LONDON (AP) — Rupert Murdoch’s media empire was besieged Monday by accusations that two more of his British newspapers engaged in hacking, deception and privacy violations that included accessing former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s bank account information and stealing the medical records of his seriously ill baby son.
His reporters were also accused of paying Queen Elizabeth II’s bodyguards for secret information about the monarch, potentially jeopardizing her safety.
If proven, the charges by rival newspapers would dramatically increase the pressure on top Murdoch executives so far largely insulated from the scandal.
The public outrage began a week ago over wrongdoing at the Murdoch-owned best-selling tabloid News of the World. It has since disrupted the media titan’s plans to take over highly profitable satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting and slashed billions off the value of his global conglomerate News Corp.
In Britain, the scandal has cast a harsh light on the unparalleled political influence of Murdoch’s collection of newspapers and is taking an increasing toll on Prime Minister David Cameron. The conservative leader’s former communications chief, Andy Coulson, was arrested last week in connection with alleged payoffs to police when he was editor of News of the World.
With political pressure rising, a final decision on the $12 billion (7.5 billion pound) BSKyB takeover was delayed after Murdoch withdrew a promise to spin off news channel Sky News. It was seen as a tactical move that forced the British government to refer the bid to authorities charged with enforcing anti-monopoly laws, delaying any decision for months.
Analysts said Murdoch’s move amounts to a favor for Cameron, sparing the prime minister the possibility of an embarrassing defeat in the House of Commons.
The takeover will be spared scrutiny during a period of once-unimaginable public criticism of Murdoch’s British operation, News International, fueled by a relentless stream of new allegations of wrongdoing at its properties.
London’s Evening Standard newspaper reported that corrupt royal protection officers sold personal details about Queen Elizabeth II – including phone numbers and tips about her movements and staff – to journalists working for the Murdoch tabloid News of the World, raising questions over a breach in national security.
The scandal spread beyond the now-defunct tabloid, with British media reporting Monday that Brown was one of thousands whose privacy was breached by News International papers, saying that his personal details – including his bank account and his son’s medical records – had been stolen by people working for the Sun and the Sunday Times. None of the media cited sources.
The Guardian, which set off the scandal last week with a report that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a missing 13-year-old girl who was later found murdered, said on its website that the Sun had illegally obtained details from the medical records of Brown’s 4-year-old son Fraser, who has cystic fibrosis.
The Sun broke the story of Fraser’s illness soon after he was born in 2006.
The Guardian reported that News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, then editor of the Sun, contacted the Browns before publication to say that the paper had details from Fraser’s medical file. The Browns were extremely distressed by the story, friends told the Guardian.
The Guardian said Brown was targeted over a more than 10-year period while he served as chancellor of the exchequer and prime minister, and that some of his financial information was obtained by hacking into his accountant’s computers. It said Scotland Yard contacted Brown and his wife, Sarah, to tell them their details had been found in evidence collected by the special inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World.
Brooks, who also edited the News of the World in 2002 when journalists there allegedly hacked murder victim Milly Dowler’s cell phone, has since been promoted to head of News International, News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper division.
Murdoch has publicly stood by her even while closing down News of the World in response to the allegations. Brooks has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing.
Media watchers accuse Murdoch of offering up the more than 200 News of the World journalists as a sacrifice to save Brooks.
A spokeswoman for Brown said Monday that the former prime minister was shocked by the alleged “criminality and the unethical means by which personal details have been obtained” about his family.
His wife, Sarah, tweeted that the information was very personal and it was “really hurtful if all true.”
News International spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop said the company had taken note of the accusations and that in order to investigate the company asks “that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us.”
Other newspapers reported that Brown’s bank account was broken into by a con man acting for Murdoch’s Sunday Times.
The Evening Standard report said that News Corp. executives discovered a series of e-mails indicating that Murdoch employees made payments to members of Scotland Yard’s royal and diplomatic protection squad in return for details about the queen and her entourage.
The Evening Standard cited unidentified “sources” without saying how they would be in a position to know. Buckingham Palace declined comment on the reports.
“The events of last week shocked the nation,” Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told lawmakers Monday. He said Britain’s proud press tradition had been “shaken by the revelation of what we now know to have happened at the News of The World.”
The 80-year-old Murdoch arrived in the U.K. on Sunday to take charge of the widening crisis.
Legal experts said Monday it is possible Murdoch’s U.S. companies might face legal actions because of the shady practices at the News of the World, his now defunct British tabloid. In the U.S., Murdoch owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, among other holdings.
They said Murdoch’s News Corp. might be liable to criminal prosecution under the 1977 Corrupt Foreign Practices Act, a broad act designed to prosecute executives who bribe foreign officials in exchange for large contracts.
