The FBI is still conducting a preliminary review of whether alleged phone hacking and bribery by Rupert Murdoch‘s media empire violated U.S. laws, but any resolution may well have to await the outcome of British investigations.
The FBI began its investigation last week amid claims that Murdoch’s News Corp. may have tried to hack into the phones of 9/11 victims after Long Island Rep. Peter King put on the pressure demanding action.
“I want them to investigate and investigate fully. I have a lot of 9/11 families in my district. They’re entitled to know if their privacy was violated,” King said.
The claim that 9/11 victims’ phones may have been hacked comes from an article published in a London tabloid, The Daily Mirror, a rival paper to Murdoch’s The Sun.
In the article, an unidentified former NYPD officer turned private investigator, said he was contacted by News of the World journalists who offered to pay him to retrieve private phone records of Sept. 11 victims.
In the story, the ex-officer claimed reporters wanted the victim’s phone numbers and details of calls they had made and received in the days before the 2001 attacks, particularly those of British victims.
The story quoted an unidentified source as saying: “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 U.K. The PI said he had to turn the job down. He knew how insensitive such research would be, and how bad it would look.”
New York-based News Corp., said that “we have not seen any evidence to suggest there was any hacking of 9/11 victim’s phones, nor has anybody corroborated what are clearly very serious allegations. The story arose when an unidentified person speculated to the Daily Mirror about whether it happened. That paper printed the anonymous speculation, which has since mushroomed in the broader media with no substantiation.”
Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to meet Sept. 11 family members who want to discuss the phone hacking allegation.
Sally Regenhard, whose 28-year-old firefighter son Christian was killed in the attacks, wants to meet with FBI officials to learn more about the investigation.
“This is really a disgrace and it’s also a criminal act of these in fact were hacked into,” Regenhard told WCBS 880′s Peter Haskell. “This is very important because these are the sacred and privileged conversations of a 9/11 victim.”
If there are any U.S. victims of phone hacking, they are very unlikely to be aware of it. If there is evidence that any Sept. 11 families’ phones were hacked, most of it is likely in Britain, not in the U.S.
“We hope that the cell phones of the 9/11 victims and their relatives have not been hacked,” Norman Siegel, an attorney who has represented some families for eight years, said yesterday. “However, we strongly believe the FBI and the Justice Department are acting responsibly in continuing their investigations of this matter and the 9/11 families are offering their assistance.”
Separately, the FBI also plans to look into other allegations against Murdoch entities, including an old allegation from a civil lawsuit that a unit of News Corp. hacked into computers of a small advertising competitor in New Jersey and obtained confidential information it used to lure away clients.
The BBC says officials are also looking into claims by actor Jude Law that his phone was hacked while he was in the U.S. Law has sued the Murdoch-owned Sun tabloid for allegedly hacking into his voicemail for stories about his personal life.
Meanwhile, British authorities are reviewing seized documents that suggest perhaps thousands of British phones were hacked over the years on behalf of Murdoch journalists.
In a statement Friday, News Corp. said that it had not seen any indication “of a connection or similarity between the events, allegations and practices being investigated in the U.K. and News Corp’s U.S. properties.”
Murdochs News Corp. is the world’s second-largest media conglomerate and owns many New York-based assets including Channel 5, Fox News Channel, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal.