Under pressure from members of Congress, and after numerous media inquiries, as well as the vocal concerns of victim's relatives, the FBI in New York has opened a preliminary probe into whether Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. tried to hack the phones of British citizens who died in the 9-11 attacks.
The inquiry is likely to review U.S. phone records of the British victims and could also examine telephone company records in the U.K. if British authorities cooperate.
The probe will be led by the FBI's New York field office along with prosecutors from the US Attorney's office in Manhattan.
There's no evidence such hacking occurred, but investigators came under pressure from members of Congress, who had requested they take a look. Other media companies and families of the 9/11 victims also inquired after reading an article that mentioned the possibility that News Corp may have tried to hack the phones.
The article appeared in a newspaper that competes with a News Corp. paper in England. Murdoch's News Corp. owns the Fox News Channel, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, as well as numerous media properties in the U.K.
The item cited an alleged attempt by an unnamed Murdoch employee to bribe or pay an unnamed former police officer to hack the phones and noted that the alleged attempt was unsuccessful.
"You got members of Congress and now the 911 family members wanting to know if this happened," said a U.S. official. "What are you going to do? Say no?"
Rep. Peter King, R.-New York, said in a letter to FBI director Robert Mueller demanding an investigation that it would be "revolting" if members of the media had attempted to bribe an official in the service of "yellow journalism."
"I make this request not only as the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, but as a Member of Congress who represents a district that lost more than 150 constituents in those terrorist attacks," wrote King. "It is my duty to discern every fact behind these allegations."
Department of Justice officials underscored that the investigation is a preliminary inquiry into any possible wrongdoing.
"The Department has received letters from several Members of Congress regarding allegations related to News Corp. and we're reviewing those," said a Justice Department spokeswoman.
Earlier this month a rival U.K. newspaper reported that News Corp.'s News of the World had hacked into the phone of a teenage murder victim in 2002 and may have interfered with an investigation into her disappearance.
News Corp. has also been accused of attempting to hack the phones of the families of dead soldiers, former English Prime Minister Gordon Brown and terror victims.
In an interview published on the Wall Street Journal's website Thursday, Murdoch said that News Corp. would establish a committee to investigate "every charge of improper conduct."