A group of News Corp. shareholders already have sued the company over the phone-hacking scandal, accusing News Corp. of large-scale governance failures. The lawsuit was filed late Friday in Delaware Chancery Court by shareholders led by Amalgamated Bank, and several municipal and union pension funds joined in.
The shareholders own less than 1 percent of News Corp.’s stock combined. The lawsuit is part of an amended complaint. The shareholders are also challenging News Corp.’s acquisition of Shine Group Ltd., founded by Murdoch’s daughter. News Corp. didn’t immediately return messages for comment on the lawsuit.
Robert Barr and Gregory Katz contributed to this report.
via The Associated Press.
Gunmen have blown up a terminal of the Egyptian natural gas pipeline that supplies to Israel and Jordan, in a predawn attack, Egyptian state television reported.
The explosion occurred east of El-Arish, a city in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, located about 50km west of the Israeli border, the governor of Northern Sinai told Nile television on Tuesday.
At least four assailants ordered guards on duty to leave and then blasted a terminal of the pipeline, officials told the Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity.
There were no casualties, they said.
The official MENA news agency reported that “flames were up to 10m high” that the area is being scanned to find the culprit.
“The area is being searched to find those behind this explosion and to find the type of explosives used,” the report said.
No one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s explosion.
Bedouin tribesmen in the area and those who oppose Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel have been blamed for previous strikes.
The pipeline serves 40 per cent of Israel’s gas consumption.
This is the fourth attack on the pipeline since the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime on February 11.
Feds expand gun sales reporting requirements in four border states
By: CNN’s Mike Ahlers
Washington (CNN) – The federal government said Monday it is proceeding with a plan to require gun dealers in four southwest border states – California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – to report the sales of high-power rifles under certain conditions in an effort to stem the flow of guns to Mexican drug cartels.
Critics immediately called the move an illegal expansion of gun control laws and an effort to divert attention from the “Operation Fast and Furious” gun controversy. And the National Rifle Administration said it will file suit to stop the move.
Michele Bachmann had been doing so well. The tea-party darling from Minnesota is almost neck and neck with Mitt Romney as favourite for the Republican nomination for next year’s presidential race.
So far she’s largely avoided the pitfalls that Sarah Palin stumbled into in the 2008 White House race, while enjoying almost Palinesque outpourings of adulation on the campaign trail. That is until this weekend when she walked right into a row over slavery.
She clearly didn’t see it coming. Last week she became the first Republican candidate to sign a “marriage vow” put forward by an evangelical group in the electorally crucial state of Iowa. At a cursory glance, it seemed a no-brainer: to pledge herself to the sanctity of marriage and family. She is openly opposed to gay marriages, and has five children as well as having fostered 23 others. Marriage, family – no problem!
But then the details of the pledge were picked up on the blogosphere, notably a clause in it referring to slavery. As Politico pointed out, the preamble of the pledge contains this phrase:
“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”
As a general matter of course, it is not a good idea for American politicians to stray into the subject of slavery unless they’ve done a great deal of homework and are extremely confident about what they are saying. And as intelligent commentary on slavery goes, the preamble missed the target by miles. As Alexandra Petri put it in the Washington Post:
“Now you go and sign a pledge that includes a statement that can be summarized “gee, slavery was terrible for slaves, but at least they grew up in two-parent households?” There might have been two parents there, but that doesn’t really improve your family situation if the children are being treated like property. Do we really want to go down this path?”
Anger was quick to follow. On the black political blog Jack & Jill Politics, Cheryl Contee was livid:
“Given that families were broken up regularly for sales during slavery and that rape by masters was pretty common, this could not be more offensive. I mean, putting aside the statistics on this, which are likely off-base, I could not be more angry. When will Republicans inquire with actual Black people whether or not we’re ok with invoking slavery to score cheap political points? It has to stop.”
When the full scale of the internet backlash was clear, the Iowa group that devised the pledge, the FAMiLY LEADER removed the paragraph on slavery. But the damage had been done, in that Bachmann, as well as her fellow presidential candidate Rick Santorum, had already signed the unexpurgated version.
To rub salt into the wound, Nate Silver, the New York Times’s razor-sharp political statistician, pointed out on his Twitter account that the highly dubious claim about black families had in fact come from a research paper from the Institute for American Values that referred to the period 1880-1910 and had nothing to do with slavery in any case.
With seven months to go before the Iowa caucuses, Bachmann still has a long way to go before she gets to the nomination, let alone the White House. So this may come as a salutary lesson for her: before you sign anything, read the small print.
