News Corp Targeted Former PM Gordon Brown: Hacked Police, Medical Records; Obtained Bank Information

The latest revelations in the widening News International scandal are simply stunning. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” is apparently as true now as it was in Shakespeare’s day. The idea that a news organization would have the audacity to target a head of state a Cabinet member and later PM over a decade, as News International papers the Sun and the Sunday Times did with Gordon Brown, and not with the usual tools of invective and gossip, but via the theft of personal information, raises the scandal to a whole new level.

It’s bad enough to monitor cell phone calls. The state of cell phone security is a disgrace, as our Richard Smith points out. One of my clients (a media company!) refuses to discuss deals or corporate strategy on mobile phones for that very reason. Per the Guardian, the decade-long campaign against Brown included:

Repeatedly obtaining data from his bank account

Hacking into his accountants’ computer to get his tax fiilngs

Fooling his attorneys into providing details from his legal records

Purloining family medical records (which led to the publication of information about Brown’s ill infant son)

Suborning a police officer to scrape national police computer records

Several issues bear noting:

There is no way to pretend this sort of lawbreaking and invasion of privacy was not News International policy. This took place at two separate papers, the Sun and the Sunday Times.

There is also no way to pretend that Rebekah Brooks’ fingerprints are not all over this. From the Guardian:

In October 2006, the then editor of the Sun, Rebekah Brooks, contacted the Browns to tell them that they had obtained details from the medical file of their four-month-old son, Fraser, which revealed his cystic fibrosis.

This appears to have been a clear breach of the Data Protection Act, which would allow such a disclosure only if it were in the public interest. Friends of the Browns say the call caused them immense distress, since they were only coming to terms with the diagnosis, which had not been confirmed. The Sun published the story.

It seems implausible that Rupert Murdoch, who is a noted micromanager and is famously devoted to Brooks, would not have been kept in the loop about the efforts to obtain information about Brown.

Scotland Yard charged News International with sabotaging its inquiry into police corruption via leaking critical information. Again from the Guardian:

The police say the information being leaked comes from documents handed over by NI executives and their legal team at meetings over the past few weeks. They said it was agreed to keep the information confidential “so that [the police] could pursue various lines of inquiry, identify those responsible without alerting them and secure best evidence”.

All parties at the meetings agreed the information on the table was to be kept out of the public eye until early August, when the police must hand over all relevant information to those pursuing hacking claims against NI. At that point, suspects will be able to see what evidence the police have and will be able to prepare their defence accordingly.

Update: the piece de resistance: right after Scotland Yard began its probe of the now defunct News of the World, the paper also hacked the phones of the senior police investigators on its case. It doesn’t get much more brazen than this. The tabloid leaked claims that one had inflated his reimbursable expenses and was having affairs and another inappropriately used frequent flier miles from work for personal travel. Back to the original post.

This call by Labor MP Tom Watson for James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks to be suspended from office and face the full force of the law based on the information available about News International’s conduct as last week is even more urgent now (hat tip Richard Smith):

As much as it is easy for Americans to pretend that these revelations about the sorry state of the press are due to the powerful role Murdoch has carved out for himself in England, as well as the scurrilousness of its tabloid press, these extracts from a George Monbiot comment suggest that the similarities are considerably greater than the differences:

s. Look at the remarkable admission by the rightwing columnist Janet Daley in this week’s Sunday Telegraph. “British political journalism is basically a club to which politicians and journalists both belong,” she wrote. “It is this familiarity, this intimacy, this set of shared assumptions … which is the real corruptor of political life. The self-limiting spectrum of what can and cannot be said … the self-reinforcing cowardice which takes for granted that certain vested interests are too powerful to be worth confronting. All of these things are constant dangers in the political life of any democracy.”

Most national journalists are embedded, immersed in the society, beliefs and culture of the people they are meant to hold to account. They are fascinated by power struggles among the elite but have little interest in the conflict between the elite and those they dominate. They celebrate those with agency and ignore those without….The papers cannot announce that their purpose is to ventriloquise the concerns of multimillionaires; they must present themselves as the voice of the people…

So the rightwing papers run endless exposures of benefit cheats, yet say scarcely a word about the corporate tax cheats. They savage the trade unions and excoriate the BBC. They lambast the regulations that restrain corporate power. They school us in the extrinsic values – the worship of power, money, image and fame – which advertisers love but which make this a shallower, more selfish country. Most of them deceive their readers about the causes of climate change. These are not the obsessions of working people. They are the obsessions thrust upon them by the multimillionaires who own these papers.

