Former WSJ reporter claims law firm sabotaged career with Indian hackers
Last updated on November 4th, 2022 at 05:17 am
A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal accuses a major U.S. law firm of hiring mercenary hackers to expel him from his position and harm his name.
In a lawsuit filed late on Friday, October 14, Jay Solomon, the Journal’s former chief foreign correspondent, alleged that Philadelphia-based Dechert LLP collaborated with Indian hackers to steal emails between him and one of his most important sources, the Iranian-American aviation executive Farhad Azima.
Solomon stated that the texts, which depicted Azima proposing that the two of them go into business together, were compiled into a dossier and disseminated in an attempt to get him fired.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, asserts that Dechert “intentionally leaked this dossier to Mr. Solomon’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, at its bureau in Washington, DC, and then to other media outlets in an effort to smear and discredit him.” According to the report, Mr. Solomon was effectively blackballed by the journalistic and publishing communities as a result of the effort.
In an email, Dechert stated that it contested the claim and will contest it in court. Thursday in New York, Azima filed his own case against Dechert. He had no immediate comment.
Solomon’s lawsuit is the most recent in a slew of legal measures prompted by Reuters’ coverage on hired hackers working in India. Reuters reported in June on the activities of multiple hack-for-hire outfits, including Delhi-area firms BellTroX and CyberRoot, which were involved in a decade-long series of espionage efforts targeting thousands of individuals, including more than 1,000 lawyers at 108 different law firms.
Reuters reported at the time that individuals who had become hacking targets as a result of their involvement in at least seven separate cases had each initiated their own investigations into the cyberespionage campaign.
This number has since increased.
Azima, a former source for Solomon, is among individuals who have filed a lawsuit on the alleged hacking. His attorneys, like Solomon’s, contend that Dechert collaborated with BellTroX, CyberRoot, and a large number of private investigators to steal and publish his emails online.
BellTroX and CyberRoot are not involved in the lawsuit and could not be reached immediately. Both companies’ executives have previously denied wrongdoing.
Solomon and Azima allege that Dechert conducted the hack-and-leak operation on behalf of its client, the ruler of the Middle Eastern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi. According to Reuters, lawyers for Ras Al Khaimah’s investment agency, RAKIA, used the emails to assist win a 2016 fraud lawsuit brought in London against Azima.
Azima, who disputes RAKIA’s charges of fraud, is attempting to have the judgment overturned.
In addition to being used in court, the hacked emails reached The Associated Press, which published two articles about Azima in June 2017, one of which disclosed that the airline magnate had offered reporter Solomon a minority ownership in a firm he was forming. The Journal terminated Solomon shortly before the publication of the AP article, claiming ethical infractions.
Solomon claims that he never accepted Azima’s proposal or gained financially from their connection. In a 2018 first-person account of the controversy published in the Columbia Journalism Review, the former journalist explained that he never pushed back on Azima’s mention of business chances because he was attempting to be polite to a man who had been instrumental to his Middle East work. Solomon admitted to committing “severe errors in handling my source connection with Azima,” which included receiving stays on the businessman’s yacht. However, he said he was the subject of a “very effective” information operation.
The Journal, which is not involved in the litigation, declined to comment. The AP did not respond promptly to my message.
Solomon stated in a statement released on Saturday that the hack-and-leak he experienced was an example of “a pattern that is becoming a major threat to journalism and the media as digital monitoring and hacking tools become increasingly sophisticated and prevalent. This is a significant threat to press freedom.”