It's hard to believe, but at 4pm BST today it will be exactly a year since Nick Davies and Amelia Hill published online a leak from Operation Weeting, the newly recreated (third) investigation into phone hacking, and revealed that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a missing 13 year old schoolgirl, who was found dead six months later, murdered by Levi Bellfield.
That headline changed the political scene here in the UK. Within days the News of the World had closed, and New Corp were forced to withdraw their takeover bid for Britain's most lucrative broadcaster, BSkyB. Within two weeks James and Rupert Murdoch were summoned to appear before a Parliamentary select committee, and David Cameron was forced to set up the Leveson Inquiry.
Over the next year, the hacking scandal expanding to a corruption and bribery scandal at the News of the World's sister paper, the best selling Sun. Over 50 people have now been arrested. An internal News Corp inquiry, the MSC - set up under pressure from the FBI, SEC and DOJ - has now handed over thousands of emails suggesting bribery of public officials. The scandal expanded to include allegations of TV piracy at News Corp's pay-TV encryption services in Australia, the UK, Italy and the US.
But more than anything, for the UK, the Leveson Inquiry has shone a light into the dark corners of the political media class, and revealed such extensive back door lobbying between the Murdochs and the last five prime ministers, that it was almost like discovering a state within a state. And of course, with Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and James Murdoch meeting virtually every day with David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt, the convergence over the last few years has been almost seamless. As a senior News International journalist expressed it to me:
The Court of Cameron and the Court of Murdoch have become almost totally enmeshed.
This last year has been an amazing journey for our country, and for me personally, as I became inextricably caught up in the coverage of the affair. My book, which explores those 14 days in July which ended a media dynasty - and the 50 years leading up to it - is in the final stages and due for publication at the end of the month.
Below I might share some of the book, particularly the reality of the Milly Dowler story, but mainly this diary is to share YOUR memories, to hear your thoughts about this momentous year.
Whew! This has been an exhausting weekend of revelations and arrests as the Hackgate scandal at News of the World has spread, via an email hacking scandal at The Times, to the arrest of ten journalists, many of them senior, at Britain's most popular paper, The Sun.
Without doubt, from the multiple angry responses from NI journalists, the British arm of Newscorp is now at war with its corporate masters in the News Corp headquarters in New York. The latter are in charge of the 100 plus lawyers at the Management and Services Committee which is directly co-operating with 161 officers in the Met Operations Weeting, Tuleta and Elveden engaged in investigating phone, email hacking and bribery of state officials. It's the latter which are behind the recent spate of arrests, and directly threatens the News Corp base with the threat of prosecution under FCPA violations.
I haven't got long because all these developments have to be incorporated in my book with Eric Lewis, Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch. But in short the DOJ, the FBI and the SEC have all been investigating News Corp since the summer. Mark Lewis, the sterling lawyer for the hacking victims is heading to New York this week to launch civil claims on this basis. In the meantime it's the FCPA violations which could land senior News Corp Executives in the dock.
There are so many sources on this, from Reuters, the NYT, even the WSJ, I'm just going to link to the most recent: Ed Pilkington on the US Guardian site:
The perils to News Corp of an FCPA prosecution in the US against the company and its executives was underlined by the revelation that a grand jury has been convened in the case of Avon Products. The Wall Street Journal reported that US authorities are probing an internal audit report compiled in 2005 that found that Avon employees had bribed officials in China, yet the company only launched an official inquiry into possible violations three years later.
In the Avon case, the grand jury is likely to be asked to consider whether executives were culpable under the "willful blindness" provision of the FCPA.
Professor John Coffee, a specialist in white-collar crime at Columbia law school in New York, said that executives were at risk of prosecution in cases where they failed to ask relevant questions about a suspicious persistent pattern of payments. He gave the metaphorical example of a driver used by a Mexican drugs cartel to transport cocaine across the border who was aware that the vehicle contained a secret storage panel but made no attempt to find out what packages had been placed inside.
As part of its response to the billowing phone hacking scandal, News Corp has amassed the most formidable team of FCPA lawyers ever assembled. "They have appointed not just one of the best lawyers in this field, they have appointed most of the best lawyers," Coffee said.
