Why Assign the Met’s Counterterrorism Squad to Investigate Murdoch?

The NYT has a long article exploring why Scotland Yard allowed bags and bags of evidence showing News of the World’s widespread hacking to sit unopened for four years. One reason, it explains, is because Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism unit led the investigation, rather than the special crimes unit. Since the counterterrorism unit was so busy investigated alleged terrorism, it had no time to investigate Murdoch.

The police have continually asserted that the original investigation was limited because the counterterrorism unit, which was in charge of the case, was preoccupied with more pressing demands. At the parliamentary committee hearing last week, the three officials said they were working on 70 terrorist investigations.

Yet the Metropolitan Police unit that deals with special crimes, which had more resources and time available, could have taken over the case, said four former senior investigators. One called the argument that the department did not have enough resources “utter nonsense.”

Another senior investigator said officials saw the inquiry as being in “safe hands” at the counterterrorism unit.

The NYT further explains how often key police figures and NotW figures socialized together.

Executives and others at the company also enjoyed close social ties to Scotland Yard’s top officials. Since the hacking scandal began in 2006, Mr. Yates and others regularly dined with editors from News International papers, records show. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, met for lunch or dinner 18 times with company executives and editors during the investigation, including eight occasions with Mr. Wallis while he was still working at The News of the World.


Andy Hayman, who as head of the counterterrorism unit was running the investigation, also attended four dinners, lunches and receptions with News of the World editors, including a dinner on April 25, 2006, while his officers were gathering evidence in the case, records show. He told Parliament he never discussed the investigation with editors.

And it shows how much money exchanged hands between the police and Murdoch’s empire.

But that still doesn’t explain how the counterterrorism unit would ever have been the appropriate entity to investigate illegal wiretapping by a newspaper.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but think, in addition to all the ways Murdoch’s empire has corrupted journalism and politics in the US and UK, its other great sin: making torture (and Dick Cheney’s absolutist approach to counterterrorism) popular. It did so with its news programs. But even more so, it did it with 24.

For all its fictional liberties, “24” depicts the fight against Islamist extremism much as the Bush Administration has defined it: as an all-consuming struggle for America’s survival that demands the toughest of tactics. Not long after September 11th, Vice-President Dick Cheney alluded vaguely to the fact that America must begin working through the “dark side” in countering terrorism. On “24,” the dark side is on full view. Surnow, who has jokingly called himself a “right-wing nut job,” shares his show’s hard-line perspective. Speaking of torture, he said, “Isn’t it obvious that if there was a nuke in New York City that was about to blow—or any other city in this country—that, even if you were going to go to jail, it would be the right thing to do?”

Since September 11th, depictions of torture have become much more common on American television. Before the attacks, fewer than four acts of torture appeared on prime-time television each year, according to Human Rights First, a nonprofit organization. Now there are more than a hundred, and, as David Danzig, a project director at Human Rights First, noted, “the torturers have changed. It used to be almost exclusively the villains who tortured. Today, torture is often perpetrated by the heroes.” The Parents’ Television Council, a nonpartisan watchdog group, has counted what it says are sixty-seven torture scenes during the first five seasons of “24”—more than one every other show. Melissa Caldwell, the council’s senior director of programs, said, “ ‘24’ is the worst offender on television: the most frequent, most graphic, and the leader in the trend of showing the protagonists using torture.”

The show’s villains usually inflict the more gruesome tortures: their victims are hung on hooks, like carcasses in a butcher shop; poked with smoking-hot scalpels; or abraded with sanding machines. In many episodes, however, heroic American officials act as tormentors, even though torture is illegal under U.S. law.

Fox created the war on terror in the popular imagination. And 24’s views on torture played a key role in the development of our own torture protocols, most notably at Gitmo.

In fact, just before Scotland Yard buried the Murdoch scandal in its counterterrorism unit, Ginni Thomas set up a love-fest for 24 at the Heritage Foundation, “moderated” by Rush Limbaugh.

Now all of that is not to suggest that the US intervened with Scotland Yard to make sure Murdoch’s tabloids could get away with wiretapping Brits (though it did also happen to coincide with the Bush Administration’s successful efforts at covering up its own wiretapping scandal). All of that is not to say that there was any connection at all between this British cover-up and Murdoch’s American teevee shows.

But I do think its possible that counterterrorism officials might have felt a certain affinity for the world view Murdoch popularized.

