The Federal Bureau of Investigation has contacted New York police and the FBI's own victims' assistance office as it begins to investigate whether News Corp. employees tried to hack into voice mails of Sept. 11 victims, according to people familiar with the case.
The contacts represent the first known moves in the FBI's inquiry, which is still in a very preliminary stage. It was launched after the U.K.'s Daily Mirror reported earlier this month that an unidentified former New York police officer said he had been offered money by a News of the World reporter in exchange for private phone details of 9/11 victims.
Paul Browne, spokesman for the New York Police Department, confirmed the department had made informal inquiries after the hacking report. He said the FBI recently contacted the department as well, but said at this point the police have nothing to substantiate the report.
"Right now we don't have a basis" to open an investigation, said Mr. Browne. "No one has come forward to us with any information like that."
He said the NYPD has received no complaints from families of those who died in the 9/11 attacks relating to possible hacking.
FBI officials have checked with the Bureau's Office for Victim Assistance to see if any victims had previously complained of hacking worries, according to a person briefed on the conversation. None had, the person said.
An FBI spokesman didn't immediately comment. A News Corp. spokesman didn't immediately comment.
"The Attorney General has met with 9/11 family members on a number of occasions and would welcome the opportunity to meet with them to discuss any concerns they would like to bring to the Department's attention," said Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department.
The FBI began looking into the 9/11 allegation last week. Even the preliminary work in such a case is likely to take weeks or months, and U.S. investigators plan to formally meet with U.K. authorities for briefing on what evidence, if any, they have gathered about alleged violations in the U.S.
News Corp. decided to close its News of the World amid public outrage over allegations that voice mails were intercepted in the pursuit of scoops. The voice-mail hacking had targeted Britain's royal family and celebrities, among others, but the scandal reached a new stage with the allegation that the paper accessed the voice mail messages of a missing girl later found murdered.
The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp.
In London Tuesday, Rupert Murdoch told a panel of lawmakers that company executives have no knowledge of any hacking of Sept. 11 victims' phones or voice mails by reporters.
"We have seen no evidence of that at all and as far as we know the FBI haven't either," Mr. Murdoch said in testimony before the House of Commons' Culture, Media, and Sport Committee. "I cannot believe it happened anywhere in America," he said.
Investigators have not limited themselves to the issue of hacking. Federal authorities are also trying to determine if alleged bribes paid to British police officials could constitute a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, U.S. officials say. The law is typically used to pursue charges against companies that bribe foreign officials to give them business contracts.
News Corp. has hired Mark Mendelsohn, a partner in the Washington office of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP who has extensive experience with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, to advise it, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Mendelsohn's mandate couldn't be learned, and he didn't return emails and messages seeking comment.
Another possible line of inquiry could come through the Federal Communications Commission, which has the power to revoke TV station licenses. News Corp. owns 27 TV stations in the U.S. The FCC takes such action only rarely and last week its chairman said he didn't expect the agency to get involved.—Amy Schatz and Vanessa O'Connell contributed to this article. Write to Devlin Barrett at email@example.com and Sean Gardiner at firstname.lastname@example.org