"That's not normal defensive strategy," he added.
And in other 'news' (I use the term lightly in the Fox news sense), there are rumours that the government scientist David Kelly, who committed suicide after the Iraq invasion over allegations of sexing up WMD threat, could have been a hacking victim. Michael Wolff, Murdoch's official biographer speculates that James could be arrested this week. And dozens of tabloid journalists, more than happy to see others arrested in dawn raids or suffer trial by media, are whining loudly, in a liberal way, about human rights, due process, and innocent before being proven guilty.
But this morning, a very reliable reporter on the Daily Mail suggested that James' testimony could be blown out of the water thanks to find among the millions of supposed deleted News International emails found on a server in India:
As expected, the appearance of James Murdoch, the Chief Executive of News International (and related to some other famous people) before the DCMS Committee today failed to produce any huge bombshells. Let's remind ourselves that the Parliamentary Committee has no real powers of subpoena, witnesses are not obliged to testify on oath, is not run by trained lawyers, and is not allowed to investigate anything that could prejudice the three ongoing police investigations.
James is smart, lawyered up, and left no hostages to fortune in terms of his evidence. Tom Watson had some stellar moments, challenging James over various contradictory testimonies, naming three or four other private investigators working for News International (adding some cryptic reference to Operation Millipede), and at least landing a rhetorical blow by calling James
'the first mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise.'.
Yes, the Murdoch story may be flying under the mainstream media radar, but with three British police investigations ongoing, two Parliamentary committees, a televised public enquiry with full powers of subpoena starting tomorrow, a DOJ enquiry stateside, and other investigations and legal cases in the US, Australia and Italy into Newscorp anti-competitive and/or criminal behaviour, this is not about to go away any time soon.
As an early indication of this, it has just been announced that over sixty separate claims (some filed in multiple names) have been filed in the UK civil claims court against News International: these include dozens of celebrities and prominent politicians, but also the families or partners of murder victims, or casualties of other high profile incidents such as the 7/7 London bombings.
These weren't people who thrust themselves into the limelight - but people who had already been violated by some awful event, only to have their own privacy violated by illegal means by a company whose only interest was profit and using press exposure to exert political power.
Bernstein on the Watergate Analogy and the Culture of Lawlessness
If you think the Watergate analogy is hyperbolical or fanciful, don't forget it was first made by Carl Bernstein himself in The Daily Beast nearly three months ago
The circumstances of the alleged lawbreaking within News Corp. suggest more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon presiding over a criminal conspiracy in which he insulated himself from specific knowledge of numerous individual criminal acts while being himself responsible for and authorizing general policies that routinely resulted in lawbreaking and unconstitutional conduct. Not to mention his role in the cover-up. It will remain for British authorities and, presumably, disgusted and/or legally squeezed News Corp. executives and editors to reveal exactly where the rot came from at News of the World, and whether Rupert Murdoch enabled, approved, or opposed the obvious corruption that infected his underlings.
The parallels with Watergate... Had to do with the culture itself that made this possible. In the Nixon Whitehouse Nixon was responsible for the sensibility that permeated the place, that had to do with unconstitutional acts with a cynicism about the political process and how it was practised, and a disregard for the law. And it became apparent to me, as I read more and more what was happening here, that really at bottom what this hacking furore is about, it's about a culture in the newsroom that has nothing to do with real journalism, real reporting (which is very simply put the best obtainable version of the truth) but rather has to do with serving up both the lowest common denominator of information and calling it news, and obtaining it through a methodology which is outrageous, whether you're talking about hacking or other kinds of invasions of privacy, and that the atmosphere in that newsroom is a product of the culture that Murdoch in the News of the World .
This needs must be quick because the unofficial news has just hit the street, but for those of you who think Holder and the Department of Justice aren't taking the what Gordon Brown has called the 'criminal media nexus' seriously, Bloomberg just has this
News Corp. was sent a letter by U.S. prosecutors investigating foreign bribery, requesting information on alleged payments employees made to U.K. police for tips, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The letter is part of an effort by the U.S. Justice Department to determine whether News Corp. violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, according to the person, who declined to be identified because the matter isn't public. News Corp. fell 1.7 percent on the news.
