WASHINGTON — A former Wall Street Journal reporter is accusing a major US law firm of using mercenary hackers to oust him from his job and ruin his reputation.
In a lawsuit filed Friday evening, Jay Solomon, the Journal’s former chief foreign correspondent, said Philadelphia-based Dechert LLP worked with Indian hackers to steal emails between him and one of its main sources, the director of Iranian-American aviation Farhad Azima.
Solomon said the messages, which showed Azima the idea of them going into business together, were placed in a file and released in an effort to get him fired.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, said Dechert “wrongfully disclosed this record first to Mr. Solomon’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, in its Washington DC office and then to other other media in an attempt to slander and discredit him.” He said the campaign “effectively provoked the blackballing of Mr. Solomon by the journalist and editor community.”
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Dechert said in an email that he disputes the claim and will challenge it in court. Azima – who filed her own lawsuit against Dechert on Thursday in New York – had no immediate comment.
Solomon’s lawsuit is the latest in a series of lawsuits that follows Reuters reports of hired hackers operating out of India. In June, Reuters reported on the activities of several hack-for-hire outlets, including Delhi-area firms BellTroX and CyberRoot, which have been implicated in a decade-long series of spy campaigns targeting thousands of people, including more than 1,000 lawyers from 108 different laws. companies.
At the time, Reuters reported that the people who became hacking targets while involved in at least seven different lawsuits each launched their own investigation into the cyber espionage campaign.
This number has since increased.
Azima, Solomon’s former source, is among those who went to court over the alleged hack. His lawyers, like Solomon’s, claim Dechert worked with BellTroX, CyberRoot and a host of private investigators to steal his emails and post them on the web.
BellTroX and CyberRoot are not party to the lawsuit and could not be immediately contacted. Executives from both companies have previously denied any wrongdoing.
Solomon and Azima allege that Dechert undertook the hack and leak operation for the benefit of his client, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi, ruler of the Middle Eastern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Reuters reported that lawyers at Ras Al Khaimah’s investment agency – RAKIA – used the emails to help win a fraud case brought against Azima in London in 2016.
Azima, who denies RAKIA’s allegations of fraud, is trying to have the judgment overturned.
In addition to being deployed in court, the leaked emails were also passed on to The Associated Press, which published two articles about Azima in June 2017, including one revealing that the airline mogul offered the journalist Solomon a minority stake in a business he was. establishment. The Journal fired Solomon shortly before the AP article was published, citing ethical violations.
Solomon says he never accepted her proposal from Azima or benefited financially from their relationship. In a first-person account of the scandal published in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2018, the ex-journalist said he never put off Azima’s speech about business opportunities because he was trying to please. to a man who had played a crucial role in his reporting on the Middle East. Solomon admitted “serious errors in the management of my source relationship with Azima”, including accepting stays on the businessman’s yacht. But he says he was the target of an “incredibly effective” information operation.
The Journal, which is not a stakeholder, declined to comment. The AP did not immediately return a message.
Solomon said in a statement on Saturday that the hack and leak he suffered was an example of “a trend that is becoming a big threat to journalism and the media as digital surveillance and hacking technologies become more sophisticated and ubiquitous”. This is a major threat to press freedom.