Things seem to be gearing up for Operation TULETA - the least high-profile Metropolitan Police Service (MET) investigation of the three ongoing as a consequence of the hacking scandal. The first to start, in Jan '11, was Operation WEETING into phone hacking. It was quickly followed by Operation ELVEDON, looking at newspapers' role in bribery and corruption of police and other public officials.
Operation TULETA was set up later to investigate allegations of computer hacking, interception of emails, stolen phone data etc by journalists, private invetigators and others. Given MP Tom Watson's view that computer hacking may well turn out to dwarf the scale of phone hacking, it's worth having a closer look at TULETA - what's already in the public domain and what may be to come. A new document dump on the Leveson Inquiry web site last Friday may hold some clues.
Sienna Miller was the first to allege email hacking in her claim against News International and Glenn Mulcaire. There are more civil litigations for email hacking in the pipeline. On 19th October 2011, Mark Lewis gave evidence to the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee. Paul Farrelly MP asked him (Q1275)
are you aware of any other accessing of information that may have been illegal apart from phone hacking? Is phone hacking the tip of an iceberg?Pressed to clarify by Louies Mensch if this involved only News International titles Lewis added, "in respect of the information that the police are obtaining about another inquiry agent in respect of computer hacking, his clients were from other newspapers."
...What about computer hacking or reading people’s e-mails?
Mark Lewis: "It seems that voice mail interception or phone hacking is old hat and that the thing to do now with the inquiry agents is to obtain information by way of e-mails. As I understand the technology, one plants a Trojan in someone’s computer by sending them an e-mail that looks innocuous, which then pinches all the e-mails sent out or received and sends them to someone else. I am pursuing a claim. Mr Justice Ross has ruled that it is not going to be part of the voice mail interception claims for a former member of military intelligence, who was subject to, shall we say, a Trojan plant. We know that. That is also subject to a police investigation, so I suppose we have to be very careful, but there is a civil claim for that."
Some of the impetus for TULETA sprang from the related Operation KALMYK (into allegations of Northern Ireland security force personnel having emails hacked), see Ian Hurst's evidence to Leveson, and Operation MILLIPEDE (which resulted in four convictions).
In essence, computer hacking and email interception via Trojan have been rumoured for years, as has collusion of journalists. News of the World's Alex MARUNCHAK has been implicated in at least two allegations. Firstly - as far back as 2002 - the surveillance of Dave Cook and Jacqui Hames, both serving police officers. It is alleged that their emails were hacked in an attempt to 'sort out' and derail Dave Cook who was heading the fourth investigation into the murder of Daniel Morgan.
Secondly, Ian Hurst's hacked emails relating Northern Ireland intelligence were allegedly faxed to MARUNCHAK at the News of the World offices in Dublin.
The Northern Ireland connection is particularly sinister. Amongst others, Sir Hugh Orde has been informed by TULETA that his emails may have been hacked when he was Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as has Peter Hain when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain added that "the police confirmed to me they had not eliminated any news organisation from their investigation."
Strathclyde Police are investigating (Operation RUBICON) whether Tommy Sheridan's lawyer and a key witness in the Sheridan perjury trial had their emails hacked. Both hard copies and electronic copies of the emails are alleged to have been circulated which name and implicate senior news staff at the News of the World Scotland.
Stolen laptop and phones
Amongst the large Leveson 'taken as read' document dump is a revealing witness statement by Claire Ward, former Member of Parliament. It makes fascinating reading as she details her treatment by journalists when she was a younger, newly-elected MP - she details alleged harassment, pressurising phone calls, suspected phone interception, and stress-inducing inaccurate press stories. In one instance, she describes a tense phone conversation with Rebekah Wade. Most startling however (and possibly of interest to TULETA) is that her laptop computer was stolen from a guarded room in Manchester Town Hall in 2001. She believes it may have been stolen with the possible involvement of the national press. Claire Ward is convinced that her laptop was deliberately targeted as it contained a substantial number of documents relating to Keith Vaz MP.
More recently, TULETA is investigating the possibility that mobile phones may have been stolen to order. According to Sue Akers,
In April 2012, ...Operation Tuleta officers discovered instances where staff at NI titles appear to have been in possession of material downloaded or otherwise obtained from stolen mobile telephones. It appears from some of the documentation, which is dated around late 2010, that one mobile telephone had been examined with a view to breaking its security code so that the contents could be downloaded by experts (whose identities are unknown to Operation Tuleta at present) in different parts of the country... A significant and important line of enquiry is identifying the experts used...In addition, TULETA is doing forensic analyses of computer hardware, phones and data "previously seized as evidence in other enquiries."
One mobile telephone theft took place in Manchester and another in South West London.
There have been a spate of mobile phone and laptop thefts from within the Houses of Parliament, including a laptop theft from Keith Vaz - Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
It is however possible that these thefts are coincidental and entirely unconnected to TULETA issues.
The first TULETA arrest was that of a private investigator and several journalists have also been arrested. The latest was that of an unnmamed 55yr old man in Cardiff - not known to be a journalist. He was arrested 'on suspicion of committing offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.'
Currently, TULETA is investigating 101 separate allegations of data intrusion, plus other related matters. The MET will soon be returning to News Corporation's Management Standards Committee with more requests for relevant documents. Developments in OPERATION TULETA will no doubt help establish if this is (as both Paul Farrelly and Sue Akers both put it) 'the tip of the iceberg'.
Time will tell.
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