"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)

Friday, 22 July 2011

Confessions of a tabloid hack


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.

Mini Mossad:

Rupert Murdoch's Fox News ran 'black ops' department, former executive claims

Statement on New investigation.

We welcome this announcement (SEE BELOW).

Over two weeks ago we provided a detailed dossier of allegations of perjury, phone hacking and breach of data, to Strathclyde police and called for a robust investigation. We understand that Strathclyde have since met with the Metropolitan Police and obtained the 11,000 pages of the Glen Mulcaire notebook and are cross referencing data we provided to them.

What we have seen in England is the tip of the iceberg. The orginal Metroploitan Police Inquiry failed in its public duty to contact the potentially hundreds of scottish victims that they may have been subjected to illegal activities by the News of the World.

Over Two Million pounds was spent by the police on investigating Mr and Mrs Sheridan and we were told it was in the public interest. I expect now to see a similar ruthlessness and determination in dealing with the News of the World.

The Prime Minister has already announced the Public Inquiry will extend to Scotland and we would expect it to look at the allegations of corruption in Lothian and Border Police amongst other matters, it really is time that all political parties in Scotland had the guts to speak out on this issue.

From: Crown Office


The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have today confirmed that a Strathclyde Police investigation into claims of phone hacking and breaches of data protection in Scotland has commenced.

The Crown had previously asked Strathclyde Police to make a preliminary assessment of the available information and the evidence given by certain witnesses in the trial of Tommy Sheridan following allegations made against the News of the World newspaper.

The preliminary assessment has concluded. Strathclyde Police have now reviewed the available information and following liaison with the Area Procurator Fiscal at Glasgow the Crown has instructed an investigation should commence.

The investigation will be progressed expeditiously and in close liaison with the Area Procurator Fiscal and Crown Counsel. Significant resources will be deployed though these will vary with the needs of the investigation.

The investigation will cover the following:

1. Allegations that witnesses gave perjured evidence in the trial of Tommy Sheridan.

2. Allegations that, in respect of persons resident in Scotland, there are breaches of data protection legislation or other offences in relation to unlawful access to personal data.

3. Alleged offences determined from material held by the Metropolitan Police in respect of ‘phone hacking’ (Contraventions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) and breaches of data protection legislation in Scotland.

4. Alleged instances of police corruption linked to items 2 and 3 above, in respect of the unlawful provision of information or other personal data to journalists or persons acting on their behalf.

Having investigated these matters Strathclyde Police will report to the Area Procurator Fiscal at Glasgow and Crown Counsel.


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July 14, 2011

Aamer Anwar blasts “Armchair Legal Experts”

At a public meeting in Glasgow last night Tommy Sheridan’s solicitor Aamer Anwar took issue with ”Armchair legal experts” who have been arguing that the current News International phone hacking scandal would have no impact on on his client’s appeal.

Mr Anwar informed the audience that it was his and Tom Watson MP’s complaint to the information commissioner about emails supposedly “lost” by News International that led to the discovery of the data at the company’s Wapping HQ. The data found he claimed had been responsible for setting off the “avalanche” of revelations now dominating the media. He also stated that while the News International employees who testified in court that the data had been lost in Mumbai India were “entitled to the presumption of innocence” if they had knowingly lied they should be charged with perjury. Mr Anwar reminded the meeting that allegations of perjury against Mr Sheridan had led to an inquiry costing over two million pounds and taking up 52,000 hours of police time, and demanded a similar “transparent and robust investigation” into the testimony given at the Sheridan trial by Bob Bird.

Mr Anwar then turned to recent commentary that the News of the World scandal had no bearing on the Tommy Sheridan trial stating ”How do you know unless you had seen the emails? how do you know the News of the World did not bribe witnesses? how do you know they did not hack their phones?” further describing this as a “desperate attempt to downplay Tommy Sheridan’s appeal.”

Mr Anwar also revealed that just after the conclusion of the trial, on Christmas eve, his laptop had gone missing from his office The lawyer asked the audience to consider that no money or other items were stolen and asked who could have been interested in the contents of a laptop containing all of his files relating to Tommy Sheridan? The computer has never been recovered.

Mr Anwar concluded by criticising much of the media coverage of the perjury trial of Tommy Sheridan, saying that the decline of court reporting had led to the public only receiving a partial and one sided view of high profile cases that highlighted prosecution evidence but generally ignored the defence case. He also pointed to the fact that “every political party in Scotland had been silent” on the growing News International scandal, a silence he attributed to the continuing “power of News International in Scotland.” He called on Strathclyde police to “cross-reference” their investigation into phone hacking in Scotland with the Metropolitan police in London and for the Glasgow based force to urgently contact those in Scotland whose voicemail may have been intercepted.


The Murdochian Democracy

Probably the most telling statement the press baron Rupert Murdoch made during his abject mea culpa before the UK Parliament Tuesday was his praise of Singapore, saying "the most open and clear society in the world... is Singapore -- the cleanest society you can find anywhere -- as every minister is paid at least one million dollars a year and has no temptation to transgress."

What that statement betrays is that Rupert Murdoch appears to have no basic understanding of either independent journalism or democracy itself.

Transparency International’s Corruption Index ties Denmark and New Zealand with Singapore at the very top of its corruption perceptions index. Leave aside the question of what the lawmakers of Denmark and Sweden are paid to maintain their integrity – a fraction of what Singapore ministers get.

