsh threatening another Lebanese civil war. Hezbollah continues to maintain that there is Israeli hand behind the attack and that the Tribunal is politicised. In August, the Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah introduced TV footage, apparently stolen from an Israeli drone, which seemed to show surveillance by Israeli intelligence of the route of Hariri’s car. The issue now is whether Hezbollah goes beyond accusation to launch a political move pressuring or even taking control of the Lebanese Government.
The CBC revelations are based on the report of Captain Wissam Eid, a Lebanese intelligence officer killed in 2008 by a bomb placed under his SUV. An expert in computer engineering, Eid analysed all phone calls made around the site of the attack and later expanded his research to the entire Beirut area. With a huge, almost incredible, effort in selection, Eid was able to identify five groups of phones selectively communicating with each other: the killers, logistics personnel, security, and two groups carrying out surveillance.
Eid was apparently able to penetrate the secret network thanks to the gross mistake of a small fish in the operation: electronics expert Abd al Majid al Ghamloush, who worked for Hezbollah. Ghamloush, identified by the investigators as"an idiot", was responsible for destroying the mobiles of the logistics team, but he used one of the phone to call his girlfriend.
The technician’s error allowed Eid, according to CBC, to point to brothers Hussein and Mouin Khreis, both Hezbollah militants, who were allegedly at the scene of the assassination on 14 February 2005. According to this reconstruction, the base of operations was in Great Prophet Hospital, South Beirut, the stronghold of Hezbollah. Moreover, some phones in the network was owned by the government and entrusted to members of the Shi'ite party.
The CBC said that Eid was contacted by Hezbollah just before the 2008 attack that killed him: Hezbollah's officials asked him to return some of the phones that had been seized, saying they had been used by their agents for counter-intelligence operations against Israel. In September 2006, Eid's superior Colonel Shehadeh was the victim of an attack that killed four of his guards. The officer moved to Canada for treatment and has not yet returned. He is very likely the main source of the CBC.
The story of Captain Eid re-opens questions about the complicity in the attack of Wissam al Hassan, the chief of the toop Lebanese intelligence officer Wissam al Hassan, who was in charge of Hariri's security in February 2005. The possible involvement of Al Hassan surfaced with the assassination of Captain Eid: someone inside Lebanon's Intelligence Bureau revealed to the killers the existence of Eid's report about the phones. The CBC noted that on the day of Hariri's death, Al Hassam was not at his side as usual but at the university to take an exam.
Still, this is a revelation difficult to accept without concrete evidence: how can one establish that the man of Hariri, hated by the Syrians and Hezbollah, collaborated with the Shi'ite enemies to kill his boss?
Equally difficult to accept that Captain Eid, as brilliant he should be, built his file without aid, using only "Excel spreadsheets." Yossi Melman wrote for Haaretz Online that the UN, with its limited resources, could only have obtained phone records with the assistance of a national secret service. Melman writes, "The potential countries that have spy agencies with the necessary technology are also limited and includes the National Security Agency in the United States, British and French intelligence, and, undoubtedly, Israeli intelligence.”
The tracking of phones, now linked to Hezbollah, is nothing new in the reports of the Tribunal. Der Spiegel wrote in 2005 of a mobile network, when two brothers from a Sunni extremist group, one of whom had telephoned from the scene of the attack, were arrested. It was said that the grandson of a businessman, linked to former Prime Minister Omar Karami, bought under a false name 10 telephone cards used by killers. But at that time the explanation in vogue was the Syrian track.
So why pull the mobile phone explanation once more out of the hat at this time?
Many are forecasting the indictment of several leaders of Hezbollah in the first weeks of December. However, without some more concrete evidence, which could be kept hidden until the last possible moment, it is unlikely that the Court will be able to make a charge based only on the records of the mobile phones. Minister of Telecommunications Charbel Nahhas declared with discomfort recently that Israel is able to do what he wants with Lebanese services: "[Israel] controls information and data packets, and can enter a network, shut down parts and transfer information or delete it. They can fabricate calls that originally did not exist."
With the CBC report, some will claim we finally have the truth. I beg to differ: the assassination of Hariri is likely to sink into a swamp where fog and miasma will hide any such truth.