The corporate media is a gigantic astroturfing operation: a fake grassroots crusade serving elite interests. In this respect the media companies resemble the Tea Party movement, which claims to be a spontaneous rising of blue-collar Americans against the elite but was founded with the help of the billionaire Koch brothers and promoted by Murdoch’s Fox News.

Journalism’s primary purpose is to hold power to account. This purpose has been perfectly inverted. Columnists and bloggers are employed as the enforcers of corporate power, denouncing people who criticise its interests, stamping on new ideas, bullying the powerless.

Monbiot suggested a Hippocratic Oath for journalists and suggested some text. Unfortunately, having seen corporate mission statements and codes of conduct honed in endless drafting sessions and summarily ignored once completed, I don’t place much stock in this sort of exercise.

The fact that Aljazeera is making a mockery of what passes for Anglo-Saxon journalism is a perverse good sign; it establishes that there is a real, substantial audience for serious reporting. While the magnitude of the Murdoch shock may well have a lasting, salutary effect on the press in the UK, I’m not optimistic that any self examination or course correction will take place in America’s propaganda-infested media.

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    1. arthur

      Sorry was confusing him with Christopher Monckton, a different sort of UK journalist. One who might feel very much at home in Murdoch’s empire ;)

  1. paidheckler`

    astounding and it doesnt end does it? there must be so much dirt its time to take the top off.

    im getting quite sick of the ‘oh yeah of course it happens’ attitude also.

  2. Hugh

    Media is the propaganda arm of kleptocracy. Its power to distract is essential in terms of class war. Distraction, after all, is the primary weapon in class warfare. It is what keeps the many dazed, confused, unreactive or misdirected in the face of the rampages of the few.

    Murdoch and News International may have stumbled into the spotlight for a bit but one tycoon and some practices at some of his newspapers in one country distract from the culpability of media generally in its defense of kleptocratic elites and promotion of their looting and wars.

    Two words about millionaires. In this country, much of our punditocracy is made up of millionaires. David Brooks is the quinessential example of the millionaire who purports to speak for the common man. The common man, according to Brooks, always agrees with his own corporatist bought and paid for views. For much the same reasons, I long since have given up on Sunday morning roundtables. There too it is all millionaires talking to millionaires, putting forth the views of their millionaire sponsors, and telling the rubes what they are supposed to think. It is all propaganda and distraction but it is so much more than Murdoch and Fox News.

  3. psychohistorian

    I wonder if this sort of stuff happens in the US but hidden and protected better.

    The ignorance of the TV public and their ability to be manipulated by the media is scary.

    So is it comforting for me to think that when they start up the turning in the neighbor deal for looking/behaving weird that I will be the first to go? What will be be my room 101?

  4. Jim

    Slight nitpick, Brown was only the chief executive, the Queen is the head of state (I think America is in a minority among countries in having the two roles in one person)

    1. vlade

      To nitpick even more, he was actually “just” treasurer when most of this took place. Technically, Blair was the CEO :) (but apparently he got snooped on as well)

  5. IF

    I hope it takes Murdoch down. As bad as it is, Gordon Brown was never head of the U.K. But was the MI5 sleeping or paid off?

    1. Dave of Maryland

      This morning on GMT, the morning BBC news show, I saw part of an interview with a clearly shocked Gordon Brown. Up until the moment when he was asked, well, wasn’t it just as bad on your watch?

      And I expected him to slam Cameron, his successor. But instead Brown shifted seamlessly into We were good guys, we never did anything like that.

      So I echo George Monbiot. It’s a chummy club that the politicians thought they controlled. Now that they’ve found out otherwise, what will they do to regain control? Can they regain control?

      Same for Scotland Yard, same for MI5. They thought they had the upper hand. Turns out, they didn’t.

      And all that Patriot Act stuff. Bush used it to spy on his enemies, not ours. Like as not Obama is using it for the same purpose. Like as not, they’ve both been subverted by – I would guess – the Pentagon.

