"The Jewish people as a whole will be its own Messiah. It will attain world domination by the dissolution of other races...and by the establishment of a world republic in which everywhere the Jews will exercise the privilege of citizenship. In this New World Order the Children of Israel...will furnish all the leaders without encountering opposition..." (Karl Marx in a letter to Baruch Levy, quoted in Review de Paris, June 1, 1928, p. 574)
By Wensley Clarkson, The Guardian Wensley Clarkson is the author of Dog Eat Dog: Confessions of a Tabloid Journalist (Fourth Estate)
As the News of the World faces fresh allegations over its use of illegal surveillance, one veteran reporter reveals all about the underhand methods used by the red tops to secure that all-important exclusive
On Thursday morning, I got a phone call from an ex-cop I know who now calls himself a security consultant. He'd just read the Guardian, and was not in a good mood. "That's half my salary down the tubes, then," he said. This ex-cop, like several others I know, specialises in illegal hacking and other "assignments" that often end up splashed across the tabloids.
What we are hearing about this week is only the tip of the iceberg. So far there have been just two fall guys: the News of the World's former royal reporter Clive Goodman and his private eye sidekick, Glenn Mulcaire, both of whom were jailed in 2007. But the tabloids - primarily, but not only, the News of the World - have been involved in illegal surveillance operations for years.
I should know: I've worked in and around the tabloids since I was 20 years old - starting out as a staff news reporter for the Sunday Mirror and, later, for the Mail on Sunday, and as a freelance reporter for all the other red-top titles. And I confess that I've been involved in my fair share of illicit snooping in the past.
It all seemed relatively innocent once. When I started out, in the late 70s, we used to pay the odd £50 for a tame police officer to check a car registration number. We didn't think anything of it, though it was of course illegal to bribe a friendly copper to gather material to snoop into people's private lives. But this wasn't the main source of big stories. Back then, circulations were buoyant and the sort of money being spent on exclusives was often higher than it is today. We'd think nothing of signing up a kiss'n'tell with a footballer's secret lover for 40 or 50 grand.
But by the early 1980s, the competition between the tabloids had become so intense that we were encouraged to do just about anything to secure an exclusive. When a Wiltshire police officer came to the Sunday Mirror with surveillance logs that seemed to show that Prince Charles was using the royal train to meet his then secret girlfriend Lady Diana Spencer for "love trysts" we happily paid the man, and got our money's worth when the subsequent story caused a storm of controversy. These were the so-called "mad" years of the tabloids in the 80s and 90s - when the red tops all had similar circulations to one another, and the competition was intense (I can recall many times turning up at the house of someone I needed to interview only to find another paper had beaten me to it; a doorstep auction would then ensue). At that time a lot of undercover surveillance was paid for. Tabloid journalists talked about it quite openly. Many editors either sanctioned what was happening or ignored it because the big stories were all that counted. The attitude was: "What you don't ask about, you won't find out about."
The culture in any tabloid newsroom is to make the story work at whatever cost. The pressure on the news editors and, in turn, their reporters has always been immense - I've never forgotten the time I witnessed a stand-up fight between a news editor and one of his reporters after the reporter refused to make up a quote to embellish a story - but since the 80s it has got steadily more intense.
As a reporter, we used every tool at our disposal. On one highly risky tabloid escapade in the 80s I used an electronics surveillance expert to bug Richard Burton's hotel room to see if he was having an affair with his leading lady. We ended up overhearing him arguing with his daughter about her allowance, and learned what type of whisky he preferred, but we never stood up the affair. For every story that got in the paper, there were three like this that never made it.
And when a former inmate of Cookham Wood women's prison, in Kent, claimed that a chef at the jail was running a vice racket that used women inmates as prostitutes, I mounted a two-month surveillance job that involved bugging every room in a house and taking secret photos of assignations between the informant and the chef. Much of that job was spent hiding in an airless, blacked-out van round the corner, while monitoring everything from the ex-inmate's hoovering to her sex life. I was completely driven - over-focused on getting the story and giving little thought to any collateral damage.
By the 1990s, the News of the World's ever-rising circulation began to pull away from its Sunday paper rivals. Their huge editorial budget enabled it to out-bid the others for the biggest, most salacious stories. And they certainly had the most money to spend on private investigators. Camillagate starring Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles is the most classic example of the phone-tapping which began to gain favour in newsrooms. The tabloids got away with that one, which only fuelled their enthusiasm for this new source of stories.
Increasingly, private investigators were used to do their dirty work, providing a "distance" between the journalists and the overtly illegal activities they were commissioning. By the new millennium the so-called art of tabloid reporting, which had always been reliant on underhand methods to some degree, was turning a lot darker.
