Friday, October 21, 2005

Time Zones, Watson

I just watched the press conference held by Detlev Mehlis at the UN HQ in New York to address the presence of 2 different versions of his report.

As many of you know by now, there have been 2 circulating versions of the Mehlis report. In fact they are only one version, but in 2 different formats. One format, a PDF document (.pdf extension), is the official version submitted by Mehlis to the Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan. The second contains the exact same text only formatted as a MS Office Word document (.doc extension). In the latest versions of MS Word, there exists a feature called "Track Changes" which allows the different modifications/revisions done to the document to be recorded and displayed. Use of this feature is commonplace when the document is the collaborative effort of several authors and when multiple revisions and tweaks are expected.

In the Word formatted document provided to the media, several of these changes are visible and include repeated replacement of names of senior Syrian and Lebanese officials with vague descriptive titles.

PDF Version

Word Version

...appeared in Annahar Newspaper

A controversy has since erupted which aims to throw doubts over the credibility of the Mehlis Report by claiming that the intentional omission of the actual suspect names was done at the request of Annan. The reasoning behind that is that if Annan had the power to change the wording of the document then the entire factual content of the report could no longer be trusted.

Aiming to allay those fears, Mehlis held a news conference this morning in NY in which he stated that all the modifications were done by him after he learnt that the report would be released to the media for circulation. The names omitted were the testimony of one witness he interviewed, and while their inclusion would be acceptable in a confidential report, he felt that a public report should not mention specific names not yet sufficiently corroborated. This was done before the meeting with Annan, he claimed, and thus were not the result of any political pressure. This is supported by the fact that the first change to be made was the deletion of the word "Confidential" from the title page, which the public report no longer was.

The reporters however kept coming back to one 'flaw' they noted in his explanation, which was that the Word document not only notes the changes done to the document but also the time those changes were made. The computer clearly states that he changes were done at 11:55 AM which is the time Mehlis was meeting with Annan. Mehlis had no explanation for that other than his self-stated unfamiliarity with computer software and operation, and said "you either believe me or you don't".

Please, Mr. Mehlis, allow me to come to your defense with ONE simple fact that all of those reporters seem to have missed. In two words: TIME ZONES!

You see, this report in all likelihood was written on a notebook computer. Notebook computers are wonderful portable things that allow you to carry along all your work and important documents and to modify and change those documents on the fly. What they DON'T do however is automatically adjust their system clocks to the time zones of the countries they happen to be in.

So assuming that Mehlis has worked on a laptop provided by the UN in Beirut for all the months of his investigation, it stands to good reason that that laptop would have been set for Beirut local time (+3 GMT with daylight savings). It also stands to very good reason that upon arriving at New York to deliver this report the world is waiting for this investigator would not have had the inclination or the time to go about resetting the system clock to NY local time (-5 GMT). This means that, during his entire stay in New York, and during any revisions that were made to the document, that system clock would have been 8 hours ahead of NY.

Lets look at those time points again then and see if that makes sense.

Mehlis arrived at New York on October 19th 2005.
He was meeting with Kofi Annan somewhere around 11:00 AM on October 20th.
He was pictured handing Kofi Annan a folder with the printed copy of the report at the start of the meeting.
Logic dictates then that if Mehlis is truthful, the modification time and printing time of that document should lie somewhere in between Oct 19th and 11 AM Oct 20th.

As you can see in the pictures below, subtracting 8 hours from the time of the deleted comments yields 3 AM Oct 20th in NY, and doing the same to the printing time yields 7 AM Oct 20th. Makes sense, doesn't it? If however those timings were in NY time, then that print would have been made at 2 PM NY time, which is as we all know AFTER the meeting and MUCH EARLIER than the report was released to the media. Doesn't make sense.

I believe you Mr. Mehlis.
And thank you.

Next time though, just say: "Time Zone!" and leave the room...

