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Florida journalist Timothy Burke charged over hack of Fox News

A Florida journalist who leaked several unflattering behind-the-scenes videos associated with certain Fox News Channel programs has been indicted on more than a dozen criminal hacking and conspiracy charges, The Desk has learned.

On Thursday, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Marshal’s Office arrested Timothy Burke at his Tampa Bay-area home after a grand jury handed down a 14-count indictment charging the journalist with seven counts of intercepting electronic communications, six counts of computer hacking and one count of conspiracy.

The indictment accuses Burke of working with another person based in Washington to gain unauthorized access to a cloud-based storage system where live video feeds associated with Fox News programs were available.

The indictment says Burke and the alleged co-conspirator used “compromised credentials” to access the video feeds without authorization, then used various means to hide their tracks after deciding to leak the Fox News clips to other media outlets.

The indictment did not explain how Burke and the co-conspirator achieved this, but The Desk previously reported based on court records and other sources that Burke used a password that was accidentally posted to a radio station’s website in order to gain access to a content management system associated with LiveU, a company that offers various tools for broadcasters to transmit raw video feeds.

Document: Read the indictment against Timothy Burke [PDF]

Burke’s own attorneys affirmed their client used a LiveU password found on the open Internet to access the raw Fox News feeds, and asserted the journalist could not have violated the law because the credentials were available for anyone to use.

The charging document on Thursday affirms Burke and his co-conspirator accessed the Fox News feeds through LiveU, with the duo apparently using a compromised password associated with a New York-based sports organization to access the system. (A Twitter URL contained in one of the messages published in the indictment resolves to the homepage of the LiveU Matrix; the indictment identifies LiveU by the generic name “StreamCo.”)

In a series of Twitter messages, Burke and the co-conspirator allegedly swapped information about how to access a file transfer protocol, or FTP, server where raw video transmissions from Fox News and other entities were available. From there, Burke was able to save over 3,000 Internet addresses associated with raw video transmissions, which he stored in spreadsheet saved to his personal Google account, the indictment alleges.

One of the Internet addresses eventually gave Burke access to a raw transmission of an interview between a television host and his guest, which Burke saved to his computer, the indictment said. The specific details of the interview were not disclosed in the indictment, but it is widely believed to be an interview between former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and rapper Kanye West, which Burke leaked to Vice News two years ago.

A spokesperson for Fox News has not returned an email seeking comment on the indictment. Burke’s attorneys have not returned multiple messages about the case, despite numerous outreach attempts dating back to the middle of last year.

Burke’s home was raided by the FBI and U.S. Marshals in connection with the criminal hacking investigation last May. Following news of the raid, Burke and his attorneys attempted to frame the issue as a case of prosecutorial overreach, affirming that his work was that of a journalist and protected under various shield laws and the First Amendment.

Last year, Burke’s legal team filed a motion seeking to compel the FBI to return a number of his computers, phones, notebooks and other items that were seized. Burke also sought to have a search warrant affidavit made public. A federal judge refused to order the return of all of Burke’s devices and the unsealing of the affidavit, causing Burke and his attorneys to file an appeal on the matter. The appeal is still pending.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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