INM threatens to sue experts who ran data ‘interrogation’

Outside contractors searched company system for information about individuals

 Independent House, Talbot Street, home to the ‘Irish Independent’. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Independent House, Talbot Street, home to the ‘Irish Independent’. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Independent News and Media (INM) has recruited Deloitte for yet another investigation into an alleged major data breach at the newspaper publisher.

It has also threatened outside IT experts, recruited under the supervision of former chairman Leslie Buckley, that it will sue them unless they co-operate, according to court papers.

In August 2017, Deloitte originally examined the circumstances surrounding the incident in which INM’s back-up IT system was secretly removed to Wales and searched for information in 2014.

After receiving assurances that it was for a cost-reduction exercise, Deloitte closed its investigation last year, and INM notified a minor technical breach of data-protection rules to the Data Protection Commissioner.

It has since emerged in court documents from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement that the data, including journalists confidential emails, was in fact secretly “interrogated” for information on a range of people. The operation was allegedly paid for by Blaydon, a company controlled by Denis O’Brien, INM’s main shareholder.

Mr Buckley is refusing to meet the Deloitte investigators. In letters to INM’s legal advisers McCann Fitzgerald, Mr Buckley’s lawyers cite his anger at a letter sent by INM to the so-called INM 19, who were among those whose data was searched. That letter, his lawyers say, appears to blame Mr Buckley for “unauthorised” access to INM’s data.

Outside contractors

In April, INM’s lawyers also wrote to the three outside contractors that worked on the secret data removal and search operation, asking them to co-operate with the new Deloitte investigation.

This included DMZ IT, controlled by cybersecurity expert Derek Mizak, who helped extract the data from INM’s offices; TDS, a British and US firm that helped him restore the data in Wales; and Specialist Security Services, a company controlled by John Henry, a former soldier who was Mr Buckley’s personal bodyguard in Haiti. Mr Henry, the ODCE says, appears to have “run” the operation.

In May, INM’s lawyers wrote to the three again, once more requesting their co-operation, and threatening High Court action if they did not comply.

In the letters, filed with the High Court, INM’s lawyers accused each of the three of not giving a full account of their involvement in the original Deloitte investigation the previous August. For example, it disputed an assertion by Mr Henry that he was just a “speck of dandruff” on the shoulder of the data interrogation.

TDS replied that it could not assist further because it was recruited by Mr Mizak’s company, and claimed it was restricted by a non-disclosure agreement on the operation. It referred all inquiries to DMZ’s lawyers.

Legal documents

Mr Henry emailed back to say he was prepared to assist, but wanted access to INM’s legal documents. Eames solicitors, acting on behalf of Mr Mizak’s company, also sought further information before DMZ would assist Deloitte further.

So far court records show that INM has not instigated legal action against any of the three parties it threatened.

INM and Mr Mizak declined to comment on Tuesday night, while Mr Henry made no response to requests for comment.

INM and the ODCE are currently awaiting the outcome of an application by the State watchdog for High Court inspectors to be appointed to investigate a range of matters at INM that were subject to a whistleblower complaint by its former chief executive Robert Pitt.