Note: Someone will suggest that this is all somehow intentional on Mehlis' part to send an indirect message to Syrian officials, to name names despite being asked not to, or some other grand conspiracy. I think he's only human.


Blogger Lazarus said...

You're right - a big deal was made out of nothing ... :) you gave a very technical analysis.

8:21 PM, October 21, 2005  
Blogger Abu Kais said...

Good job Ramzi!

9:25 PM, October 21, 2005  
Blogger JoseyWales said...

Good blogging Ramzi.

9:27 PM, October 21, 2005  
Blogger Charles Malik said...

But they still released the version with the deleted comments...

9:37 PM, October 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

their work is sloppy.

Leaking the names is either :
-intentional : and this would indicate malicious objectives
- a rookie's mistake (my opinion)

10:29 PM, October 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt sorry for Mehlis. He did a great job. His report shows the size of the efforts made in a relatively short time period to come up with the very important findings to us. And a whole trauma occured behind changing the names, for nothing!

But Ramzi, i don't think the different versions of the report is a mistake. I think some UN party (not Mehlis) wanted the names to be leaked. But again, this has nothing to do with the credibility of Mehlis.


12:02 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...


12:06 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Ammar said...

Good explanation. However, big conspiracy? Sure! When is it a better time for such a thing? I hate to blame our screw up on others. But I also wouldn't underestimate the minds in a superpower like the US.

1:33 AM, October 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great detective work Mehl..i mean Ramzi

1:58 AM, October 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watson junior, so is it the track changes problem or is it the Mehlis decision?
Btw, non of the arab media outlets knew what they were talking about until after 3 hrs of the conference, they thought Mehlis was speaking about Shawkat only...
what a disaster...

anyway, hope the rest of the truth comes up and those pigs rot in jail.


2:27 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger John Thacker said...

The US has in the last ten years had occasional screw-ups of a similar nature; for example, there was a PDF that had the names of people (including some spies and intelligence sources) blacked out to redact them-- but the rectangles that blacked out the names could be easily removed from the PDF, revealing the names.

So mistakes-- especially with the time zone explanation-- could certainly have happened. Still, the situation is interesting. The US and others who want to put pressure on Syria surely don't mind those names coming out in some form too much.

7:39 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger a h m a d said...

Nice post, I liked the analysis.

I wonder, how Mehlis only knew that the report will go public at the last minute. I think he should have sticked to the original version with full names. However obviously, IMO, they wanted names to be leaked in an unofficial way.

8:56 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Delirious said...

Nice work, Sherlock!
If you ever get enough of saving lives, you know how to recycle yourself ;)

9:04 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger aroundtheclock24_7 said...

Smart Analysis! Are you sure you are just a doctor and not any sort of agent or something?

Well done anyway ;)

10:27 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Xylocaine said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:19 PM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Xylocaine said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:22 PM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Frankly, I’m fed up with all these self-proclaimed Lebanon “experts” avidly commenting excerpts from the Mehlis report as if it were some kind of exercise in exegesis.

OK some Marxist/Syrian “Mukhabarât” thugs might have contributed to the killing of one of their former protégés… and, after all, so what?

Rafiq Hariri was a notorious Saudi-sponsored fraudster and embezzler who had stolen billions from the Lebanese government’s coffers with the complicity of resident Syrian Gen. Ghazi Canaan who skimmed his infamous “khamseen” percent commission for the big boys back in Damascus and Qardâha.

Faux “sheikh” Hariri was most likely killed in a settling of accounts between rival Syrian mafia gangs: that type of crime happens every now and then in Palermo and in the south side of Chicago without eliciting the appointment of a German special prosecutor or impromptu meetings of the UN’s Security Council!

