Thursday, July 14, 2011

FBI opens inquiry into hacking of Sept. 11 victims

In response to requests from members of Congress and to at least one news report, the FBI in New York opened a preliminary inquiry on Thursday into allegations that News Corp. journalists sought to gain access to the phone records of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to several people briefed on the matter.
The investigation is in its earliest stages, two of the people said, and its scope is not yet clear. It also is unclear whether the FBI has identified possible targets of the investigation or possible specific criminal violations.
The inquiry was prompted in part by a letter from Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, to Robert Mueller III, the FBI director, in which he asked that the bureau immediately open an investigation of News Corp., citing news reports that journalists working for its subsidiary, News of the World, had tried to obtain the phone records of Sept. 11 victims through bribery and unauthorized wiretapping, the people said.
The decision to open a case in New York stemmed from the expanding hacking scandal that has wracked Britain for days, ever since disclosures that News of the World had illegally intercepted the voice mail of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl abducted and murdered in 2002.
It also follows a decision by News Corp.'s CEO and chairman, Rupert Murdoch, to withdraw from the biggest media takeover bid in British history.
The investigation was expected to be handled jointly by two FBI squads in the bureau's New York office: one that investigates cybercrimes and another that focuses on public-corruption and white-collar crimes, one of the people said. They all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.
It was not immediately clear whether federal prosecutors in Manhattan were involved in the case; they would most likely have jurisdiction over any prosecution because the Sept. 11 victims and their cellphones were in Manhattan when they died. Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Manhattan, also declined to comment.
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said: "The department does not comment specifically on investigations, though any time we see evidence of wrongdoing, we take appropriate action. The department has received letters from several members of Congress regarding allegations related to News Corporation, and we're reviewing those."
Jack Horner, a spokesman for the company, declined to comment.
King said in his letter on Wednesday that he was requesting the investigation not only as the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, but also as a congressman whose district lost more than 150 people in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It is my duty to discern every fact behind these allegations," he wrote.
He cited recent news reports, apparently referring to an article first published on Monday in The Daily Mirror, a chief competitor to News of the World, which closed Sunday as a result of the scandal.
The article said reporters working for the paper had contacted a private investigator, a former New York police officer, and offered to pay him to retrieve the phone numbers of Sept. 11 victims and get details of the calls they had made and received in the days leading up to the attacks.
"If these allegations are proven true," King wrote, "the conduct would merit felony charges for attempting to violate various federal statutes related to corruption of public officials and prohibitions against wiretapping. Any person found guilty of this purported conduct should receive the harshest sanctions available under law."
It is not clear if the person referred to in the Daily Mirror article was a police officer at the time of the attacks.
Murdoch began his media career in Australia in 1952 after inheriting The News newspaper after the death of his father, and he has built News Corp. into one of the world's biggest media groups. Assets include Fox News, the 20th Century Fox movie studio, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and three newspapers in Britain — down from four with the death of the News of the World.

No comments:

Post a Comment