What keeps Singapore’s ministers in line is not those million-dollar paychecks but the fact that they are scared to death of Lee Kuan Yew, who has shown no compunction whatsoever in jailing the odd minister who does stick his hand in somebody else’s pockets. In 1986, Teh Cheang Wan, one of Kuan Yew’s best friends, a co-founder of the state and the head of the country’s national development ministry, committed suicide rather than face corruption charges that Kuan Yew was intent on bringing against him. Also leave aside the fact that the PAP has historically delivered a supine parliament mostly via gerrymandering and intimidating the opposition.

The leader of the world’s most powerful news organization, who presumably ought to believe in the independence and freedom of the press, was praising a country that most recently jailed the author Alan Shadrake for pointing out that Singapore’s criminal justice system is skewed towards hanging the poor and finding ways to excuse the wealthy and expatriates. Singapore has the highest per-capita rate of executions in the world.

It seems odd that Murdoch didn’t notice that Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore at 140th of 167 countries in terms of press freedom, or that Time Magazine, Asiaweek, the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, The Economist, Bloomberg News Service and other publications have been cowed into submission through libel suits, contempt of court action and gazetting to limit their circulation. It is especially odd that Murdoch owned two of them – the Far Eastern Economic Review, before it closed, and the Wall Street Journal/ Asia. Those that haven’t been sued or otherwise attack have learned their lesson and simply don’t report critically on the country.

The country’s own media dare not report what happens in Singapore beyond what the leaders want to see in print. And what has happened, considering the practice of democracy and free elections, is nothing short of appalling.

According a chronology compiled by the website New Asia Republic, since 1994, in addition to suing newspapers on the thinnest of pretexts and winning all of its cases in its own courts, police have raided private homes and arrested members of churches it doesn’t like.

Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong once threatened to turn constituencies into slums if they didn’t vote for the ruling People’s Action Party. Both opposition leaders Chee Soon Juan and the late JB Jeyaretnam have been sued, charged with perjury and defamation and hounded with a variety of other offenses in an effort to drive them out of politics. Opposition leaders’ homes and offices have been stormed by Inland Revenue officials who carted away tons of documents and articles to seek to make cases for tax evasion.

According to the US State Department’s human rights report on Singapore, it is “widely believed that the authorities routinely conduct surveillance on some opposition politicians and other critics of the government.” The same report also stated that the Internal Security Department is believed to run a network of part-time informants in the US, Australia and other countries.

Political films and videos have been banned. Foreign television stations and networks have been asked to restrict covering of small political parties and warned against critical reporting of the country. The police have been given lawful access to data and encrypted material. CD-ROMs have been added to the Undesirable publications Act.

In 1999, the Home Affairs Ministry admitted that it had secretly scanned the computers of more than 200,000 Internet users. Even women’s magazines have been warned not to get involved in partisan matters. Public rallies by the opposition have been banned repeatedly. Falun Gong members have been arrested.

In 2001, the Parliament passed a law that allows punishment of foreign news broadcasters deemed to be “engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore.” Political campaigning has been restricted on the Internet. Election time for campaigning has been as short as 17 days. Police have raided Internet critics’ homes and confiscated their computers. In 2002, the supposedly independent courts ruled that there would be no trial for defamation suits brought by Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew against opposition leader Chee Soon Juan. He was found guilty by summary judgment.

Nor does Murdoch appear to have noticed that Singapore, this paragon of integrity, is home to vast amounts of the stolen wealth of both Burma and Indonesia. Some 18,000 Indonesians described as “rich” were living in Singapore in 2007, according to Tempo Magazine, worth a combined total of US86 billion. Some US$13.5 billion of that alone was looted from the Indonesian central bank’s recapitalization lifeline to 48 ailing banks during the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis.

Burma’s generals, who have beggared their country and savagely repressed their citizenry, are believed to have transferred nearly US$5 billion into two Singapore banks from the sale of gas since 2000, according to Earth Rights International. One of their generals has even had a rose named after him in the Singapore Botanical Gardens.

Aside from whether the old lizard was crying crocodile tears in his testimony when he said he and his top executives knew nothing of the fact that his employees had hacked into hundreds of voicemails up to and including the royal family, his apparent admiration of Singapore speaks volumes about his own corporate empire.

If this is what he believes about the foundations of democracy – that mere money will bribe politicians to stay out of trouble – then there are few moral imperatives that guide his stewardship of the press. It is okay for Fox News in the United States to hire Republican presidential candidates and give them a nationwide forum while – in Fox’s famous slogan – they report, the viewers decide. It is okay for a putatively neutral news organization to virtually dictate who will be in power in the UK.

It was okay for him to make a fire-breathing speech in 1993 to London advertising executives that communications technology would allow dissidents to bypass state controlled media and that satellite broadcasting would make it possible “for information-hungry residents of many closed societies to bypass state-controlled television channels. … The Bosnian Serbs can't hide their atrocities from the probing eyes of BBC, CNN and Sky News cameras … the extraordinary living standards produced by free-enterprise capitalism cannot be kept secret.”

But it also appears to have been okay to cravenly back away from that statement when it appeared that it enraged the Chinese authorities who had direct control over his Star TV footprint in Asia, and to court them in every way possible. He dropped the BBC from programming after he heard that BBC news offended the Chinese government, then tried to claim it was a business decision. A Murdoch subsidiary purchased the rights to a book by Deng Xiaoping’s youngest daughter her father.

None of it worked. The Chinese figured that out.

It would be inimical – unthinkable -- for any government to order the divestment of any enterprise having to do with a free press, no matter how odious, and a lot of Murdoch’s various media enterprises are odious in that they have interfered with the free and fair operation of democracy in at least three countries by scandalous and biased reporting designed to further his business interests. But maybe it is time for the heretofore toothless board of directors of News International to take a look at where he has got them. That is what boards of directors are for.



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