Everybody Is Involved in News Corp.'s Hacking Scandal

Get ready for more Watergate references

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It's getting really hard to keep track of which British celebrities have and haven't been hacked by News of the World. Monday afternoon's swirl of reports that pulled the Queen and the former Prime Minister onto the long list of phone hacking victims reminded us of that too-dark parking garage scene in All the President's Men. "In a conspiracy like this," Deep Throat says to Bob Woodward. "You build from the outer edges, and you go step by step. If you shoot too high and miss, everybody feels more secure." But, Deep Throat seems to say, assume that everybody is involved. The phone hacking scandal is like this, plus a mirror image: not only is the investigation seeming likely to reach higher and higher within the News Corp. empire, finding out who might have been involved--the victims' list is soaring into the social stratosphere as well.

On Monday, The Guardian reported that police have warned Buckingham Palace about new evidence of News of the World targeting members of the royal family:

The revelation comes as the BBC disclosed that the emails which News International handed to Scotland Yard in June include evidence that the paper had paid bribes to a royal protection officer in order to obtain private phone numbers for the royal household.

It is believed that personal phone details for Prince Charles and Camilla have been found among the 11,000 pages of handwritten notes that were kept by Mulcaire and which were seized by the original Scotland Yard inquiry in August 2006.

The palace source said: "The question that has to be answered is: if somebody had access to this evidence back then, why didn't they do something about it?"

It goes a rung higher. The Evening Standard cites unnamed sources to report that "personal details about the Queen and her closest aides were sold to News of the World by royal protection offices." These details, if true, directs further suspicion towards the newspaper's former editor Andy Coulson and royal editor Clive Goodman, both of whom were arrested and questioned by the police on Friday:

The information included phone numbers and tips about the movements and activities of the Queen, Prince Philip and staff in a serious breach of national security. The payments, and involvement of the royal and diplomatic protection squad, were uncovered by News International in 2007.

But despite the potential risk to security they were not passed on to the Met until last month. Scotland Yard was only informed after other News International bosses discovered the existence of the emails during a separate internal probe set up to uncover evidence of phone hacking. 

Shortly after the reports about The Queen, Charles, and Camilla, The Guardian reported that "journalists from across News International repeatedly targeted the former prime minister Gordon Brown, attempting to access his voicemail and obtaining information from his bank account, his legal file as well as his family's medical records."

There's also evidence of hacks targeting comedian Steve Coogan, actor Hugh Grant, footballer Wayne Rooney, and pop star George Michael. The Daily Beast has collected some reactions from celebrity victims, and The Guardian has been updating a full list since 2010. Their mosaic of victims' faces will probably soon be adapted into one of those photo mosaic images:

At this point, the London Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson is very embarrassed that his department missed out on these facts when it concluded its investigation into phone hacking in 2007. Stephenson will soon issue a public apology for "institutional" failures, says The Guardian. Also shamed is assistant commissioner John Yates, who oversaw the previous investigation into phone hacking in 2006 that led to the jailing of Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator hired by News of the World. Yates told the Sunday Telegraph that his 2009 decision not to reopen that investigation was "a pretty crap one" and also called Scotland Yard "very damaged" for not holding News Corp. more accountable for their flagrant privacy violations.

You can bet that The Guardian's already thousands-long list of victims will continue to grow along with the number of wrongdoers. Indeed the press is working its way inward from the outer edges, and soon, many expect that senior News Corp. leaders like chief executive Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch himself may be questioned by police. In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to watch All the President's Men. More references to the Watergate chronicle will undoubtedly be made.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.