Hacker group claims WikiLeaks-style joint effort with media outlets on News of the World emails

Joe Pompeo

The sourcing collaborations that WikiLeaks struck up with a cabal of prominent international news organizations last year seem to be something of a game-changing new media model. The controversial whistle-blowing group's partnerships with major press outlets ensured that its vast cache of classified military and diplomatic documents got wide play in the media.

Now, a like-minded online collective claims it has forged similar relationships in an effort to further expose wrongdoing at News Corp.'s embattled British publishing division News International, as it weathers a severe and fast-spreading scandal over widespread phone-hacking at Rupert Murdoch's tabloid properties.

And who better to potentially have dug up fresh dirt about the company's alleged phone-hacking practices than, well, a bunch of hackers?

LulzSec, a nebulous troupe of hacktivists who wreaked havoc on the website of News International's surviving tabloid, The Sun, several days ago, now claims to be in possession of 4GB worth of emails poached during its online fishing expedition on Tuesday.

An affiliated hacker group, Anonymous, which had earlier retaliated against companies that stopped doing business with WikiLeaks in the wake of its data dumps, likewise appears to have tapped an email server at News International.

An administrator of one of the accounts affiliated with Anonymous, @AnonymousIRC, tweeted Thursday: "We think, actually we may not release emails from The Sun, simply because it may compromise the court case." The message referred to the ongoing criminal probe of News Corp. and some of its current and former top executives, including Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the company's recently shuttered tab News of the World in 2002, when journalists there allegedly hijacked the voicemail of a murdered 13-year-old girl.

But LulzSec announced on its own Twitter account Thursday: "We're currently working with certain media outlets who have been granted exclusive access to some of the News of the World emails we have."

Which "certain media outlets" might LulzSec be in cahoots with?

The Guardian and the New York Times would seem obvious candidates. Both papers were in on the WikiLeaks revelations, and both have done more to advance the phone-hacking story than any other news organizations. The two broadsheets even had a bit of a collaboration of their own when Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger approached Times captain Bill Keller last year to help "stop the story from dying on its feet," as Rusbridger writes in the latest issue of Newsweek.

Alas, neither paper is in the loop this time around, both have confirmed.

Rusbridger was out of the office Friday, as was Keller (perhaps there's tete-a-tete in progress?), but the Guardian chief forwarded The Cutline's email to a spokeswoman for the newspaper, who said, "We're not one of the media outlets in question and we have not been approached." Keller, through a Times spokeswoman, replied: "We have had no contact" with LulzSec.

Nor did either editor entertain an inquiry as to whether their venerable publications would work with LulzSec—which would have obtained whatever information it sourced to the papers through the same morally and legally compromised practices favored by the bad actors at News of the World. But it certainly doesn't stretch credulity to assume that there are plenty of editors and reporters out there who would gladly run with whatever intelligence from the British tabloid wars LulzSec was willing to share.

For now, the logistics of the supposedly pending email dump remain a guessing game. Though yet another affiliated hacker group, Sabu, claims it is imminent and explosive: "We're releasing something we found in The Sun's mail server, shortly. Ouch. Ready for the media storm?"

Show us the smoking gun!