Contrary to the tall tales peddled on Fox News, Future TV, Al-Nahar-al-Wahhabist and other Saudi and/or Hebrew controlled media outlets, “sheikh Rafiq” was no “disinterested defender of freedom”

Actually, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Saddam’s Iraq and the French government were the only members of the international community who stood squarely on the side of Lebanon’s sovereignty while the country was being ripped/raped by Syria and Saudi Arabia: in those days, the White House courageously looked the other way while Syrian generals tortured at will from Beirut to Zahleh and “sheikh” Rafiq handed no-bid government contracts to his family’s construction firms and organized Oriental orgies cum crystal waterpipes and deluxe Lebanese sex slaves for his Saudi masters.

2:13 PM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Ramzi said...

Thanks for all the comments folks!
It was so frustrating sitting there listening to the journalists picking at this point and not being able to say anything.

Victorino, I wanted to delete that comment of yours but later decided I should keep it as it condemns nobody but yourself. Please keep such moronic bigotted comments off my blog!

5:02 PM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger khaled said...

Great job... i was watching the conferrence and I too was frustrated as he didnt answer with time zone..

now about the leak, well it doesnt have to do with the track changes in the word document.

the british had the report as MS word and sent it to the press in full,...

5:52 AM, October 23, 2005  
Anonymous Bryan said...

Hi Ramzi,

I'm new to the site. I wrote you a long rambling analysis of the Kofi/Mehlis affair, posted it and saw that it had been successfully posted, but with a yellow background. When I next looked, it was gone. Magic.

Anyway, the gist of what I wanted to say was that I don't believe the time zone theory is correct - for the main reason that I can't see the computer-illiterate Mehlis sitting in New York fiddling with his laptop and trying to delete names from his report between 3:00a.m. and 4:00a.m. with moonlght filtering in through the window on the day of his meeting with Kofi.

Why not try make the changes at a reasonable hour?

Something stinks to high heaven here.

1:18 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger Ramzi said...

Could be the leak was British in origin, but it still doesn't imply that Mehlis changed the report under pressure from Annan, which is what the whole controversy is trying to suggest.

Welcome to the blog...

The fact the the change was so late would also fit Mehlis' version of events, in that he only learnt of the public release upon arriving to NY the day before and the change was at the last minute. Another issue I failed to mention that 95% of the changes are simple grammatical and structural modifications. Also, how would you explain the date of the printing?

Anyway, it's only a theory...

As for your disappearing analysis, there are 2 buttons that follow the box where you write your comment. One is to publish, the other to preview. The preview does not save the comment but only displays it with a yellow background. I guess you clicked on the wrong button. Another mystery solved?

3:58 PM, October 23, 2005  
Anonymous Bryan said...

Ramzi, Thanks for getting back to me on the 'preview' issue. I now realise that what happened was I clicked on 'preview', read what I'd written, and then moved on to something else, forgetting to click on 'post'. As you say, no mystery there.

On the Mehlis/Kofi story, I had a look at some of the MS Word report, checking the times of the changes to the report. A fascinating picture is startng to emerge here: the times are grouped in separate segments and it seems that there were a few editors at work on the document, one going through it for correct forms of address, one for grammar and one for substantive additions to and deletions from the text.

I haven't yet had a look at the times of the deletions to the names of Assad's circle, but I think that might provide a clue or two.

Regarding the time of the printing of the report, I think that the report Mehlis brought to the meeting went the way of all paper and a new report was printed out after the final edit.

The changes to the report were made between 11:38 and 14:59. It does seem possible that Mehlis deleted the names himself eight hours earlier on a laptop set eight hours ahead of New York time, and then those deletions appeared to be made around the same time as other editing done in Kofi's office after he had received the disc from Mehlis.

It's a big story, but obviously the much bigger story is that the Syrians are on the run - and it's high time that happened.

3:32 AM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger Lazarus said...

Btw Ramzi, this post has gained quite the attention outside the blogging world :) I have received it in emails twice so far!

12:24 AM, October 25, 2005  
Blogger Ramzi said...

Who would've guessed, Lazarus?