Sometimes, this illegally obtained surveillance data is used by the tabloids indirectly. The "target" is told that the paper has loads of dirt that is undeniable, and is then offered a relatively soft option: spill the beans on what they've got up to in the past, and the paper will drop the current scandal. It's a form of blackmail, really, and it's very effective: everyone goes home a winner. One celebrity with a sugar-and-spice reputation recently managed to "negotiate" their way out of a drugs exposé by reworking the story as an interview in which they "revealed" their life-long struggle with addiction. Their reputation seems to have been unharmed in the process. Many celebrities co-operate with the tabloids when it suits them, so I find it hard to be sympathetic with them. One of the great ironies of this week's revelations is that PR king Max Clifford is among those who have allegedly had their phones tapped. Yet during the 1990s, Clifford brilliantly played the tabloids off against each other and so helped his clients rake in hundreds of thousands of pounds every year by selling their stories to the best payer in Fleet Street: often the News of the World.
But what about the ordinary citizens whose lives have been invaded by private eyes using surveillance techniques that are supposed to be employed against criminals and terrorists, not law-abiding members of the public? I know of at least two families connected to TV reality show contestants whose phones have been tapped and emails intercepted by private eyes working on behalf of the tabloids.
In fact, this kind of news-gathering is now so ingrained in the tabloid culture that, most days, if you took out all the illicitly gathered stories the tabloids would end up with more blank spaces than an MP's expenses statement.
There is also an extraordinary "crossover" aspect to the business which allows it to flourish. A lot of the private eyes employed by the tabloids are former police officers who retain links to old colleagues in the force. I have even heard of some tabloid journalists who go on to become private investigators. Not only that, but many of the private investigators are also regularly commissioned by big businesses in the City. Some even work as consultants for government agencies, including the security services.
This is great for the private eye: lots of work, and one assignment may even cross-fertilise another. One of the tabloids' biggest stories of recent years was about a politician's sexual habits, which had first been leaked by the security services to a private investigator with links to the tabloids. He then carried out his own surveillance operation to gather further concrete evidence before presenting the story to a tabloid, which duly published every sordid detail, knowing full well the story had been "copper-bottomed" by undeniable subterfuge.
Many billionaire business people use the very same dodgy characters to check out their business rivals and other individuals they are interested in. I personally know of one global tycoon who had his own prospective son-in-law's email and phone records checked out by a private investigator, who uncovered that the "target" had at one time been a drug dealer. The tycoon tried to persuade his daughter to call off the wedding but she refused and they remain happily married to this day, although the target did agree to sign a prenuptial agreement.
So, it's a spider's web of subterfuge which extends far beyond the offices of News International in Wapping, east London, to the City and even into government. If Fleet Street is increasingly dependent on surveillance, so too is wider society.
Of course, today's sophisticated computer technology makes it much easier to delve even further inside people's lives. In fact, the tabloids are finding it increasingly hard to dig up any really juicy stories without using private investigators. It's a bit like DCI Gene Hunt in Life on Mars admitting: "I had to take a bribe when I first started working as a copper otherwise none of the other bastards would have talked to me." They're all at it.
And they're all dependent on it for another reason too. Until recently, reporters were sent out on stories at the drop of a hat. These days, even at Rupert Murdoch's News International, there is a tendency not to speculate on stories so much, which means fewer trips out of the office. If you've got access to a shady character who can tap into people's emails and phones then you tend to leave it all to them.
The legal profession must also take its fair share of the blame. Lawyers chase potential libels so ferociously these days that newspaper editors are obsessed with having everything copper-bottomed. This means hard evidence like secret surveillance material has become a form of "back up" and a vital part of any major tabloid story, even if it cannot be officially and openly referred to.
All this can be hard to prove. Private investigators rarely put their name to anything and are often paid through a myriad of companies to avoid any direct link to the story they have helped expose through illegal surveillance activities. There is even a code of honour between the private investigators and their tabloid paymasters. Massive fees are paid out on condition the shady snoopers never "grass up" their employers. It's not dissimilar from being a professional criminal who would never inform on his associates and would prefer to serve his time and come out to a welcome home party from his underworld bosses.
Today, the rest of Fleet Street is watching this story unfold with great interest. Murdoch's tabloids appear to have flagrantly defied all the so-called rules and regulations for many years, thanks in part to their immense wealth but also due to their obsession with exclusive stories. Murdoch's circulations have been the envy of Fleet Street for many years but the cold, hard truth is that in order to get the best stories and the highest readership they have had to employ the most underhand tactics.
To a tabloid hack, paying out Gordon Taylor £700k and then making him sign a gagging order sounds like a good bit of business for both sides. Murdoch's News International manages to sweep all this stuff under the carpet and Taylor gets a shed-load of money for a story that never damaged him because it didn't even get in the tabloids in the first place.
Now, instead of journalists knocking on the doors of News Group's alleged "victims", expect ambulance-chasing lawyers to take their place. It's a circle of greed and deceit that just goes around and around and around.
Article 19 of the UN Human Rights Charter explicitly states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of
opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of