Nov 3, 2015

More evidence on telecommunication: Expert John Edward Philips

Prior to the recess the Prosecution already explained that the focus in the next months will be telecommunication. Mr Philips, who gave testimony from 18 until 26 August, is an expert witness in the area of cell site analyses, who will describe the technical working of mobile companies and networks. At the request of the Prosecution he wrote a report called “Cell Site Analyses as Applied to GSM Networks” dated 24 September 2012.

Mr Philips worked for Marconi Communication Systems for 15 years. During this time he was invited to publish numerous technical papers on the topic of mobile radio communications and he was active on a number of industry-wide technical committees in relation to mobile radio technology. Thereafter he became head of design and development at Multitone Electronics and he was the secretary of the European paging association. Subsequently he became an engineer at British Telecoms and worked as a cell site analyst. Because of his work he was invited to sit on the GSM specification committee.

His expertise in cell site analysis involves taking the data that is produced by the system and analysing it. He mainly worked in the UK and is not specifically an expert on Lebanese technology; however, the witness expects that the technology employed in the UK is similar to that employed in Lebanon. Defence Counsel Mr Korkmaz challenged the expertise of the witness in relation to GSM and the Lebanese GSM system, but the Trial Chamber was satisfied that Mr Philips has specialised knowledge, skill, or training that can assist the Chamber to understand or determine an issue in dispute; namely, he has expertise on the workings of GSM generally as applied to cell site analysis.

The Prosecution separated the evidence of the witness in three parts: (i) introduction to cell site analysis; (ii) mission phones; and (iii) single-user analysis of some of the SIM cards of key phones in the case. The Prosecution started with a PowerPoint presentation to explain the telecommunication at stake. The witness first explained some key definitions, including “call data records”, that is the data used for all analyses. This data is provided by mobile phone network providers, in the instant case Alfa and MTC. Mr Philips explains a lot of general technical details in the area of telecommunication, including what best server coverage is (the area over which a cell provides the strongest signal), geographical profiling, frequent number analysis and areas of potential manipulation of call data records.

Despite objections by the Defence, Mr Philips continues his evidence by talking about the situation of the providers MTC and Alfa in Lebanon in 2004-2005. The witness gave a very brief case-specific overview as to the interaction and association between mission phones. The mission phone groups are associated with the mission, and the mission is a crime. The Red phone group, the inner group, would appear to be associated with that particular crime, given their geographical location, timing and build-up in the period before the crime. The Blue group has, from a cell sites analyses perspective, no association with the crime but can be linked to the Red group; the same can be said for the Green group. There appears to be a common element between the Red, Blue and Green phone groups, as there is one single user who has a Blue, a Red and a Green phone. Mr Povas explains that it is the Prosecution’s case that this single user is Salim Ayyash.

Mr Courcelle-Labrousse, Defence Counsel for the accused Oneissi, cross-examined the witness about the lack of relevance of his report for the Lebanese situation, and his lack of specific knowledge about the Lebanese GSM configuration. Mr Philips accepted that when you implement a GSM network, the areas you need to cover may have different topographical specifics depending on the location. Defence Counsel Mr Young, for the accused Sabra, dealt with a very technical matter, namely congestion issues, the so-called "anomalies". Mr Philips has talked about the possibility that sudden heavy usage of cells causes an anomaly. Examples giving by the witness are football matches and sports events. Mr Young introduced the idea that the explosion on the 14 February could have caused such an anomaly, referring to previous witnesses who explained that there were problems using their phones after the explosion. The witness thinks that this is possible but only after the incident occurred and centered around that particular area. Judge Re requested the Prosecution to research the potential damage or destruction of cell sites in the area of the St. Georges Hotel, which could also be of influence on the cell site information.  

Further, Mr Young questioned the witness about the potential for manipulation of call data records. A former employee of the Prosecution told the witness in an earlier stage that some held the view that the phone evidence that was used in this case was false. At that moment the testimony was interrupted over a dispute about the disclosure of documents. A document relating to this conversation between the witness and the former employee of the Prosecution has not been disclosed by the Prosecution to the Defence. The Prosecution immediately disclosed the said document and, having read the document, the Defence made an application to adjourn the cross-examination of Mr Philips on the points covered in this particular document, including whether there have been manipulations of call data records. The Chamber granted the application and therefore the cross-examination was postponed.

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