5:34 PM, October 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Ramzi,
you found the clue.
Still, you missed one point... or maybe I should say two.
Not only the time of the modifications, but also that the document was revised "twice" by Mr Salman Sheikh (he is the aid of Mr Annan).
and as you already said, the time zones point out to the fact that the report was not modified on Mr Mehlis laptop.
I do not know if you are good in french, but I am to send you an analysis that I made on the same day gave his conference. What gave me the idea of the time zones was a sentence Mehlis said: "... even my (laptop) clock is not correct."

I'll paste the text since I do not have u r email. (mine is

The analysis:
"Bahreïn 20X2005

Théorie du complot ?

Mehlis s’est fait laminer lors de sa conférence de presse d’aujourd’hui. Le fait pour lui d’avoir « modifié » son rapport l’a mis face aux critiques des journalistes. Et pourtant, il a clairement affirmé n’avoir pas effacé lui-même certains noms de suspects. Faut-il le croire ?

A mon avis oui :

1- Il affirme avoir travaillé « avec son équipe jusqu’à la dernière minute » à la modification de son rapport. Le titre confidentiel étant toujours présent comme entête lorsqu’il l’a donné à Kofi Annan.
2- « Je ne m’y connais pas en informatique, même mon horloge (d’ordinateur) est mal réglée » Mehlis lors de sa conférence de presse.
3- Mehlis à 11h30 ou peu après, mais c’est dans ces eaux là, le 20 octobre, donne le document à Kofi Annan.
4- A 19h 24, le document est envoyé par courrier électronique à certaines personnes de par le monde :

“------ Message transféré
De : UN Spokesman - Do Not Reply
(the email adress that I removed since no tags are allowed)
Date : Thu, 20 Oct 2005 19:24:16 -0400 Objet : Mehlis Report.

Please find attached the Report of the International Independent Investigation Commission by Detlev Mehlis

(See attached file: Final Mehlis report.doc) (See attached file:

------ Fin du message transféré

------ Fin du message transféré

------ End of Forwarded Message“

5- Le document envoyé aux journalistes, n’a pas été “épuré”, les noms de certains officiels peuvent être lus, en faisant « Track changes ».

Analyse :

Dans la fonction « propriétés », dans la fiche « statistiques », le document nous montre certaines incohérences. Le document a été crée le 20 Octobre à 17h26. Or, les modifications ont eu lieu entre 11h38 (du même jour) et 14h58. Le document (épuré) a été imprimé à 14h59.

Première incohérence : L’heure de création du document

Location Local time Time zone
Vienna (Austria)
Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 5:25:00 PM UTC+2 hours CEST

New York (U.S.A. - New York) Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 11:25:00 AM UTC-4 hours EDT

Corresponding UTC (GMT) Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 15:25:00
Location Local time Time zone
Beirut (Lebanon)
Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 5:25:00 PM UTC+3 hours
New York (U.S.A. - New York) Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 10:25:00 AM UTC-4 hours EDT

Corresponding UTC (GMT) Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 14:25:00
Le document a été crée à 17h26, le 20 octobre 2005. Mais à 17h26 heure de quel pays ? Soit le Liban, soit l’Autriche –pays ou il s’est rendu pour travailler sur le rapport - ou l’Allemagne, pays d’origine de Mehlis.
Location Local time Time zone
Berlin (Germany - Berlin)
Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 5:25:00 PM UTC+2 hours CEST

New York (U.S.A. - New York) Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 11:25:00 AM UTC-4 hours EDT

Corresponding UTC (GMT) Thursday, October 20, 2005 at 15:25:00

Mehlis : « je ne suis pas un expert en informatique. Même l’horloge de mon ordinateur est fausse ». –par rapport à l’heure de New York.

(Je pencherai plutôt pour l’heure d’Allemagne et d’Autriche, vu qu’il a affirmé avoir travaillé jusqu’au dernier moment sur le rapport, même si ça ne change rien à ce qui suit.)

