Open Phone Hacking by News Corp. vs. Secret Hacking by the CIA, MI5

Intelligence services hack in secret, with powers given to them under law; and when they hack, no one ever knows, unless they are subsequently arrested for planning a terrorist attack


With the news that Rupert and James Murdoch will testify under oath in the U.K. in October — to Lord Leveson’s media inquiry set up by British Prime Minister David Cameron — about the phone-hacking scandal, it looks like we will be heading for some corporate courtroom drama. 

Like everyone else, I’ve morbidly vacuumed up stories from the U.K. about murdered children, dead soldiers, politicians and celebrities all allegedly having their phones hacked by News International (the European and Asian wing of News Corp.) over the past few months.

The British press, especially the Guardian, have been obsessed with simultaneously covering this deplorable story, at the same time as attempting to destroy the Murdoch global news and entertainment empire. 

And, as the news spread out from the U.K. to American soil — with allegations that the cell phones of state senators, high-ranking officials and movie stars had been intercepted for fresh stories, so much so the FBI set up their own investigation — the Murdochs were suddenly shot into the same image-damaging media limelight that they themselves have put countless people under over the years.

Instead of being anonymous backseat proprietors who provide tens of millions of TV, radio, internet, books, news and film consumers their daily slice of entertainment pie, Rupert and James Murdoch are now close to being hate figures in Britain. 

The Murdochs represent a company that thought it was “in the public interest” to hack the phones of dead soldiers being re-patrioted after dying in Afghanistan; the Murdochs represent a company that routinely told its reporters to break into the voicemail passwords of murdered teenagers and delete their messages, in order to make room for more messages, so that newspapers like the now-closed comic book gutter-trash News of the World, had more story angles it could use.

With 13 arrests so far, there are now several British Parliamentary inquiries occurring into News Corp.’s dark practices. One MP, Tom Watson, has already called the Murdoch’s interwoven dodgy dallying with the Metropolitan Police and top U.K. Government officials “one of the largest cover-ups I’ve seen in my lifetime.” 

That it may well be, and no doubt more allegations will follow in the coming months.

But, amongst the understandable public disgrace and celebrity anxiety of being found out about their six-year affair with their mother-in-law, has anyone considered the similarities of this voicemail hacking, this “pinging” (where a person’s cell phone is illegally triangulated to discover where they are at any given moment), and this “paying-off” of police officers for information, to how Intelligence services go about their work?

And I’m talking about British Intelligence services like MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – the secret listening outpost in Cheltenham, England – and American agencies such as the CIA, NSA, FBI and NRO, notwithstanding the Army, Navy and Air Force tactical spy devices too. 

The US’ Patriot Act, after 9/11, and growing mistrust of the public by governments across the globe, have helped ensure many people’s cell phones, landlines and internet services have been “tapped” in the name of national security.

Tapped or hacked, they’re the same thing. Except, of course, intelligence services hack in secret, with powers given to them under law; and when they hack, no one ever knows, unless they are subsequently arrested for planning a terrorist attack.

Reporters at the British newspaper News of the World used to hack in secret – using private investigators – but have been found out. So News Corp., and other media outlets who did this too, will now have to find other underhand ways to get to the nitty-gritty of a story. 

Intelligence services, however, will continue hacking people’s phones in a Big Brother fashion because they feel this intrusion into private lives is legitimate, necessary and saves lives. Which it probably does.

But, could we not argue that, aside from its gruesome hacking of innocent people’s voicemails, some of News Corp’s spurious activities have, in fact, uncovered the controversial and damaging antics of public figures, re-balanced some celebrities incorrect squeaky-clean images, and – most notably in the case of The News of the World – stopped the potential abuse of hundreds of children at the hands of paedophiles living in local communities? 

All things done in secret, for the greater public good, right?

I’m not defending Rupert and James Murdoch. I’d be the first to pour a pint of beer over their heads if I met them in my local pub whilst verbally penalizing them for wielding too much power through their media organizations. 

But let’s take a step back from the phone-hacking shenanigans now shall we, and wait for the result of Lord Leveson’s courtroom drama and inquiry.

And, while we’re at it, maybe we could also wait for the 20th Century Fox movie of the crisis to come out (with Mel Gibson in extensive make-up playing the elderly Rupert Murdoch and Hugh Jackman playing his beefed-up bespectacled son, James) to reveal the real and unavoidable truth: that News Corp. does, in fact, work closely with both the CIA and MI5 to collect secret intelligence – via its army of reporter-spies, who can time-travel when necessary – on everyone and anyone they deem to be “an interesting person." Everyone, that is, who isn’t them.

Or, alternatively, rather than just relying on my dry humor, we could all watch the upcoming, one-off British TV comedy Hacks – an hour-long special that scriptwriter Guy Jenkins is busy penning – about a fictitious newsroom full of dastardly reporters. Because, when this airs, then you know that the renowned caustic/sarcastic British sense of humor is taking charge of the phone-hacking crisis and that Parliament will be trailing far behind.

Until, that is, they get their secret, hacked reports from MI5…