41 replies
  1. dustbunny44 says:

    Are you making a case for Murdoch and his empire operating at the behest of the CIA? If so, thank you. I’ve often wondered why details appeared that way, for example Cheney publicly espoused Fox, made it known that he kept it on all day in his offices. And why Fox always seemed to take the side of that part of right-wing politics that’s been behind torture, lower taxes, foreign criminal foolishness.

  2. scory says:

    Marcy — so glad you’re continuing to work somewhat frantically after leaving FDL. The Murdoch/News International/Fox scandal increasingly looks like something that might start taking out serious swaths of the political class and their enablers. Also — and you can confirm or refute its application as well as anyone — the activities in which NI and Fox were involved seem to open the door to RICO prosecution, should anyone have the stomach to pursue it.

  3. emptywheel says:

    I think much more within the realm of possibility is a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecution.

    But all that assumes that Eric Holder has the stomach for prosecuting politically powerful entities. Which is a fact not in evidence.

  4. Semanticleo says:

    searched National Archives for hours, but could not find how Murdoch got US citizenship in 1985 so he could buy MetroMedia. rumor is Reagan by edict? or Exec Order?

    Could be buried in some Senate housekeeping or unrelated bill. Interestingly, Reagan by EO deleted the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987

  5. emptywheel says:


    No, I’m not going that far (and besides, remember that CIA wasn’t necessarily reliable, per Cheney).

    I’m simply saying that there were a number of elite institutions that embraced a certain kind of fight on terror. The Brits and the US were very close allies on that fight. And News Corp was basically an affinity organization to that effort.

  6. EoH says:

    Andy Hayman’s thumb will figure prominently in any analysis. But someone appointed Hayman as assistant commissioner, someone gave him juice and covered his arse. Someone made sure no one else at the Met talked out of school or poached the investigations his people were sitting on. And someone else gave that someone cover to do all that.

  7. Semanticleo says:


    If you have some best practices for finding info on Murdoch’s citizenship, it would be appreciated.

  8. EoH says:

    I think we should stop thinking of the Met in terms of Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade, Commander Adam Dalgleish or Inspector Morse (who was with Thames Valley, not the Met). Jane Tennison comes closer, but I think we need to burst a few emotional and intellectual bubbles by looking further afield. Think James Ellroy and L.A. on the Thames.


  9. emptywheel says:

    Isn’t Van Natta’s implication that it was Paul Stephenson who had that thumb on the scale?

    In any case, I agree. I’m just suggesting that putting an investigation of Murdoch in CT is a nice place to ensure you’ll have cops willing to stay quiet.

  10. EoH says:

    Rupert Murdoch has been a US citizen for 25 years. It was a requirement he needed to comply with in order to further his ownership of US media.

    Moms and pops and immigrants take such things seriously. Murdoch, however, is transnational in the sense that home is where his money and power and immunity lie; cultural reminders, be it beaches, whisky, hotels or country houses, he can buy anywhere.

    The usual search engines would be a good start. Wiki is a good place to get the lay of the land and to learn enough to better tailor searches. The facts and biases in any article need to be checked by looking further, especially on controversial topics such as Rupert Murdoch or US politicians and corporate narcissistic giants. They have minions who routinely and thoroughly search the Internet “correcting” data. There is a sub-industry of people who do that. Their fees are commensurate with popularity of the target and the depth of dirt and scarring that needs to be cleaned or obscured.

  11. EoH says:

    Yes, Stephenson reportedly hired Hayman as assistant commissioner. Hayman had been Chief Constable of the Norfolk constabulary, its top cop, but in a county known more for its hundreds of churches, its flat, wet agricultural landscape, and its horse racing, not its violent or organized crime.

    Hayman was an Essex lad, which connotes birth as well as being shorthand for a type of tough, street kid not known for a deep regard for procedure and due process.

    More “someones” than Stephenson would be required to give Hayman the juice and cover he needed. And someone would have needed to do the same for Stephenson. Presumably, that required a coterie of protectors on Downing Street and elsewhere.

    I agree that parking the investigation at the CT unit would have been the best place to hide it. It would have had carte blanche in terms of its resources, its unassailablility, and its direct access to to Stephenson.

  12. marksb says:

    Well the html quote block didn’t work. Would have blockquoted,

    “Another senior investigator said officials saw the inquiry as being in “safe hands” at the counterterrorism unit.”

