London – Britain’s hacking scandal was reported on Tuesday to have broadened significantly into areas of national security, with the police investigating whether private detectives working for the Murdoch media empire hacked into the computer of a cabinet minister responsible for Northern Ireland.
Scotland Yard declined to comment on the report in The Guardian newspaper, saying it would not be “providing a running commentary on this investigation.”
The report said the police had warned Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary from 2005 to 2007, that his computer and those of senior civil servants and intelligence agents responsible for the British province may have been hacked by private detectives working for News International.
The British outpost has been at the center of a controversy convulsing public life here over the use of private detectives to hack into the voice mail of celebrities and less well-known people thrust into the spotlight of the news by personal tragedy.
But the latest reports suggest that the scandal may be widening if it is established that classified material was also hacked from computers. British news reports on Tuesday said that Mr. Hain’s computer may have contained information about informers within Northern Ireland’s factions. Mr. Hain oversaw delicate negotiations that led to the restoration of local government for the province and the creation of a joint administration grouping its historic adversaries.
The report added weight to previous hints that the intelligence community may have been targeted. A former British Army intelligence officer, Ian Hurst, had previously accused The News of the World, the weekly tabloid that the Murdochs closed as the scandal broke, of hacking into his e-mail account in search of information on confidential informants within the Irish Republican Army.
Mr. Hurst had worked in Northern Ireland, running undercover operations. The BBC reported this year that his computer had been hacked and sensitive e-mails had been provided to The News of the World.
Last month, The New York Times reported that at least one of the scores of lawsuits that allege phone hacking mentions classified information from Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5.
A spokesman for Mr. Hain withheld comment, saying: “These are matters of national security and are subject to a police investigation so it would be inappropriate to comment.” Neither the spokesman nor the police explicitly denied the report.
News International said it was “cooperating fully with the police” on all investigations, The Press Association news agency said.
The hacking scandal has spurred Prime Minister David Cameron to set up a full-blown inquiry into the practices and ethics of the British news media and its relationship with the police and politicians.
In recent days, the inquiry has heard testimony from a procession of celebrities ranging from the actor Hugh Grant to J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, chronicling episodes of intrusion into their private lives by reporters. While the scandal revolved initially around phone hacking, it has since broadened into the realm of interference with computers by people using so-called Trojan Horse viruses for remote access to their target’s computers.
The police inquiry into alleged computer hacking is one of three police investigations affecting the Murdoch media holdings in Britain. Two of them relate to claims of phone hacking and bribery of police officers. In July, Scotland Yard added computer hacking to the list after receiving what the police called “a number of allegations regarding breach of privacy” since January when previous inquiries were reopened.