Hackgate News Corp: computer hacking, 9/11 and the USA
The great fire at News Corporation is not just confined to phone hacking by staff of the News of the World (NOTW) in the UK. It would appear this conflagration is spreading to the US, with reports of hacking on US soil. This includes reports of “black operations” by Fox news against its detractors, and the US Justice Department investigating News Corp’s hacking of 9/11 victims and into a competitor’s computer systems.
The NOTW and Hackgate scandal has dominated not only the UK, but much of the world’s media. Even two million people in the US watched live a usually obscure UK Houses of Parliament sub committee where Rupert Murdoch under cross examination by the committee literally ate “Humble Pie”. For those who want to catch the background, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, also with around a two million audience, produced an excellent parody of Murdoch’s problems.
The spark occurred when Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, and Clive Goodman, a former royal correspondent for NOTW, pled guilty in court and was jailed in January 2007, for hacking into the phone messages of royal aides.
This evolved into the current firestorm, and wholesale public revulsion due to the revelation that NOTW had ordered the hacking of the murdered thirteen year olds cell phone, Milly Dowler. The phone hackers not only bugged the messages, but also deleted earlier messages to allow new ones to be recorded, while police were still searching for Milly. Murdoch has since apologized personally to Milly’s parents and publically to the parliamentary committee.
Why this firestorm is not going to die down any time soon and likely to become Trans-Atlantic, is due to a couple of factors.
Firstly, all this activity was not just restricted to phone hacking. As shown by BBC’s Vivian White in “Panorama's Tabloid Hacks Exposed”, in March 2011, a senior NOTW executive obtained e-mails hacked in to by a private detective. Added to which, private detective Stephen Whittamore was jailed for running specialists who hacked into a UK government department, British Telecom and police computers - and records showed 35 newspapers and magazines had used his services, the top buyer being News International, NOTW’s parent company. The PC and computer hacking was carried out by the straight forward means of planting malware via phishing emails.
This has been added to now with the establishment of "Operation Tuleta", a specialist crime directorate of UK’s Scotland Yard. This is separate from “Operation Weeting”, the ongoing police investigation into phone hacking by NOTW reporters and operatives, and “Operation Elveden”, the investigation into allegations of inappropriate payments to police by NOTW and News International’s staff. It should be noted this firestorm has, so far, caused two of the UK’s top policemen to resign.
"Operation Tuleta" was established as a quieter activity, mainly due sensitive UK intelligence issues. It also follows claims by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and two celebrity bloggers, that information gathering by NOTW was not just limited to phone hacking.
The second factor is the US, which Murdoch is rightly most concerned about, as this is where News Corp’s financial base now is, and Rupert and James Murdoch are US citizens. The FBI are following up the UK’s Daily Mirror report that an unidentified former New York police officer said he had been offered money by a NOTW reporter in exchange for private phone details of 9/11 victims.
As a more recent move, apparently the US Justice Department is preparing subpoenas as part of preliminary investigations into News Corp. relating to alleged foreign bribery and alleged hacking of voicemail of 9/11 victims. Added to this, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Barbara Boxer are pressing for a US governmental inquiry and have directly asked if Dow Jones executives knew anything about hacking by News Corp’s related companies.
Of a specific phone hacking allegation on US soil, the FBI is planning to contact Jude Law about his phone being hacked when he was at JFK airport. Because this happened on American soil, Murdoch's News Corp could face charges in the U.S.
Additional reports have emerged from the Sydney Morning Herald, that News Corp’s Fox news ran a “black-ops” division. According to a former executive this operation illegally hacked private phone records, and monitored emails.
Finally, for this article at least, as it would appear this hackgate saga will run and run, Justice Department prosecutors are reviewing allegations that News Corp.’s advertising arm repeatedly hacked into the computers of a competitor in the United States as part of an effort to steal the rival firm’s business. Although this was resolved in 2009 with $29.5 million as part of an out-of-court settlement, this has been raised as new element in the Justice Department probe into News Corp. ordered last week by Attorney General Eric Holder.
This could also extend to SEC investigations into News Corp’s prior disclosures and whether payments were properly accounted for in the company's books and records.
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