Or, lorsqu’on sauvegarde un document, sur une diskette par exemple, l’heure de création du document reste la même ; et c’est par une diskette que Mehlis à remis la version numérisée de son rapport au Secrétaire Général de l’ONU (c’est le moyen le plus sûr).
Par conséquent, lorsque Mehlis a remis la diskette au Secrétaire Général, et par suite au service administratif de ce dernier, le document « numérisé » est sorti « de facto » du contrôle du juge allemand après 11h26 (heure de la dernière sauvegarde).
La preuve est simple à trouver, il suffit de remarquer que l’heure de la dernière modification est celle de New York, et non d’Allemagne (voire d’Autriche ou du Liban). Or, à 14h58, heure de New York, Mehlis n’était plus dans le secrétariat de Monsieur Annan, la réunion ayant duré moins de trois heures, période durant laquelle les modifications (en deux vagues successives) ont été faites par le Secrétariat de Monsieur Annan.

L’heure à laquelle les modifications ont été faites

Les modifications ont eu lieu de 11h38 (première modification) à 14h58. Or, lorsque l’on observe le minutage des modifications on remarque que des modifications ont eu lieu en 2 vagues. Certaines modifications du début du document ont été faites après que des modifications aient été faites vers la fin du document. Ce qui prouve qu’il y a eu 2 interventions sur le document. De toutes manières, la preuve des deux modifications est sauvegardée par le document (fonction « propriétés », fiche « statistiques » on peut lire « revision number : 2 »).

Deux hypothèses peuvent être formulées :

La première épuration a eu lieu en présence de Mehlis et du Secrétaire Général. Si tel est le cas, pourquoi Mehlis aurait-il « effacé » le nom de certains coupables, pour retrouver le document en ligne avec ces mêmes informations (Est-ce une manœuvre de sa part ? Si tel est le cas pour quelle raison ? Politique ou policière ?)
La deuxième hypothèse est tout simplement le contraire de la première.

Je ferais une analyse mélangée des deux hypothèses :

o Si c’est pour une manœuvre policière, elle ne semble pas rapporter un quelconque avantage. Si les noms sont mis pour exercer une pression sur les suspects, autant les mettre tels quels, en les qualifiant de… suspects (ce qui est le cas de toute manière dans le rapport). Que Mehlis soit au courant ou pas des modifications, ne changerait en rien au résultat (peut-être) escompté.

o Si c’est pour une raison politique, ce dernier verrait son image écornée, d’autant plus que ce n’est pas son rôle à lui mais celui de Kofi Annan de prendre des décisions politiques. En admettant même qu’il ait été forcé à laisser transparaître les noms des suspects, serait-ce donc lui qui serait le coupable d’un tel acte ? Mais de toute manière, cela signifierait qu’il aurait accepté de laisser les politiques (Kofi Annan) saborder son rapport, pour les accuser plus tard « indirectement » lors de la conférence de presse ! Pourquoi n’avoir pas laissé filtrer un rapport non-officiel à travers un organe n’appartenant pas à l’ONU ! (le document incriminé a été envoyé par courrier électronique via le serveur de l’ONU : De : UN Spokesman - Do Not Reply (the email adress) Date : Thu, 20 Oct 2005 19:24:16 -0400 Objet : Mehlis Report). Mais de toutes manières, quel est l’avantage que Mehlis tirerait d’un tel acte prémédité, d’autant plus que lors de sa conférence de presse, il était clair qu’il n’avait pas les arguments pour défendre sa thèse?! Au moins, si Mehlis était dans le coup, forcé ou pas, le scénario aurait dû être préparé jusqu’au bout.
Les scénarios suivants sont donc envisageables :
En donnant le document complet à Monsieur Annan, Mehlis savait :

- Soit que le document allait être publié tel quel, et que cela ne lui posait pas de problème particulier. Dans pareil cas, Mehlis a été utilisé à son insu pour un but politique lors d’une manipulation de la fonction formatage.
- Soit que ce document n’allait pas être publié, ce qui nous ramène à la conclusion précédente.
- Soit qu’il savait qu’il allait être publié, mais ne voulait pas que les noms transparaissent, auquel cas, il aurait donné 2 versions numérisées, dont une (officielle et sans noms) pour la publication, et une autre à des fins de non-publication, afin de tenir le SG informé (ce qui n’est sûrement pas le cas). Et ce serait cette version qui aurait filtré à l’insu de Mehlis, ce qui nous ramène aux mêmes conclusions ci-dessus.