  13. mamayaga says:

    The scotching of this investigation by the anti-terrorism unit was clearly willful and intentional. From the NYT article:

    “The documents were seized on Aug. 8, 2006, from Mr. Mulcaire’s home in Cheam, south of London. Mr. Mulcaire, a 40-year-old former soccer player whose nickname was “the Trigger,” was nothing if not a meticulous note-keeper. On each page of the 11,000 documents, in the upper-left-hand corner, he wrote the name of the reporter or editor whom he was helping to hack phones.”

    There’s no way that the only name in those corners was that of Clive Goodman (claimed to be the sole rogue reporter who hired Mulcaire to hack phones). ANYONE who even glanced at the material would have known that many more of Murdoch’s minions were involved. Yet the police assured Parliament and the public that the hacking had been confined to Goodman.

    Even more chilling is the more recent attempt by very highly placed police official to shut down the ongoing Guardian investigation of phone hacking (see here:http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/15/phone-hacking-met-police-guardian).

    The picture is not of a lackadaisical approach to a political hot potato, where the cops just conveniently failed to follow through, but an active attempt to cover it up, including especially the collusion of the police.

  14. nomolos says:

    If you can hack enough phones you can have an unlimited supply of blackmail information certainly enough to stop any investigation.

    If anyone, for one minute, thinks that that is not the case here in USACorp they must have had fairie dust for breakfast.

  15. EoH says:

    It is unlikely that Mr. Murdoch’s empire relies solely on hacking telephones and e-mails in order to obtain information useful in promoting its businesses and influence over politicians, business and the media.

  16. EoH says:

    Let’s look again at a few of the types of people that Murdoch’s NoW is alleged to have hacked: politicians, including the deputy prime minister and minister of defense; top movie and media celebrities; top sports stars and managers; police officials and victims of crime.

    Given that range, it seems reasonable that others were also targeted. They might include judges, opposition parliamentarians and their top staff; top bureaucrats, who do the actual work of government and push or prevent key policies; top corporate officials representing friends and foes of the Murdoch empire; diplomats.

    Back to those already acknowledged as alleged victims of Murdoch’s hackers. Apart from garnering information on their personal lives, which could open them to coercion, what would they have been involved with in their professional lives?

    The deputy PM would have been involved with virtually all government policies of any importance. The minister of defense was waging war in the Middle East, along with George Bush. Movie and media celebrities’ careers – and the fortunes of their film vehicles – could be put at risk. Top sports managers and athletes had information that could affect betting odds and the market value of their franchises.

    Police officials knew who and what was being investigated. That could have yielded a cornucopia full of a) bent cops, bent politicians and bent corporate figures; b) inside stock and market information; c) media targets. The latter would also have been true for victims of crime.

    A lot of that information could turn into enhanced sales for the media Murdoch owned. It would have been far more lucrative if it were used, hypothetically, for blackmail, insider trading, and to influence politicians and policies. That latter would include obtaining government permission for deals Murdoch or his network wanted and opened the possibility of derailing deals helpful to their opponents.

    If that were the plot of a film by Ed Wood, his villagers would be sharpening their pitch forks and holly stakes.

  17. Gitcheegumee says:

    EoH @5:40pm

    According to Yahoo News, Murdoch has purchased full page ads in the British press with the title We Are Sorry in big bold letters .There are some very interesting tidbits in these links, including the fact that Murdochs son-in-law is the great grandson of Sigmund Freud(Matthew Freud),and has a successful PR firm in the UK,himself,although News Corp has hired Edelman,who also reps lots of big corps worldwide.

    Phone hacking: Rupert Murdoch calls in PR firm Edelman
    The Guardian – 2 days ago
    Rupert Murdoch: the appointment of Edelman comes after 11 days of sustained coverage of the phone-hacking scandal. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has …17 related articles

    Edelman in Control at News Corp.
    Adweek – 3 related articles

  18. Gitcheegumee says:

    From Sourcewatch,re: Edelman

    Edelman is the largest independently owned PR company with 46 offices and 50 affiliates around the world. [1]

    According to a marketing executive, an Edelman executive providing media training to his firm said: [2]
    Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is ok. How many times have you heard a CEO stand up and say “No, I’m not leaving the company” and then – days later – he’s gone. Reporters understand that you “had” to do it and they won’t hold it against you in your next job when you deal with them again.