      Give it 48 hours and this will be even more ugly.

  6. Glenn Condell

    If the media, in thrall to the power elite represented by the government, manages to perpetrate this sort of virtually treasonous outrage so easily, you wonder what the actual spooks working for government (but paid for by us!) are up to.

  7. Mark P.

    While the arguments here about News Corp’s propagandizing for the kleptocracy, manufacturing of consent, class war, corporatocracy, corruption of police, and so forth are all valid, Americans should understand that something even uglier and more barefacedly gangsterish has implicitly been done by the Murdoch organization in the UK via all this suborning of others’ data, phones, records, etc.

    The indications are clear that Murdoch organization members fairly routinely understood that information on subjects was to be used for purposes of leverage, suasion and effective blackmail when that was deemed necessary.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Then add in the fact that News Corp has hundreds of ‘tax subsidiaries’ and has leveraged its way to wealth via tax havens and offshored money, and the rubes in government are only to be manipulated for the greater good of the global multinational.

    2. CS

      Like why did Rebekah Brooks call Brown just before the NOTW revelation of his son’s cystic fibrosis was published? Sure wasn’t any courtesy call. Intimidation via expression of power.

  8. JimH

    The Queen is our head of state, not the Prime Minister of the day.
    I’ll be interested to see if this crisis will be used to reassert sovereignty, or if the Pols just try to delay and obfuscate.

    1. ambrit

      Dear JihH;
      It’s been a long time, but, can the Queen dissolve Parliament and declare a ‘National Emergency?’

  9. /L

    “Journalism’s primary purpose is to hold power to account. This purpose has been perfectly inverted. Columnists and bloggers are employed as the enforcers of corporate power, denouncing people who criticise its interests, stamping on new ideas, bullying the powerless.”

    Journalism’s primary purpose is to hold power to account.

    I don’t believe it is or ever have been, that is just part of the myth and journalists self-delusion to feel good about them self. Nothing have been inverted, a newspaper act ultimately in the interest of those who own it. Of course there are journalists who really do hold power to account but that is the exception not the norm.

    The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers
    Thomas Jefferson

    August Strindberg did have sort of a job description for a conservative newspaper editor in “The Red Room“: He have to lack independence, be somewhat dumb, since the company do know that the true dumbness always is accompanied by conservatism in way of thinking and as well as some slyness, can sense the foramens desires in the air …

    1. craazyman

      “Any newspaper, from the first line to the last, is nothing but a web of horrors, I cannot understand how an innocent hand can touch a newspaper without convulsing in disgust.”

      -Charles Baudelaire

    2. Dave of Maryland

      Journalism’s primary purpose is to stir things up & create trouble generally. It is then hoped that in the ensuing confusion useful information will “leak out”, more by accident than anything else.

      Therefore the solution is lots of scrappy little media companies, all fighting for a piece of turf. Rather like the press room in His Girl Friday. Yeah, they were all hacks, but it gave the biggest hack of all – Cary Grant’s character – room to bully. And that’s all that Grant was doing – bullying for his own amusement. When the press works, it works despite itself. As soon as it launches on some great crusade, as soon as one company dominates a market, as soon as it gets embedded – watch out!

      So the new law would be: No one can own more than one media company. Only one newspaper. Only one magazine. Only one radio station. Only one TV station. Only one blog. Only one .com. No exceptions, and no corporations of any kind. But that will never happen.

      1. Anon

        You impugn both Cary Grant and His Girl Friday, a superb film adapted from a play by a serious pair of players, Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht.

        HGF is all about the positive ability of the press to expose to the sunlight abuses of power – Hildy’s great line, having got her man and writing up her story about it, is, “Can I call the mayor a bird of prey?”

        Hildy, backed by her editor Walter, unmasks both the incompetence of the incumbent city administration, and the cynical attempt to exploit the execution of the child-like Earl Williams for political purposes, to whit, to boost the mayor’s re-election campaign.

        Not that such shameful treatment of a person on death row could ever happen, could it? For example, George W Bush’s “pro-death constituents” were never politically appeased by the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, were they?

        We could have used a Hildy that day, f’real.

