Murdoch's 'Hackgate' Moves From Spark to Firestorm
The great fire at News Corp. is not confined to phone hacking by staff of the News of the World in the UK. It would appear this conflagration could be spreading to the US.
The NOTW "Hackgate" scandal has dominated, not only the UK, but much of the world’s media. About 2 million people in the US watched live as an otherwise obscure Parliamentary subcommittee cross-examined Rupert Murdoch as he (almost literally) ate humble pie.
For those who want to catch the background, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, also with an audience of about 2 million, delivers the basic outline in an excellent parody.
The scandal was sparked when Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, and Clive Goodman, a former royal correspondent for NOTW, pleaded guilty in court in January 2007 to having hacked into the phone messages of royal aides.
That situation evolved into the current firestorm, and wholesale public revulsion due to the revelation that NOTW had ordered the hacking of the cellphone of murdered 13-year-old 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.
But this alleged criminal activity was not restricted to phone hacking. As reported by the BBC’s Vivian White in March 2011, a senior NOTW executive obtained emails hacked into by a private detective, Stephen Whittamore, who was jailed for supervising hacks into the computers of police, a UK government department, and British Telecom. Records showed 35 newspapers and magazines had used his services, the top buyer being News International, NOTW’s parent company.
It seems the PC and computer hacking was carried out by straightforward means of planting malware via phishing emails.
Scotland Yard’s Specialist Crime Directorate has now established "Operation Tuleta," to examine the alleged email hacking. The new unit is trying to keep a low profile mainly due to 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 limited to phone hacking.
Operation Tuleta is distinct 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 scandal has, so far, caused two of the UK’s top policemen to resign.
This firestorm is not going to die down anytime soon and could likely spread across the Atlantic. News Corp.’s financial base is now in the US, and Rupert and James Murdoch are US citizens. The FBI is following up on the UK’s Daily Mirror report that a former New York police officer claimed, he was offered money by a NOTW reporter looking for private phone details of 9/11 victims.
US Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are pressing for a US governmental enquiry and have asked if Dow Jones executives knew anything about hacking by News Corp.’s related companies.
The most recent revelation regarding the US side comes via the Sydney Morning Herald, which suggests that News Corp.’s Fox News channel ran a “black-ops” division. According to a former executive, this operation illegally hacked private phone records and monitored emails.
Where could this all end?
From a positive perspective, a fire in nature cleanses away the old and rotten growth. As a parallel to Watergate, Murdoch’s Hackgate has already claimed multiple arrests of current and former executives, forced senior policemen to resign, and put the UK’s PM David Cameron under considerable pressure. The "Nixon" in this case could be Rupert Murdoch himself -- and we could see the ultimate breakup of a $40 billion media empire.