  19. rosalind says:

    the twitter hashtag #shakespeare4murdoch has become my new time waster. some favs:

    “My lover’s lies are nothing like The Sun”

    “NoW is the winter of our discontent made glourious summer by this Sun on Sunday”

    “Remorse, remorse. My kingdom for remorse”

  20. Gitcheegumee says:

    It would be well to note Murdoch’s extensive presence in China,also,in addition to his Middle East and Australian alliances:

    Rupert Murdoch to invest in Chinese Internet Company | Shenzhen …www.shenzhen-standard.com › Business › Investment Relations – CachedJun 17, 2011 – Chinese video and music Internet company Xunlei Limited gain a great man to believe and invest in their company. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch …

    Salon | 21stwww.salon.com/feb97/21st/murdoch970220.html – CachedMurdoch and the Chinese Communists — it’s a match made in hell, and the courtship hasn’t always gone swimmingly. News Corp. has a dominating media presence …

  21. Kathleen says:

    Follow the money sure applies to this situation. One of the more interesting pieces I heard was on NPR’S Morning Edition. They reported that not only did News Corp make 10 billion I believe it was last year and did not pay taxes. They received 4.5 billion back in tax refunds. Now I do not get the economic scene but this sounds like Murdoch and team are getting away with highway robbery.

    How News Corp. Received Billions In Tax Refunds


    uly 13, 2011 – [POST-BROADCAST NOTE: Reuters issued an advisory indicating that the column written by David Cay Johnson, on which this interview with Johnson was based, was wrong. We will provide further clarification as information becomes available.]

    STEVE INSKEEP, host:

    As British investigators dig for details in the News Corp. scandal, a columnist for Reuters looked at some financial figures that were already public. News Corp. is a publicly traded American company, meaning it must disclose financial information. So columnist David Cay Johnston ran the numbers on how much News Corp. made in the last four years and the taxes it paid on those earnings.

    Mr. DAVID CAY JOHNSTON (Columnist): Murdoch’s company News Corporation made over $10 billion in profits over the last four years, and their tax came to $4.8 billion negative. That is they made $4.8 billion from tax refunds.

    INSKEEP: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I’ve heard of people eliminating their tax burden down to zero. General Electric was criticized for getting its tax burden down to zero. But you’re saying that News Corporation was actually paid by the United States government?

    Mr. JOHNSTON: Almost $5 billion, which would increase their profits, if you looked at it that way, by almost 50 percent.

    INSKEEP: And I have to clarify this again, because many of us Americans receive tax refunds, but usually that just reduces our total tax bill. How do you get a tax refund that causes you to have a negative tax burden, as a corporation?

    Mr. JOHNSTON: Well, America has two tax systems, separate and unequal. One is for you and me and the listeners, and we pay each year. But if you’re a corporation, you’re allowed to reach back – in some cases 20 years – and to carry forward for many years tax losses and tax benefits that smooth out your tax bill.

  22. bell says:

    makes one wonder about fox news connections with the usa gov’t of bush 2 in particular… i see harper was dining with murdoch top executives a year or so as well… these neo con freaks are an interesting bunch..

  23. Kim Hanson says:

    Not to make excuses but one would not be surprised in the counter-terrorism folks were highly expert in illegal wire tapping.

  24. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    mamayaga @6:30 pm

    My, oh, my… look at what’s leaking out from under the transom. It’s also interesting that article ends with the info that the cops investigating the computer hacking ‘have had no contact with NI’.

    EoH @5:30, great insights.

  25. cynthia Kouril says:

    from the NYTimes Rebekah Brooks, Ex-Head of News International, Said to Be Arrested in Hacking

    Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, the British newspaper unit of the News Corporation, was arrested Sunday in the phone hacking scandal at The News of the World, a News International executive said.

  26. Katie Jensen says:

    Do the assange leaks, wiki leaks, or anonymous have anything to do with how the police found out, that the messages had been erased in the murder case? Do we know the mechanism that uncovered this mess. We know the case, but the mechanism?

  27. lysias says:

    “24”, although it did not premiere until after 9/11, was in production weeks before it. Who knew what when?

  28. Fractal says:

    Lots of us commenters accustomed to the linky tools at FDL could use a tutorial — “How to Turn the Linky Tools OFF.”

