Revolutionary-era Gov. Oliver Wolcott and open government advocate Andy Thibault are two Connecticut patriots who inspired me as I prepared for a series of hard-hitting lectures this week in the state where I began my reporting career.
Wolcott was a Yale College graduate, judge and militia commander who lived from 1726 to 1797. He signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and became the state's congressional representative and governor. Curiously, his father had been the British crown's governor of Connecticut during colonial times.
So, it took commitment and courage for the younger Wolcott to lead fledgling revolutionaries, who were guaranteed neither success, popularity -- nor their lives and family welfare.
Fast forward to the present. Thibault is an enormously talented, fearless, and civic-minded journalist and author. The Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, honored him June 18 with its annual "open government" award for his recent work, which builds on a lifetime of achievement.
His work includes syndicated newspaper columns, collected on his blog site Cool Justice and in his 2002 book Law and Justice In Everyday Life. These help fill a gap in downsized newspaper coverage of the nuts-and-bolts of community life. In an oft-uncaring world, he exposes injustice afflicting ordinary citizens in the courts, police departments and regulatory bodies.
One example has been his relentless search on behalf of a Westchester, NY family for a long-missing member, a businessman who journeyed to New Orleans decades ago. From such efforts overlapping our work here, I got better acquainted with his passion for justice after a gap of several decades from our first encounter, when I covered courts for the Hartford Courant.
Five months ago, he reviewed my book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters in three Connecticut newspapers with an uncompromising appraisal under the bold headline, Road map to master manipulators.
Then he volunteered to use his considerable contacts in Connecticut to line up speaking engagements for me to discuss the book's findings.
The first was an invitation-only gathering at the prestigious Hartford Club June 18 in the state capital's downtown. Then at 7 p.m. on June 19, I spoke at the Oliver Wolcott Library in rural Litchfield.
Thibault lives in this historic community, which was also Wolcott's base for his many civic leadership posts.
But it is more than the Litchfield connection that paired Wolcott and Thibault in my mind. My lecture theme in Hartford was, "Protecting Connecticut’s Civic Culture from the National Surveillance State." The topic in Litchfield was a more general call for reform of disgraceful Washington-based activities hurting the nation.
Wolcott and Thibault exemplify a reform impulse once far more widespread and powerful across the country than now. We need that more than ever.
By way of background, Connecticut has had an unusually vibrant culture of local governance via 169 towns (including several small cities).
I explored that culture for the first 18 years of my career, 14 of them as a reporter for the Courant, the state's largest newspaper.
Like most staffers, I worked my way up from an entry level post covering a small town. By 1987 after studies at Yale Law School, I published an investigative history of the newspaper business, Spiked. It examined the Revolutionary-era origins of the Courant, the nation's oldest newspaper in continuous publication, and the difficulties that confront modern readers and journalists alike in ascertaining the facts about civic affairs.
In the four decades since I became a reporter, almost an iron curtain has fallen over government, whose key officials rely on public relations officers at the federal, state and local levels and, at the federal level, threaten criminal prosecution of employees who talk to reporters about sensitive matters not authorized by the hierarchies.
That is the larger theme of Presidential Puppetry, which exposes unreported or under-reported national scandals almost unimaginable to most voters except in spy novels or movies.
I'll recap several of the matters below. The book encompasses a century of history to show that breakdowns in health care, congress, foreign affairs and domestic policy cannot be redressed without much more attention to the corruption and cover-up that the nation's "puppet-masters" and their operatives in government are inflicting on the public.
By almost any standard, authoritarian abuses from the central government today are far worse than those of the colonial era. Here are some examples:
• The evidence suggests that the government and its contractors monitor and store virtually all electronic communications, with retrievable capability.
• Reform legislation now pending will not ensure privacy protections as long understood under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches.
• The reason? The vast dollars and hidden power of the intelligence complex. All recent U.S. presidents, for example, have had hidden relationships with the CIA or FBI before they entered politics.
Yet the public remains curiously passive -- in part because, in my view, of the pervasiveness of propaganda and massive conflicts of interest involving the media that, intentionally or not, feeds the public celebrity, entertainment, violent crime and "gotcha" political dramas without mentioning the most salient power relationships.
For example, Amazon.com, the wealth source for the new owner of the Washington Post, Jeffrey Bezos, received a $600 million contract from the CIA last fall. This shows an inherent conflict of interest in Washington Post coverage despite whatever good intentions might exist or whatever journalism prizes the paper might achieve.
For such reasons, any reform must begin with community leaders who dare to discuss and act upon civic problems without the partisan and propaganda blinders that are deadlocking national institutions.
Two new surveys announced June 16 provided shocking evidence of Americans' ever-diminishing quality of life and the difficulty of reform.
In one survey, a Gallup poll measured public approval for the U.S. congress at just 16 percent, the lowest level ever recorded. The Founders created the House of Representatives as the sub-branch to respond most directly to public concerns. Yet the vast majority of representatives and senators can expect re-election, thanks to gerrymandered districts.
• Congressional approval. Gallup: Key Midterm Election Indicators at or Near Historical Lows, Approval of Congress at 16%; national satisfaction at 23%, June 16, 2014.
In the other survey, the Commonwealth Foundation showed that the United States provides the developed world’s worst and most expensive health care -- exemplifying a vital problem that neither government nor business is apparently solving.
• Health care. The Commonwealth Fund, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, 2014 Update: How the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally, June 16, 2014. The United States health care system is the most expensive in the world, but the United States under-performs relative to other countries.
Also, President Truman created the NSA by a secret order in 1952. After 9/11 the NSA began violating its charter that had forbidden it from mass collection of data regarding U.S. citizens, as I describe in extensive treatment in Presidential Puppetry and here on the Justice Integrity Project investigative site.
This does not mean their political success is guaranteed, only that they have a leg up on any competition not so favored.
To be clear on an additional point, I do not mean to suggest that such agencies as the CIA are the ultimate power in our society.
Under 1950s CIA Director Allen Dulles and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a tradition continued of leadership by Wall Street lawyers like the Dulles brothers who were intimately connected with the nation’s true power elite at the billionaire level. That means connections with the Rockefellers, Harrimans and similar oligarchs with enormous influence over the economy, government and global civic institutions, including the national media and universities.
The bottom line is that these elites are typically motivated by economic policies that ordinary citizens deserve the right to examine. Ultimately, the key issues focus on money, including income, savings, security, health care and taxes. To take one not-so-small example of the link between intelligence and Wall Street, it is easier to make investments in a global economy if one can foresee the next revolution or other war zone. Much more study and debate needs to occur from that perspective regarding why wars and other conflagrations suddenly spring up around the world, seemingly by terrorists arising from almost nowhere.
For those reasons, my message is that the public must understand the news, not just watch it. The real story ultimately affects jobs, other economic opportunities and financial security – as well as the freedoms that we have so long taken for granted, especially in such a lovely and civic-minded part of America as Connecticut.During the Revolutionary Era, the Connecticut Courant -- whose successor, the Hartford Courant became my first employer for 14 years of reporting -- became the nation's largest newspaper, with a circulation peaking at 13,000 with its pro-Revolution message.
Torrington Register Citizen, Andrew Kreig makes an impact with new book, Owen Canfield, June 21, 2014. Owen Canfield, shown in a file photo, started writing a Sunday column for The Register Citizen on Sept. 14, 2008. He had started his career at the Torrington Register 50 years ago, before leaving for a job at the Hartford Courant in 1965. Andrew Kreig has written an important book and Thursday he came to Litchfield’s beautiful Oliver Wolcott Library to speak about it. I haven’t yet had a chance to read the book, which is 469 pages long, including more than 1,100 footnotes, index, etc. But I heard most of what Kreig had to say and the exhaustively researched information in the book is unsettling. Here is a quote taken from one of the many endorsements printed in the front of the book. John Edward Hurley, a Washington commentator, civic leader and historian wrote, “Presidential Puppetry gives remarkable insight into how our Constitution has disintegrated at the hands of a few secret oligarchs who are calling the shots in domestic and foreign affairs. And if anyone should know the subject it would be the author, who is one of the best investigative journalists in the country.’’ That about sums up Andy and his terrific book. We knew each other very well when we were both employed by The Courant, he as an investigative reporter and I as a sports columnist. I have nothing but good memories of Andy. It was great to see him again and even greater to listen and absorb his very important message.
Andy Thibault & 'Cool Justice' Report
Andy Thibault is a syndicated columnist, award-winning feature writer, investigative reporter, and author or co-author of four books, with a fifth due in the fall. His numerous publications have appeared in such places as Connecticut Magazine, the Connecticut Law Tribune and the Hartford Courant’s Northeast Magazine. He resides in Litchfield, Connecticut with his wife and children.
The Cool Justice Report exposes wrongdoing in the politically-charged worlds of cops and courts. Also, it runs compelling stories of general interest about such diverse topics as boxing, literary and political items, as well as selected poems and pieces of fiction. Many columns written after 2002 publication of Law and Justice In Everyday Life were posted at AndyThibault.com. The book's introduction was by Howard Zinn, a former professor of Thibault's at Boston University. The foreword was by famed New England litigator F. Lee Bailey.
Thibault, a native of New London who began his newspaper career as a 17-year-old sports writer, is the 2014 recipient of the Stephen Collins Award presented each year by the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information to a journalist for contributing to open government. The award is named after a longtime Danbury News-Times editorial director who advocated for a state Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1975. The ceremony was at the Hartford Club June 18 in Hartford. Relevant recent work by Thibault included a series of columns documenting an unfair trial for Bonnie Jean Foreshaw, who had been wrongly convicted for premeditated murder of a person she had never met. Four others received awards also, including a police chief, a state senator and an educator specializing in instruction on the public benefits and techniques for obtaining more government information under freedom of information law.
