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