Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, relatives of some of those who were killed discovered that personal details that had not been told to reporters — and even personal photos — were being published in tabloids. Some began to suspect that someone was listening in on their phone messages, says the New York Times; they recount hearing clicks on their home and mobile phones and answering machines. Amid the revelations last summer about potentially widespread phone-hacking by the staff of the British tabloid the News of the World, a number of relatives of 9/11 victims approached the US Justice Department. Eight met with Attorney General Eric Holder on August 24 and asked him, as a first step in investigating whether their privacy had been violated, to see if their names or phone numbers showed up in materials that Scotland Yard had seized from Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator thought to have done most of the hacking for the NoW.
Back in July, another British newspaper, The Daily Mirror, reported that a private investigator had said that NoW staff had offered to pay him to retrieve records of 9/11 victims and their families. No other reports have emerged with such allegations and, so far, no public evidence has surfaced. Justice Department officials have said that they are “doubtful” if evidence confirming the suspicions of 9/11 relatives will emerge.
Still, if you read the accounts of 9/11 relatives described in the New York Times, you are likely to get the sense that something, and something of a quite disturbing nature, was going on. Some details:
Jack Grandcolas, whose wife, Lauren Grandcolas, was aboard Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa., said that one night several months after her death, his home telephone rang and he listened as the answering machine played previously recorded messages, apparently through a password-enabled command. “It was as if the phone had been accessed by someone,” he said….
Lucy Aita, whose fiancé, Paul Innella, 33, of East Brunswick, N.J., died in the World Trade Center, said she also recalls clicking sounds on her telephone for months after the attacks.
“Every time we picked up the phone, we heard a little clicking noise that was intermittent,” she said. “Then we started hearing voices of people, as if they were on a speaker phone. A few times we’d say, ‘Can you stop listening to us, please?’ Then all of the sudden, we’d hear a click and they would be gone.”
As the New York Times says, these mysterious incidents do not fit the pattern of the phone hacking recounted by those whose voice messages were hacked by NoW staff. But it is no wonder that the families of 9/11 victims who heard those clicks in the night are in search of explanations. Certainly they ought to be provided with answers to every extent possible.
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Photo by Tom Hannigan