This week's testimony by News International's former lawyers and executives turned into a bit of a damp squib (executives and lawyers boring? How's that?). But with the start of the Leveson Inquiry, and further arrests by the three police teams now investigatiing phone hacking, computer hacking and corruption of police officials, there's no danger this schadenfreudefestschrift is going to go away.
So let me take this relative calm to explore British Prime Minister's David Cameron's disastrous decision to employ Andy Coulson, as his main media strategist.
It's a fascinating tale, that gives a brilliant insight into what Gordon Brown described as the 'criminal-media nexus' which explains the rise of Newscorp as the most powerful global media force.
I can't give more factual information than that provided by the Guardian. So consider this an FYI diary. And, warning, while breaking news, the information is not of another nail in the voldemordoch coffin quality.
It does, IMHO, provide an end of the week reason to raise a glass, for its shows that the regular police were disciplining their own on their own for NoTW misbehavior, while up at the Met/Scotland Yard, their senior officers were on the make and take with the same paper. Worth a second upraising INHO is that now that push has come to shove, the Surrey local police has not shoved their own local discipline under the carpet although it was, I am guessing a case closed. And a tear for the poor Dowlers, as well. Their sorrow will never end, but they hardly need to have the refresh button being pushed so frequently.
Guardian reports, in a word or three, that the police watchdog agency is investigating a Milly Dowler leak which came from an officer working on the abduction and the information came to them from the force itself.
FINAL UPDATE: well it seems this news has caused a stir across the pond, not only with shareholders wondering why Murdoch treats Newscorp like "family candy" but a call from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington calling for a Congressional Inquiry into Newscorp:
Despite claims by NI executives that the phone hacking scandal enveloping Murdoch and his media empire was confined to the now-defunct News of the World, new evidence shows other Murdoch papers used the same tactics. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was repeatedly targeted for more than a decade by other Murdoch publications.
Further, a former New York City police officer claims he was offered money by News of the World journalists to retrieve the phone records of 9/11 victims and their families.
Yes, the scandal that is shaking the Murdoch Empire is expanding to the US, implicating not only the publisher of the WSJ in hacking the Royal Family with details bought from the police, but also - just as they hacked the victims and relatives of the London 7/7 bombings - there are reports that News International tried to suborn US police officers for hacking details of victims the 9/11 attacks.
a former New York cop made the 9/11 hacking claim. He alleged he was contacted by News of the World journalists who said they would pay him to retrieve the private phone records of the dead.
Now working as a private investigator, the ex-officer claimed reporters wanted the victim's phone numbers and details of the calls they had made and received in the days leading up to the atrocity.
A source said: "This investigator is used by a lot of journalists in America and he recently told me that he was asked to hack into the 9/11 victims' private phone data. He said that the journalists asked him to access records showing the calls that had been made to and from the mobile phones belonging to the victims and their relatives.
"His presumption was that they wanted the information so they could hack into the relevant voicemails, just like it has been shown they have done in the UK. The PI said he had to turn the job down. He knew how insensitive such research would be, and how bad it would look.
"The investigator said the journalists seemed particularly interested in getting the phone records belonging to the British victims of the attacks."
This comes hard on the heels of revelations from Robert Peston at the BBC that emails, seen by senior NI executives in 2007, but only handed to the police a few weeks ago, show that the News of the World paid police domestic protection officers, looking after the Royal Family, for private phone numbers and personal details...
Regarding the emails that were found in 2007 but only passed to the police on July. At least some of them provided evidence that the NOTW was buying the contact details of the Royal family and their friends from a Royal protection officer. This suggests that the security of the head of state was being compromised. It's a remarkable story. As soon as the newer management of the NOTW became aware of what was in the emails, they were told them that they had to give them immediately to the police. But here is evidence that the private details of the Royal family were sold, by a protection officer, to the News of the World.
So many laws, suborning a police officer, lying to Parliament, court perjury are exposed by this revelation, let alone the security risk to our nominal head of state. I don't like Monarchy, but the idea that News International could break the law to bribe, distort and blackmail with impunity for so long staggers me.
And this has ramifications for his US operations too.