- NEW: A State Dept. official says U.S. Marines locked down facility, Syrians swept the area
- Sec. of State Clinton “strongly condemns” Syria over U.S., French embassies attacks
- She says that Syria’s president is “not indispensable,” “has lost legitimacy”
- A State Dept. spokeswoman says state-run TV “appeared to be inciting” the mobs
(CNN) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashed out Monday at Syrian authorities for not protecting U.S. and French embassies in Damascus, adding she felt its president “has lost legitimacy” and wants to deflect attention from a crackdown on peaceful protesters.
Clinton insisted that Syria must meet its “international obligations immediately” to safeguard diplomats and property, hours after U.S. officials say that hundreds descended on its embassy for the third time in four days, scaling its walls and inflicting considerable damage.
Demonstrators also tried to break into the French Embassy in the same Middle Eastern nation Monday, said Romain Nadal, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry. Security officers at France’s embassy were forced to fire three warning shots, the embassy said on its Twitter account.
These incidents mark the latest escalation between Syrian and Western authorities, many of which have criticized reported violent crackdowns against anti-government demonstrators.
The US president has said the possibility of his country defaulting on its debt is “not acceptable” and vowed to reach a budget agreement by August 2.
In a speech speech on Monday about the US fiscal crisis, Barack Obama vowed to meet with Republican opponents every day until a deal is finalised.
“I continue to push congressional leaders for the largest possible deal,” Obama said, ruling out a short-term fix and proposing daily negotiations to avert a potentially disastrous default.
“We are going to get this done by August 2″, Obama said. “The reason we’ve got a problem right now is that people keep on avoiding things.”
The president was slated to resume talks on Monday afternoon with Republicans, the US opposition party, to try to break a stalemate over reducing the country’s $1.4tn deficit and facilitate an increase in the $14.29tn debt ceiling.
(CNN) — A “mob” attacked the U.S. Embassy in Syria on Monday, an official who was inside the embassy told CNN.
Several demonstrators climbed over a fence at the compound in Damascus, a senior U.S. State Department official said.
The building was not breached and protesters were later dispersed by the Syrian government, the official said.
The official who was inside the embassy said the the building sustained some damage but no personnel were injured.
“Today the U.S. Embassy was attacked by a mob” throwing rocks and using other destructive measures, the official said, adding that the attack lasted a few hours.
The Syrian government was slow in responding with additional security measures, the embassy official said. “We call on the Syrian government to abide by the protections required under the Vienna convention.”
“This is an unfortunate distraction because the Syrian government continues to beat, imprison, torture and kill people who want to peacefully protest,” the embassy official said.
The incident came a day after U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford slammed the Syrian government for letting “an anti-U.S. demonstration proceed freely while their security thugs beat down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters elsewhere.”
In a note on the embassy’s Facebook page, Ford also said the United States respects “the right of all Syrians — and people in all countries — to express their opinions freely and in a climate of mutual respect. We wish the Syrian government would do the same.”
On Saturday, protesters supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad “threw rocks at our embassy, causing some damage,” Ford said in the statement. “They resorted to violence, unlike the people in Hama, who have stayed peaceful. Go look at the Ba’ath or police headquarters in Hama — no damage that I saw.”
Opponents of Assad’s regime, calling for governmental reform in Syria, have been met with violence in Hama and elsewhere, human rights activists and witnesses have told CNN.
CNN’s Arwa Damon and Elise Labott contributed to this report.
- Obama and Hill leaders will continue debt ceiling talks at the White House on Monday
- Obama will discuss the talks at a news conference at 11 a.m.
- The GOP continues to insist on no tax hikes while Democrats are pushing for a “balanced” approach
- The United States must raise its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2 or risk a default
Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama is set to host top congressional leaders at the White House Monday, continuing a marathon session of talks aimed at striking a deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and avert a potentially devastating national default.
Before meeting with Hill leaders Sunday evening, Obama told reporters it’s critical to strike a deal within the next 10 days. Treasury officials have warned that a partial default could be triggered if Congress fails to act by August 2.
Such a failure could lead to skyrocketing interest rates and a plummeting dollar, among other things.
Negotiators are trying to salvage a deal after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pulled back Saturday from a proposed “grand bargain” that would have saved up to $4 trillion over the next decade. Republicans are demanding steep spending cuts in exchange for raising the ceiling, but are adamantly opposed to any tax hikes.
(Reuters) – French embassy guards in Damascus fired live ammunition to disperse loyalists to President Bashar al-Assad who tried to break into the compound on Monday and are still surrounding it, diplomats in the Syrian capital said.
A similar crowd broke into the U.S. embassy but later left, they added. A U.S. embassy official said the response of the Syrian authorities was “slow and insufficient.”
There were no immediate reports of casualties in the attacks, which came three days after the U.S. and French ambassadors visited the city of Hama in an unprecedented show of support for pro-democracy demonstrators, who have been gathering in the hundreds of thousands in Hama despite deadly military assaults on the city, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military.
(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Jon Boyle)