In the blurb about this book it says this is the story Rupert Murdoch does not want you to read. In its almost 400 pages you can fully appreciate why. If you took a tenth of the shenanigans in this book it would make a fabulous Hollywood movie. The whole account has enough drama to fuel an entire blockbuster franchise.
Neil Chenoweth is one of Australia's leading investigative business writers. He won the Gold Walkley media award in 2004 for helping to uncover the money trail in the case of the Offset Alpine Printing fire payout.
He won another Walkley for his book, Packer's Lunch, in 2006 and in 2008 made it a professional hat-trick for his reports on the Opes Prime scandal.
Murdoch's Pirates is an almost unbelievable and meticulously detailed account of how one of the world's biggest media groups created its own security force and what happened when an arm of that force went rogue. This is the definitive story about hacking, about the top hackers, how they differ, how they do what they do and what motivates them and how corporations either employ or attempt to thwart the brightest and the best of these technical geniuses - or pirates, depending on their chosen career path.
Chenoweth is a humorous bloke. It makes the unbelievable hysterical. Of a certain officer of the French law, Gilles Kaehlin, Chenoweth writes: "Kaehlin . . . by 1994 had been exiled to the Caribbean to run the police post at the airport and the little fishing port of Saint Martin . . . In two years he managed to enrage the local civil service, its business leaders, the drug cartels that operated out of the island and the general populace.
"In June 1986 a police operation led by Kaehlin triggered a riot and the enraged crowd proceeded to burn his house down. They threw his car into the harbour and put the police under siege.
"When Paris mounted an emergency repatriation to get Kaehlin off the island, the crowd threw rocks at the plane's windscreen. He was that sort of policeman."
More pertinently, Chenoweth draws a picture of Murdoch's empire and how the News of the World was not the first Murdoch concern to be accused of wrongdoing. A division of News Corp based in Jerusalem (Murdoch apparently has a fascination with things Israeli) employed ex-Scotland Yard operatives and former secret service agents who, all to a man, had controversial CVs.
Halfway through the book, in a chapter titled Denver, Colorado, April 1997, an up-close look at Murdoch manoeuvring is revealed:
"Two media billionaires eyeballing each other - one of the scariest sights in the world. Two crazy visions of the world run headlong into each other, with neither giving a millimetre. Rupert Murdoch had this wild dream of a broadcast empire that would reach around the world from New Zealand and Australia, through Asia, Europe, Latin America and of course, North America, fed from satellites 35,000km above the Earth in geosynchronous orbit. It would be a seamless global platform and NDS would hold it all together, that would secure it, provide the technology base to allow Murdoch to pump all his Fox programming down through his set-top boxes.
"Perhaps only half a dozen people understood just how ambitious Murdoch's plans were. One of them was now sitting opposite him. But he wasn't playing ball."
This refers to Charlie Ergen and the ASkyB merger, in which News Corp and EchoStar each had a 50 per cent share. The plot thickens.
Chenoweth explores why, since March 2002, five of the biggest pay TV companies have filed legal actions claiming a News Corp subsidiary had campaigned to sabotage their products.
Now we focus on that rogue arm of former spies, army intelligence officers, pirates and hackers.
Chenoweth's phone book must be an Aladdin's cave of contacts. To get his information he so ably puts together he has sat down with lawyers, hackers and senior media executives. Deaths, threats, wild stories and wild chases - some of which make headlines, others of which haven't been told until now - pepper the pages of this compelling read about corporate skulduggery and unbound ambition.
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