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Former Fox News producer claimed network’s ‘Brain Room’ led to phone hacking

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A former producer with Fox News claimed in a lengthy essay gaining new traction this week that the conservative television station has a “Brain Room” in its New York headquarters which enables employees to view private telephone records with ease.

Though published years ago, the allegations have returned to relevance in the wake of the phone hacking scandals that have rocked News Corporation to its very core, threatening to topple one of the world’s largest and most powerful media conglomerates.

According to former Fox News executive Dan Cooper, whose gripes with his former employer run quite deep after being fired in 1996, Fox News chief Roger Ailes allegedly had him design the so-called “Brain Room” to facilitate counter-intelligence efforts and other “black ops.”

In a lengthy 2008 diatribe said to have doubled as a book pitch, Cooper claimed his own phone records had been hacked by Fox News employees, who he says used them to pinpoint him as a source used by David Brock, who founded liberal watchdog group Media Matters.

“Ailes knew I had given Brock the interview,” he wrote. “Certainly Brock didn’t tell him. Of course. Fox News had gotten Brock’s telephone records from the phone company, and my phone number was on the list. Deep in the bowels of 1211 Avenue of the Americas, News Corporation’s New York headquarters, was what Roger called the Brain Room. Most people thought it was simply the research department of Fox News. But unlike virtually everybody else, because I had to design and build the Brain Room, I knew it also housed a counterintelligence and black ops office. So accessing phone records was easy pie.”

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That wasn’t the last time word of Ailes’s “Brain Room” surfaced: in a recent piece for Rolling Stone, journalist Tim Dickenson discusses Cooper’s allegations too, focusing on the man Ailes allegedly picked to run the secretive office.

“Befitting his siege mentality, Ailes also housed his newsroom in a bunker,” Dickenson wrote. “Reporters and producers at Fox News work in a vast, windowless expanse below street level, a gloomy space lined with video-editing suites along one wall and an endless cube farm along the other. In a separate facility on the same subterranean floor, Ailes created an in-house research unit – known at Fox News as the ‘brain room’ – that requires special security clearance to gain access. ‘The brain room is where Willie Horton comes from,’ says Cooper, who helped design its specs. ‘It’s where the evil resides.’

“If that sounds paranoid, consider the man Ailes brought in to run the brain room: Scott Ehrlich, a top lieutenant from his political-­consulting firm. Ehrlich – referred to by some as ‘Baby Rush’ – had taken over the lead on Big Tobacco’s campaign to crush health care reform when Ailes signed on with CNBC.”

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While none of these claims have been substantiated, they seem increasingly plausible given the widening coverup of Murdoch’s British hacking scandals, which have grown from the desk of just one allegedly “rogue” journalist to topple some of Murdoch’s top deputies, including the former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and the chief of News International, which oversees News Corp.’s British newspapers.

Cooper’s phone records as well would not be the first time Fox News or U.S. News Corp. employees have been accused of hacking. According to The New York Times, a New Jersey company called Floorgraphics accused News Corp. in 2009 of hacking into their password-protected computer systems to obtain proprietary information, then allegedly spreading “false, misleading and malicious information” about the firm, causing them to lose important contracts.

News Corp.’s response to the scandal was to buy Floorgraphics outright, after offering a $29.5 million settlement.

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Cases like Floorgraphics’ are hardly unique: in recent years, the Times noted, News Corp. has paid over $655 million in settlements and hush money to keep allegations of anti-competitive and illegal behavior under the rug.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice have launched their own investigations into whether News Corp. participated in the hacking of 9/11 victims or U.S. officials.

(H/T: The Nation)

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Updated from a prior version to clarify when Cooper left Fox News.


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