        But for now, we have to make do with The Guardian’s Nick Davies. He’s not as fetching in lipstick and high heels as Rosalind Russell, but he sure packs a mean punch sideways.

  10. nickj

    please end your s tag.

    One of the problems here is that the UK health service leaks like a sieve; one of the reasons some of us are oppoesed to the madcap sceme to put meidcal records on the internet.

  11. attempter

    So, does anyone think this has caused in Brown or his supporters even a moment of soul-searching over their own far worse assaults on the privacy and civil liberties of normal people? Not bloody likely, as they’d say over there.

  12. Contrariety

    Re the conclusion on Aljazeera: Unfortunately, last time I went to their website they were covering a police showdown that ended in fatalities about 2 miles from where I live, and they failed to mention some facts which caused to their story to come out extremely biased. In the end its all propaganda.

    1. ScottS

      The news always has been biased. The concept of impartiality came from the Associated Press and wire services trying to maximize the number of outlets they could sell to by sticking to the facts. This, indirectly, led to a separation between news and editorials.

      As Fox has demonstrated, and the rest have picked up on, this is not a permanent change. All it takes is some technological or economic or social change to rebalance the formula to make it profitable to sell slanted news.

      The only solution is to cover a story from many angles, like the blind men and the elephant. No one man could describe the elephant by touch — but the sum of their description gave you the data you need to connect the dots.

    2. MRW

      Al-Jazeera, however, will amend their story if you contact them with the missing detail. Depending on the story and how it broke, they may not have enough reporters on it.

  13. Tabloid Patriots

    Governments, particularly in the US, seize data, monitor, tap, record, and then hold private, confidential information against people on a continuing basis. The media doesn’t pay much attention to that of course, it’s too bad Boosh’s ‘Great Patriot’ had to be set up but mobster’s giveth and they taketh away.

  14. Tabloid Patriots

    Governments, particularly in the US, seize data, monitor, tap, record, and then hold private, confidential information against people on a continuing basis. The media doesn’t pay much attention to that of course, it’s too bad Boosh’s ‘Great Patriot’ had to be set up but mobsters giveth and they taketh away.

  15. dearieme

    Brown is hardly a pillar of political morality. When he was P.M., he used his press handler, the odious
    Damian McBride, to allege that the wife of the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, was insane. It’s such facts that, I suspect, allowed the population to ignore journalistic crimes until they heard about the Milly Dowler case – hacking the phone of a girl who was missing (presumed murdered) was too wicked to be borne, especially when they had actually deleted some of the voice-mail. I sympathise with the population’s instinct on this.

    The real worry now, it seems to me, is that the police did not investigate properly, perhaps because: minor reason, they had no faith that the politicians would back them if the going got tough (remember that slimy Blair was P.M.), and – major reason – the jounalists had hacked police phones and had “the dirt” on them too. Those two causes, plus some judicious bribery, seems to have given them carte blanche. Ayway, whatever was going on, the corruption was presumably wide and deep. And ow we have to watch individual politicians who are widely known to be crooks, posing as whiter-then-white on TV. Makes you want to spit!

  16. prostratedragon

    The Guardian liveblog has excerpts from Gordon Brown’s interview with BBC and Guardian. He has some strong statements, e.g.:

    News International as a result were working through links that they had with the criminal underworld. When people find out that the invasion of their liberties, their privates lives and their private griefs and their private thoughts and their innermost feelings become public property as a result, not of a rogue reporter or a chance investigator or someone saying something out of turn when they meet a friend at the street corner, but because criminals were hired to do this particular work, and these were known criminals … These were criminals ,in some cases with records, in some cases with records of violence, and these links have now got to be explored. I find it quite incredible that a supposed reputable organisation made its money, produced its commercial results, at the expense of ordinary people.

    The Guardian liveblog, and the Guardian newstory on the Guardian/BBC interview, with more excerpts.

    1. dearieme

      From the Guido Fawkes blog:

      “tom bradby
      Breaking News; Sun sources claim they got the story on Fraser from a Brown family friend. So now it looks like all out war.”

      So either (i) The Sun got the info illegally, or (ii) The whole “leak” was Brown’s attempt to curry sympathy and support from the masses in his campaign to replace Slimy Tony, or (iii) One of Brown’s friends told the Sun.

