Investigations by the BBC suggest a widening probe into alleged computer hacking by UK newspapers. In all, the computer hacking may have been as widespread as now-notorious voicemail hacking conducted by reporters at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, and may have compromised classified British intelligence from government officials, the reports say.
The report by the BBC’s Radio 4 looks into an ongoing investigation by the Levenson Inquiry, a two-part inquiry investigating the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal in July, 2011. The report uses the testimony of Joe Poulson, a former police informant who looked into the doings of Southern Investigations, a private detective firm that is alleged to have hacked on behalf of prominent British newspapers. The investigation has since expanded beyond phone hacking to encompass computer hacking allegations as well. The latest report suggests that the scope of the computer intrusions may surpass that of the phone hacking operation.
The Metropolitan Police are investigating the computer hacking and have dubbed it “Operation Tuletta” as an offshoot of the investigation into phone hacking, dubbed “Operation Wheeting.” However, the scope of the Tuleta investigation is growing.
Speaking to the BBC, Poulson, the former informant, says that the small private investigation agency began doing routine investigative work to support newspaper investigations, but soon began conducting offensive hacking and data gathering that it then sold to willing newspapers in the form of scoops.
The practice was allegedly widespread, Poulson said, including the collection of doctors and medical records, pension records and tax records using keystroke loggers, Trojans and other forms of malicious programs. Southern Investigations tapped former intelligence officers to work for them. The report alleges that Jonahtan Rees, Southern’s co-founder, cultivated a network of contacts including former and serving police officers who were paid for information.
A report from The Guardian in November alleged that detectives for Southern Investigations, working for Rupert Murdoch’s News International, may have siphoned off classified intelligence documents from MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. The private investigators are accused of installing Trojan horse programs on a computer belonging to Kevin Fulton, who was believed to have been a British agent working within the IRA. Information gathered from Fulton’s computer was eventually passed on to News International’s Dublin, Ireland bureau, the Telegraph reported.
But Fulton appears to have been just one of a web of victims that may have numbered into the hundreds, according to the Radio 4 report, which quotes Ian Hurst, Ian Hurst, a former British army intelligence agent stationed in Northern Ireland, saying that he had a Trojan virus placed on his computer by the investigators. Hurst has testified that information taken from his computer was reportedly sent to News International’s News of the World. That includes people in police protective custody and other sensitive data. It also quotes Jane Winter, a correspondent of Hurst’s, who was the director of British, Irish Rights Watch, a human rights organization in Northern Ireland. Winter said that she was told the hackers had made copies of information she sent to Hurst, including information that may have put the lives of those mentioned in the confidential document.
“I was horrified,” she told Radio 4.
More concerning, other individuals believed to have been victims – including British Members of Parliament – may have unwittingly exposed sensitive information about UK negotiations over Northern Ireland and plans vis a vis terrorist elements within Ireland.
You can listen to the full report here.