Le comment et le pourquoi de la manipulation

Malgré le fait que ce soit Mehlis diffuser le contenu du document confidentiel (déjà considéré comme officiel dés sa remise à Kofi Annan) ne pouvait se faire que sans le consentement du juge allemand, justement parce qu’il était devenu officiel. Et afin de lui donner une coloration « onusienne » ce document « quasi officiel » devait être communiqué par un « pseudo-organe virtuel » de l’ONU ; à savoir le courrier électronique (assez impersonnel) du porte parole de l’ONU (qui est en fait une adresse éléctronique de diffusion uniquement).
Cela ajouterait à sa crédibilité, sans pour autant compromette la réputation du Secrétaire Général, voire, (à un degré inoffensif) le Juge allemand.

Le rapport pouvait ‘il être modifié à l’insu de Mehlis ?

Il est clair que le document a subi 2 vagues de modifications (voir plus haut). Or comment modifier un passage à une date ultérieure sans que cela ne se sache. Tout simplement en trompant l’horloge.
Lorsque le document numérisé, crée par Mehlis, a été modifié une deuxième fois (disons pour des raisons de formatage simple – ponctuation, mise en forme de la police, etc…-) il suffisait de faire remonter l’horloge dans le temps, en la ramenant à l’heure ou Mehlis « se trouvait » avec le SG, et effectuer le formatage nécessaire (soit, la « suppression visible » des noms des suspects au paragraphe 96). C’est une opération simple, ne nécessitant aucune compétence particulière en informatique.
Monsieur Salman Sheikh (apparemment proche collaborateur de Monsieur Annan, et déjà présent lors du « formatage » du rapport Fitzgerald – pour ceux qui ont la version onusienne du rapport Fitzgerald, les modifications officielles sont visibles sur ce rapport, tout comme dans le rapport de Mehlis) est la personne ayant en dernier eu accès au fichier (voir dans la fonction « propriétés » du document, le nom de Monsieur Sheikh pour ceux qui ont été concernés par la première vague de communication du document ).

Pourquoi ?

Les informations contenues dans le document de Mehlis ne contiennent pas d’information permettant d’incriminer (avec des preuves accablantes) les coupables.
Or, en faisant de sorte à laisser transparaître les noms des coupables, d’une manière aussi « fortuite et quasi-officielle», cela permet de:

1. Politiser l’enquête. Le résultat est éloquent, rien qu’à entendre les questions des journalistes, et des politiques dans différents pays, surtout des Etats-Unis.
2. Décupler le pouvoir de pression politique de l’ONU (et d’autres pays intéressés) à l’encontre de la Syrie.

Car, le pouvoir du rapport de Mehlis, dans sa version « numérisée non-officielle », est de loin supérieur à celui qu’aurait eu un rapport désignant clairement un coupable. Le flou engendré par le rapport non-officiel permet de :

1. Pousser la Syrie dans la direction voulue.
2. Préserver momentanément le régime syrien afin de ne pas créer un vide au niveau du pouvoir en Syrie si le régime en entier avait été accusé.
3. Garder une épée de Damoclès au-dessus de la tête du Président syrien.
4. Permettre à Mehlis de continuer l’enquête alors que des négociations avec la Syrie se poursuivraient, du moins jusqu’en décembre 2005.

N. :

5:01 PM, October 28, 2005  
Blogger Ramzi said...

To be honest N, I know but a few words of French and it will take me a while to get your contribution translated.
But thanks anyway, and if any french-speaking readers can summarize it in a few points I'd be grateful.

2:57 PM, November 01, 2005  

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