      (iv) will be along in a minute, no doubt.

  17. Deep Packet Inspection

    2006, WaPo:

    “The Pentagon pays a private company to compile data on teenagers it can recruit to the military. The Homeland Security Department buys consumer information to help screen people at borders and detect immigration fraud.

    As federal agencies delve into the vast commercial market for consumer information, such as buying habits and financial records, they are tapping into data that would be difficult for the government to accumulate but that has become a booming business for private companies. “

  18. Usin' it Against Ya

    CNET, 7/11/11

    ” Law enforcement representatives are planning to endorse a proposed federal law that would require Internet service providers to store logs about their customers for 18 months.

    The National Sheriffs’ Association will say it “strongly supports” mandatory data retention during Tuesday’s U.S. House of Representatives hearing on the topic. “

  19. Chmee

    I totally get it that the “rightwing” media does slant the news towards their own ends, but what makes anyone think that the “leftwing” media is any different, or any better? They’re all wingnuts.

    The only difference between the two is in how much more in your face about it that the rightwing is. The leftwing pretends to appear like it’s more for the interest of the people, but aren’t. I believe in what neither of them say, and dismiss it all as mere entertainment.

    1. coral

      There is no left wing media, only media designed to confuse the left into believing slightly different right wing propaganda.

      1. and i

        Rachel what’s her face and that grey haired guy? I agree, they’re there for a semblance of representation.

  20. niat holder

    The MSM prefaces the story” the continuing UK scandal” and the idea that we are not involved is slowly coming. Australia far away,yet so close to Nugan Hand banking scandal, opium and CIA air america/iran contra black ops. If phone hacking is the tip of an iceberg, dig another layer with cell phone trigger applications dating from the last30 years.

  21. Eagle

    Seems like an odd decision to justapose a story on how a UK newspaper illegally invaded the privacy of a PM with a complaint about how cozy the press is with politicians.

  22. and i

    I would prefer that all politicians were spied on at all times. I don’t much care about Gordon Brown’s privacy, or the british polices’. This doesn’t seem like a clubby atmosphere to me. Seems like a reign of terror.

    That girl’s phone though, that was wrong, and people will need to go to jail for it.

  23. Patrick

    “Columnists and bloggers are employed as the enforcers of corporate power, denouncing people who criticise its interests, stamping on new ideas, bullying the powerless.”

    This is a description that all of the so called “Main stream media” could easily subscribe to. Informed opinion on all the news channels is merely propaganda on behalf of the financial elite. If it wasn’t then the economic and political nostrums that brought about the current depression would have been ejected from the market place. Instead the mind set remains and the talking heads all parrot the same failed elite party line.

    As the old song said, “It’s the rich what gets the pleasure, it’s the poor what gets the blame”.

  24. peter de haan

    if I were to even attempt such a thing, I would be jailed without mercy on several accounts of jeopardizing state security. I find it amazing that we don’t hear anything from the state security angle. So far the story has been limited to the personal, political and corporate speres. How can that be explained?

    1. Patrick

      If the security services are so incompetent that they failed to act when the then second most important figure in the British Government is having his information hacked by sleazy journalists and bent coppers, what are the chances of them tracking down terrorists?

      Unless of course they had their own agenda for seeing their lords and masters weakened.

      Younger readers should refer to the “Spycatcher” revelations of MI5’s dirty tricks against the then PM, Harold Wilson. A case in which the Head of the Civil Service famously said in an Australian court, “I did not lie, I was just being economical with the truth”.

    2. tar, etc.

      Yes, this story is much bigger than gossip column material. It is not enough for corporations to buy government? They also need to spy on it? A most serious matter. Who ultimately runs the world, corporations or governments?

      Seems the common thread through all the news stories. All our troubles purchased: failed banking regulation, endlessly expanding war profiteering, media monopoly harming elections and democracy, unresponsive parties, elections without real choice… even on another thread here today about a maximum wage, it boils down to whether everything can be bought or if humans have a right to organize themselves on their own behalf, aka government.

      Government has allowed everything to be privatized and now it itself has been. The billionaires are proving to be more powerful than governments.

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