FBI to probe News Corp 9/11 hacking allegation

NEW YORK/LONDON Thu Jul 14, 2011 6:40pm EDT

An FBI Special Agent in Queens, New York March 25, 2010. REUTERS/Chip East

An FBI Special Agent in Queens, New York March 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Chip East

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NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining allegations that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp may have tried to hack into the phone records of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the agency said on Thursday.

"We are aware of the allegations and are looking into it," said Peter Donald, an FBI spokesman in New York.

The FBI probe was prompted by a call by congressman Peter King of New York to investigate the hacking claims, first reported by Britain's The Daily Mirror newspaper on Monday.

But U.S. Senator John McCain, who sits on the committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, on Thursday said he had not heard any evidence of News Corp wrongdoing in the U.S.

"I have heard of no evidence of allegations yet of anything being done in the United States of America," McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said.

News Corp declined to comment on the FBI probe.

News Corp also owns the U.S.-based publications the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. The New York Post has not been contacted by the FBI, a spokeswoman said. The Wall Street Journal did not immediately respond.

The Daily Mirror reported that News of the World journalists offered to pay a New York police officer to retrieve the private phone records of victims of the September 11 attacks. The Mirror, citing an unidentified source, said journalists wanted the phone numbers of the dead as well as details of the calls they made and received in the days leading to the attacks.

Law enforcement and congressional officials told Reuters that, like McCain, they were unaware of any evidence or other information beyond the Daily Mirror story to support the 9/11 hacking claim. The Mirror was a tabloid rival to the now shuttered News of the World.

The officials said that the main reason an investigation had been requested and opened was that the Mirror claims were so serious and had attracted so much attention.

Senators Barbara Boxer and John Rockefeller, Democrats from California and West Virginia, had urged U.S. authorities on Wednesday to investigate whether U.S. citizens were targeted by News of the World reporters.

Senator Robert Menendez, in a letter to David Cameron, asked the British prime minister to share any information that might involve U.S. victims of the attacks.

"It is horrifying to consider the possibility that the victims of the 9/11 tragedy would be victimized again by an international newspaper seeking to profit from information about their personal suffering," Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said in the letter on Thursday.

Legal experts said that even if there had been an attempt to obtain the records, it would be very difficult to uncover.

"It would be a very, very involved and elaborate investigation unless they have someone on the inside of the scheme who is providing information," said Roland Riopelle, a partner at Sercarz & Riopelle and a former federal prosecutor.

News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch last week shut down the News of the World, Britain's top-selling Sunday tabloid, on a growing firestorm of allegations that its journalists had illegally accessed voicemails of thousands of people, from child murder victims to the families of Britain's war dead.

News Corp shares closed 3.1 percent lower at $15.44 in New York on Thursday.

(Additional Reporting by Carlyn Kolker and Jennifer Saba. Editing by Martha Graybow, Robert MacMillan, Tim Dobbyn, Gary Hill and Carol Bishopric)

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Comments (5)
vincehugh wrote:
I say that ALL the media should be investigated, not just Fox News. Even though King is the only Republican to support this witch hunt because that is his home area, all the other Democrats are of the far left variety….Boxer, Rockerfeller, Mendendez. The NY liberal media really doesn’t care that much about the so-called hacking, they just want to discredit arch-rival and conservative Fox News. Hacking is wrong, but how about looking into the mainstream media, including CNN, NYT and AP. ‘Be fair and balanced’. I would like to know what kind of deal NBC made with the Obama election committee when he ran for president so that GE got the gov’t contracts, and CEO Emmelt got an advisory position in the White House. Lets let it all out.

Jul 14, 2011 4:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
auger wrote:
If Peter King, who previously left open the possibility of a GOP presidential run (in the WSJ) is instigating the inquiry, you can be reasonably certain there isn’t too much to find. Additionally, the original report from The ‘Daily Mirror’ was as anecdotal as one might hope for.

Jul 14, 2011 5:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SanPa wrote:
@vincehug – The investigation isn’t about fair and balanced. It is about a known crime abroad, suspicions and questions about scope, and an investigation of extent.

One notes that a few months ago, it was Fox scratching at the wounds of our National Public Radio. NPR underwent a major management shake-up … and, I won’t miss the psychophobic Ms. Schuler one bit. Now might be NPR’s time for repayment, but I doubt the network will sensationalize the story in tabloid-fashion. And should sponsored hacking be proven, it will mean jail time for some and job losses for others.

Jul 14, 2011 6:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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