The FBI is opening up an investigation into allegations that journalists from the now-defunct British tabloid, News of the World, sought to hack into the phones of victims of the 9/11 attacks, says the BBC. The investigation is the first official US inquiry into the activities of News Corporation. As the New York Times, says, it is not yet clear if the FBI has identified “possible targets of the investigation or possible specific criminal violations.” A letter by Representative Peter T. King, a Long Island Republican — from a district where over 150 were lost in the 9/11 attacks — to FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, led in part to the inquiry.
The allegations of hacking into the voice mail accounts of 9/11 victims were reported in the U.K.’s Daily Mirror newspaper. The paper’s story was based on an unnamed former New York City police officer now working as a private detective, who said he had been approached by News of the World to access private phone records of those who died on 9/11. As the Guardian also says, even if the Daily Mirror’s information can be verified, “there might be a problem with moving forward with an investigation because the events were so long ago.” Federal wiretapping laws are subject to a five-year statute of limitations.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, and New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg have all asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into the allegations of possible hacking, says the New York Times. The Guardian also reports that a number of members of Congress have also called for News Corporation, whose headquarters are in Manhattan, to face charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is a federal law under which companies based in the US can face prosecution for bribery aboard.
Also on Thursday, after initially refusing to testify at a Parliamentary hearing next week, News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son, James Murdoch, reversed themselves and said they will indeed be present. Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International (News Corporations’ main British subsidiary) had already agreed to testify. As the New York Times says, Brooks has indicated via a letter to John Whittingdale, who heads the Parliamentary committee on culture, media and sport, that it “might not be appropriate” for her to answer questions about the police investigation, lest she prejudice it:
“As a result this may prevent me from discussing these matters in detail,” she said.
Mr. Whittingdale said in response: “We’ll see.”
Also on Thursday, former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis was arrested, says the Guardian. He is the ninth person to be arrested on allegations of phone hacking and payments to police officers by News of the World.
On Thursday, Murdoch adopted a “more assertive strategy to deflect the condemnation being hurled its way,” says the New York Times. Murdoch has hired the public relations firm Edelman to address the crisis; hired a “prominent white-collar defense lawyer,” Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. of Williams & Connolly in Washington, who has defended Richard A. Grasso, former chief of the New York Stock Exchange, and Oliver North; and was “said to be planning to run full-page apology advertisements in newspapers across Britain. “ In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, which Murdoch owns, he said that
“some of the things that have been said in Parliament, some of which are total lies. We think it’s important to absolutely establish our integrity in the eyes of the public. …I felt that it’s best just to be as transparent as possible.”
Murdoch also said that he felt his organization had handled the crisis “extremely well in every possible way” and that “minor mistakes” were made (I guess he hired the PR firm and the defense lawyer to clean these up).
The very end of the Wall Street Journal article also noted that Murdoch plans to set up a “new independent committee, to be led by a distinguished non-employee,’ that will investigate every charge of improper conduct.’” Writing in The Daily Beast, Newsweek International editor Tunku Varadarajan deems this yet another “very slick stunt” and a “sham investigation.” You could say Murdoch setting up a committee to examine allegations of wrongdoing by reporters for his own newspapers is more than a bit analogous to, for instance, the Vatican setting up a committee to examine allegations of sexual by priests — to what looks like a bit of an inside job.
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