Friday, July 08, 2011

neeeews of the world

In an effort to clear some of the NOTWFail stuff out of my mind, I thought I'd try to come up with some useful pointers for further investigation.

1. The Daniel Morgan/Southern Investigations line of inquiry

This is by far the most serious accusation, in every sense. It has police corruption, a murder, and the unusual sight of a police surveillance team following the NOTW's private detectives following Detective Chief Inspector David Cook around London as he tried to investigate them. (Isn't the movie going to be great?) And wasn't it an amazing moment this morning when Patrick "for once, bracingly chilly" Wintour brought it up in the No.10 press conference? It wasn't that long ago that only Fleet Street or London underworld obsessives knew the story and were unrespectable enough to talk about it.

Here's the Nick Davies version, which is nicely condensed. The whole affair has a strong taste of noir and this boils it down to a bitter, sticky, toxic, but powerfully caffeinated residue.

As editor of the News of the World Rebekah Brooks was confronted with evidence that her paper's resources had been used on behalf of two murder suspects to spy on the senior detective who was investigating their alleged crime.

Brooks was summoned to a meeting at Scotland Yard where she was told that one of her most senior journalists, Alex Marunchak, had apparently agreed to use photographers and vans leased to the paper to run surveillance on behalf of Jonathan Rees and Sid Fillery, two private investigators who were suspected of murdering their former partner, Daniel Morgan.

Note the involvement of Fillery, who was the investigating officer in the original case and took over Morgan's business afterwards, and who was later done for child porn offences. It's also worth noting that Marunchak was accused of being crooked in both directions - not only was he accused of bribing the police for information, he was accused of trousering a share of the money paid out, as a kickback in exchange for putting business their way.

If anyone needs investigating, surely he should be interviewed as soon as possible - and also Greg Miskiw, who comes up in the story. Compared to these two, the royal correspondent is a bit pathetic. Miskiw is an American citizen. Wouldn't it be embarrassing if he was to turn up in the States, protected against extradition?

2. The Met Press Office

So, who's the guy who briefs the News of the World? This blog asked the question repeatedly after the de Menezes and Forest Gate cases. Might that be Dick Fedorcio, the then Met press chief who insisted on going easy on the papers after they were caught spying on DCI David Cook?

On a related theme, Andy Hayman and Lord Macdonald's roles at NI are surely now completely unacceptable.

3. Andy Coulson's Background Check

This was also one of the things that made it a morning to remember. The prime minister explained that he had commissioned "a private company" - yet more private detectives! - to look into Coulson's career before hiring him. What company? Also, I'm not sure whether these enquiries were made when he joined the Tory press office or when he joined the Government.

Further, we know Alistair Campbell and other Government press officers had access to highly secret intelligence in the past. (Not a press officer, but the only politician outside the inner-cabinet who knew about Suez in advance was the then chief whip Ted Heath - it's a precedent for someone with a wholly political/propaganda role being clued in.) Obviously, the dossier was a bit of an outlier, but you'd be a fool to think that the practice of deep integration between government media staff and policymakers had vanished.

So, did Coulson have an official security clearance? Was he ever positively-vetted? If so, what did the DVA's notoriously nosy investigators say about him?

4. The Missing Millions of Messages

Probably not much point covering this as Davies the scoop is after it already and if the "sources" bits are accurate, the dibble are very close to making arrests.

But. 500 GB of Murdochmail. Please. Please. Even just the headers.

Similarly, shouldn't we at last get the big list of the hacked?

5. How Hack Happen?

There's really very little hard information about this around. This piece in the Indy may be by Jemima Khan but that doesn't make it less interesting. It looks like they had found a way of forcing a password reset - so even if you changed the PIN, they could force it back to the default.

Stupid telcos' stupid voicemail implemented a password reset by setting the password to a well-known default value rather than issuing a new, randomly generated PIN like your bank or really, any random website's "forgotten password" link.

But I think we'd all like to know how they did it. Smart money is on the call centres - especially as there have been cases of mobile phone salesmen paying competitors' call centre staff for lists of people whose contracts are up for renewal and also of credit card numbers being sold. Khan names a company: "CTI".

6. Mechanics of Collapse

So what just happened? Was it the advertisers? Who went first? How much advertising did they pull?

Also, what happened with the distribution chain? Did, as rumoured, the newsagents stop ordering papers?

7. Compare and Contrast

Andy Coulson has been arrested under Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, as well as the Criminal Law Act 1977 for the phone-screwing (the NOTW term - after all it was hardly a hack). But this legislation was meant to have been superseded by the Bribery Act 2010. What's up?

One explanation would be that the Ministry of Justice has been working on official guidelines on how to interpret the new law, which encompasses many more forms of corruption than the old and provides for rather heavier penalties. Obviously, it wouldn't be ideal to choose the scandal of the century for the new text's very first run-out, so perhaps that's what's up.

However, there are some other issues here. The new Act provides for the seizure of ill-gotten gains and for the disqualification of company directors - the old one doesn't. And the old Act requires the approval of the Attorney-General for a prosecution; the new one gets rid of this and leaves it to the CPS as per usual.

Either way, it's enough that Coulson offered money. Whether they accepted it or whether they delivered is irrelevant - the crime is either offering or soliciting bribes.

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