    E.g., IIRC, when we use the “a href=” tag, we need to end it with “/a” (both in carets of course). Same for “strike” and “/strike” and for “strong” and “/strong.” But since lots of us are screwing up our HTML, it might help to expand the list below the comment box.

    • bmaz says:

      Give us another day or two and the comment box and tools therewith, and the appearance of comments in the thread, should all be back to normal.

  29. Jeff Kaye says:

    “And 24′s views on torture played a key role in the development of our own torture protocols, most notably at Gitmo.”

    In all my investigations on torture, I have found the influence of “24” to have been nil, or at most quite minor. In fact, the story arc of 24 was that all that torture had seriously harmed the main character’s humanity. Of course, it was displayed as a heroic sacrifice. While like bmaz, I enjoyed the first two seasons, the show ended up becoming quite repetitive and strained itself in an attempt to shock in such a way that it ended in a yawn.

    There’s no doubt that the right found something amenable in 24’s fantasies. And there is that Jane Mayer story. But Mayer is a bit too gullible in this instance. Personally, I found it her weakest contribution on the torture scandal to date.

    The impetus and the support for torture within the government had very little or nothing to do with the Fox show. It had everything to do with earlier U.S. government decisions to explore and control human behavior, and in a counterterror-counterinsurgency policy that turned to barabaric practices like torture and assassination in the first decades after WWII, after, that is, the U.S. inheritance or winning of world empire.

    It also had a lot to do with the world view of men like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others, who had never seen 24 at the time that they were revving up the torture and experiments program. (The first episode of 24 aired on November 6, 2001, but it would be an incredible stretch to say that its influence was so strong that it would inform the torture program then unfolding. Documentary evidence as to changes in protections against prisoner abuse or rules on informed consent in research on prisoners predate the 24 premiere, and in the case of the latter, plans predate 9/11.)

    There was no 24 in the 1960s, and yet we had the Phoenix Program. There was no 24 in the 1970s-1980s, and yet we had the U.S. training foreign security forces to torture.

    Otherwise, great article on the issue of investigations into the Murdoch hacking, which I’m sure we’ll see was intimately bound up with the actions of a powerful clique in the British state apparatus, a kind of Watergate scandal for the Brits.

  30. pdaly says:

    wrt 24, I agree with Jeff and bmaz (first few seasons at least), but I’ll add that many viewers (read Republicans) cheer on Jack Bauer because he is a “good guy.” Do they realize that they only know Jack is a “good guy”, because they, the viewer, have a perfect knowledge of Jack’s actions?

    That confidence is what comes with OVERSIGHT–‘oversight’ as in watching what some one does, not ignoring.

    By comparison, think of the treachery (the character NINA, for example) that can occur when someone you think you can trust is not watched closely. 24 taught us that, too, but these lessons are lost on the cheerleaders for torture.
    Not to mention that Jack Bauer himself taught viewers that torture does not work (on Jack Bauer). But everyone else? It works like a charm…

    OT: No one has mentioned a bit of ’24’ trivia that has always bothered me: How much money does Jack make at CTU?

    I ask, because near the end of Season One, when Jack’s wife is suffering amnesia and returns to the family home with the help of a well-meaning friend (watch out for the assassin outside!), we see a quick pan of their dining room.

    The four dining room chairs are clearly Greek klismos chairs made of walnut and designed in 1961 by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for the furniture maker SARIDIS in Athens, Greece.

    Those Saridis manufactured Robsjohn-Gibbings klismos chairs are model no. 3 to be exact (I’ve been a fan of this chair long before 24!), and retails for about $6000 per chair. So that’s $24,000 worth of dining chairs (to seat four people)! Maybe Jack Bauer is working on the side for Black Water?

    Examples of the chair I found on the internet.
    You can get them cheaper at auction.
    At auction in 2005, one klimos chair sold for $4000.

    6 of the Saridis klismos chairs for $30,000 in mahogany

    Just sayin’

  31. Kim Hanson says:

    Did “24” influence government to torture, doubtful. Did it ease the way for America’s acceptance and, for some, celebration of it; almost certainly.

  32. Kathleen says:

    “emptywheel on July 17, 2011 at 11:43 am said:

    Actually, Kathleen, David Cay Johnston has admitted he made a mistake in analyzing News Corp’s taxes.”

    Yep Ew saw that new announcement that at the top of the piece at NPR. Although hope they keep digging into how much in the way of taxes that they do pay.

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