Former WSJ reporter says law firm used Indian hackers to sabotage his career

WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) – A former Wall Street Journal reporter has accused a major US law firm of using mercenary hackers to oust him from his job and ruin his reputation.

In a lawsuit filed late Friday, Jay Solomon, the Journal’s former chief foreign affairs correspondent, said that Philadelphia-based Dechert LLP worked with hackers from India to steal emails between him and one of his key sources, the Iranian-American aviation manager Farhad Azima.

Solomon said the news, which showed Azima had the idea of ​​the two doing business together, was included in a dossier and circulated to successfully fire him.

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The lawsuit, filed in Washington federal court, alleges that Dechert “misrepresented this dossier first to Mr. Solomon’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, at his Washington DC office and then to other media outlets in order to slander and discredit him.” It said the campaign “effectively resulted in Mr. Solomon being blacked out by the journalist and publishing community.”

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Dechert did not immediately respond with a request for comment. Azima — who filed his own lawsuit against Dechert in New York on Thursday — did not immediately respond to a message. Continue reading

Solomon’s lawsuit is the latest in a series of lawsuits following Reuters coverage of hired hackers operating out of India. In June, Reuters reported on the activities of several hack-for-hire shops, including Delhi-area firms BellTroX and CyberRoot, which were involved in a decade-long string of spy campaigns targeting thousands of people, including more than 1,000 lawyers at 108 different law firms.

At the time, Reuters reported that individuals who had been targeted by hackers while involved in at least seven different lawsuits had each launched their own investigations into the cyberespionage campaign.

That number has since grown.

Azima, Solomon’s former source, is among those who have gone to court over the alleged hacking. His attorneys, like Solomon’s, allege that Dechert worked with BellTroX, CyberRoot and a number of private investigators to steal his emails and post them on the internet.

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BellTroX and CyberRoot are not involved in the lawsuit and could not be reached immediately. Executives at both companies have previously denied wrongdoing.

Solomon and Azima claim that Dechert carried out the hack-and-leak operation on behalf of his client Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi, ruler of the Middle East emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Reuters has reported that lawyers for Ras Al Khaimah’s investment agency – RAKIA – used the emails to help win a fraud lawsuit filed against Azima in London in 2016.

Azima, who denies RAKIA’s fraud allegations, is seeking to overturn the verdict.

As well as being used in court, the leaked emails made their way to The Associated Press, which published two articles about Azima in June 2017, including one revealing that the airline mogul offered reporter Solomon a minority stake in a company had he was set up. The Journal fired Solomon shortly before the AP story was published, citing ethical violations.

Solomon says he never accepted Azima’s proposal 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 pushed back on Azima’s speech about business opportunities because he was trying to amuse a man crucial to his coverage of the was Middle East. Solomon acknowledged “serious failures in managing my source relationship with Azima” but said he was the target of an “incredibly effective” intelligence operation.

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The Journal, which is not a party, declined to comment. The AP did not immediately return a message.

Before his release, Solomon received several awards for his work as a foreign correspondent. He declined to comment on the lawsuit on record, but in his 2018 report he called the episode a warning to journalists.

“Leaks and hacks of emails and correspondence can blow up complicated reports and derail months, if not years, of work,” he said.

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Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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