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Pinging joins a host of alleged media misdeeds being put under the microscope as police, politicians, and the public weigh allegations that journalists at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World engaged in years of lawless behavior to get scoops. Murdoch’s News Corp. is trying to keep the damage from spreading to its more lucrative U.S. holdings, including the Fox network, 20th Century Fox and the Wall Street Journal.

What began in 2005 as a slow-burning scandal over one reporter’s efforts to spy on voice mails left on the phones of Britain’s royal household has exploded into a crisis that has shaken Murdoch’s media empire and led to resignations of two of Scotland Yard’s most senior officers.

British politicians have felt the heat too, with the country’s top two party leaders falling over each other to distance themselves from papers they once both courted assiduously.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s former communications director _ Murdoch newspapers veteran Andy Coulson _ came under fresh scrutiny Thursday after it was reported that he did not have a top-level security clearance, which spared him from the most stringent type of vetting.

And there was further intrigue injected into the scandal after Britain’s Cabinet Office released correspondence showing that a senior official believed he had had his phone broken into as recently as last year, when Coulson was already in government.

Although the issue had been covered off-and-on over the years, almost exclusively by the Guardian, allegations of illegal behavior at the News of the World have received feverish attention since a July 4 report alleged that someone at the tabloid hacked the phone of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler in 2002 while police were still searching for her.

The temperature cooled a bit on Thursday, with Parliament closed for the first day of its summer recess, but the investigation appeared to be intensifying.

London’s Metropolitan Police said Wednesday it was assigning 15 more officers to help the 45 already involved in the investigation.

Since the latest phone hacking allegations emerged, London’s police chief and the head of its antiterrorist operations have resigned. So have Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, which runs Murdoch’s British newspaper division, and Les Hinton, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal who formerly headed News International. Murdoch has shut down the 168-year-old News of the World, leaving 200 employees looking for work, and abandoned his bid to win control of lucrative British Sky Broadcasting.

Shutting News of the World apparently will also cost Murdoch’s surviving British newspapers their exclusive access to British athletes ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.

Team 2012, an initiative supporting British Olympians, had signed up News International as its official partner to help raise funds for athletes. But without the News of the World, Team 2012 said News International can no longer meet its contractual obligations, and it is looking for new media partners.

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Robert Barr and Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.