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FBI Investigating News Corp. 9/11 Victim Hacking Allegations

Jul 15, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has opened an investigation into allegations that a News Corp.-owned tabloid newspaper may have hacked into phones belonging to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  News Corp., founded by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, owns a number of media outlets including Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. 

The tabloid at the center of the allegations is the News of the World, a 168-year-old U.K. tabloid that was forced to shut down amid a massive phone hacking scandal.  According to a report from, earlier this month, reporters from News of the World were accused of hacking the voicemail of a teenaged murder victim, 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who went missing in March 2002.  According to a report from the Guardian, the News of the World accessed her cell phone voice mail and actually deleted messages that had been left in the first few days after her disappearance in order to free up space in her phone's mailbox.  This gave the victim's family and friends false hope, as they believed she was the one clearing the messages.  Sadly, Dowler's body was discovered in September 2002.

As the U.K. investigation of News of the World continued, it was alleged that the publication also hacked voice mails of other families of child victims, soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and victims of the 2005 London bombings, said.

The scandal reached U.S. shores earlier this week, when the U.K.'s Daily Mirror reported that a former New York City police officer who now works as a private investigator charged that reporters wanted the 9/11 victims' phone numbers and details of their call logs in the time leading up to the attack on the Twin Towers. "[The investigator's] 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 U.K.," a Mirror source said.  The report also alleged that some of that hacking may have occurred on U.S. soil.

Those allegations quickly prompted calls for investigations from several prominent U.S. lawmakers and victims' families. Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), who heads the House Homeland Security Committee and represents a Long Island district were many 9/11 attack victims lived, called on the FBI to look into the charges.

Yesterday, various media sources reported that FBI had opened a probe into the hacking allegations.  In addition, the probe will also look into whether any News Corp. employees bribed or sought to bribe police officials to gain access to such records, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.  The FBI, which doesn't confirm investigations, would not comment on the reports.

In an interview with the Journal, the 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch dismissed the damage the scandal has caused to News Corp. as "nothing that will not be recovered. We have a reputation of great good works in this country." He conceded, however, that he was "getting annoyed. ...I'll get over it. I'm tired."

Murdoch also said he and one of his sons would appear at a parliamentary hearing in the U.K. next week to answer question about the scandal, after refusing to do so.  Apparently,  Murdoch had a change of heart when they learned he would be summoned by Parliament.

Meanwhile, Rebekah Brooks, the head of News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper unit resigned Friday morning because of the scandal, the Journal said.  The 43-year-old Brooks was editor of News of the World when that Milly Dowler incident occurred.  Brooks had offered to resign earlier, as pressure over the scandal mounted, but the offer was rejected. 

"I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt and I want to reiterate how sorry I am," Brooks said in an email to staff, according to the Journal. "I have believed that the right and responsible action has been to lead us through the heat of the crisis, however my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate.

Brooks is scheduled to testify next week before Parliament, alongside both Murdochs.

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