Related News Coverage
Oliver Wolcott Library Litchfield, CT, 'Presidential Puppetry'+ with Author Andrew Kreig, Staff Report, Event from 7 to 8 p.m. June 19, 2014. Presidential Puppetry is a book about the nation’s leading political families providing a “Rosetta Stone” to understanding current Washington political standoffs and strategies. Unfolding as a DC-based mystery story, it leads the reader step-by-step to a deeper understanding of 2014 political controversies on a range of issues, including austerity, budgets, national security, privacy, political candidates, and press freedom. In non-partisan fashion, author Andrew Kreig shows via a century of history h ow the nation’s behind-the-scenes power structure empowered the Bushs, Clintons, Romneys, and Obamas. To research Puppetry, Kreig drew on mainstream reporting augmented by a rare blend of right, left, academic, and global intelligence experts. Its explosive 350-page narrative is documented with more than 1,100 endnotes. Andrew Kreig is an investigative reporter, attorney, author, business strategist, and non-profit executive based in Washington, DC. A wine & cheese reception will follow the event. Registration is free but required.
Torrington Register Citizen, Author Andrew Kreig to talk government secrets in Litchfield, Shako Liu (shown in a file photo), June 11, 2014. Author and attorney Andrew Kreig is going to tell secrets of the federal government in his new book Presidential Puppetry. He will talk at the Rotary Club of Litchfield-Morris, and then the Oliver Wolcott Library on June 19. An average American commits three felonies a day, Kreig cited from the book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey Silverglate. The dysfunctional criminal justice system has exposed scores of people—doctors, lawyers, journalists, businesspeople—to sudden, arbitrary prosecution, according to the book.
Kim Komando Radio Show, NSA can't hand over evidence to lawyers because its systems are 'too complex,' Kim Komando, June 11, 2014. This is the NSA's equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," I guess. The superspying agency is facing lawsuits over surveillance it conducted on just about everyone, and it's being asked to hand over information. But the NSA says it can't, because its system is too complex to stop it from deleting its own data. A judge had ruled that the NSA had to preserve data under Section 702 of the Amendments Act to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But the NSA argued that holding onto the data would be too burdensome. "A requirement to preserve all data acquired under section 702 presents significant operational problems, only one of which is that the NSA may have to shut down all systems and databases that contain Section 702 information," wrote NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett in a court filing submitted to the court.
Connecticut Mirror, Defense slowdown hurts all of Connecticut, Ana Radelat, June 12, 2014. There’s not one corner of Connecticut that doesn’t benefit from Pentagon spending, but the go-go years for the state’s defense contractors may be over. That’s bad news for what was one of the state’s hottest, growing industries, especially for Connecticut’s smaller defense contractors. An analysis by the Connecticut Mirror shows the end of the war in Iraq and the wind down of the war in Afghanistan, as well as other budget constraints, began to be felt last year, when more than 3,000 defense contractors in the state won Department of Defense contracts worth nearly $10.2 billion. That’s a lot of money, but less than the $12.9 billion in DoD contracts signed in 2012 and $12.5 billion in contracts signed in both 2011 and 2010. Before last year’s drop, defense spending in Connecticut was growing at a fast clip every year. It was $6.2 billion in 2002 and more than double that 10 years later, says GovernmentContractswon.com. Mike Lewis, an investment analyst specializing in defense with the Silverline Group, said the defense budget will not grow in the foreseeable future, meaning Connecticut’s defense industry may have fallen on lean times.
FireDogLake, Federal Appeals Court: Warrant for Cell Phone Location Data is Required Under Fourth Amendment, Kevin Gosztola, June 11, 2014. A federal appeals court has ruled that “cell site location information is within the subscriber’s reasonable expectation of privacy” and that gathering such information without a warrant violates a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Quartavius Davis was convicted of multiple offenses, including robbery, conspiracy and “possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.” The US Attorney’s Office got what is called a “D-order” from a federal magistrate judge to collect all this information. The NSA admitted that it ran an “experiment” pilot project in 2010 and 2011 where it collected cell phone data of Americans. It claims it discontinued the collection buy why and whether the agency kept the data collected is unknown. The appeals court decision, however, makes it clear that having such a database of cell phone location data from Americans that is collected without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Any government agency that is engaging in this collection under any program, whether secret or known to the public, is infringing upon the rights of citizens.
PBS, Former NSA director: Having surveillance tools revealed puts U.S. in greater harm, Judy Woodruff Interview with former NSA Director Keith Alexander, May 13, 2014. Now to a close look at the U.S. government’s surveillance programs. It’s the subject of tonight’s “Frontline” on PBS, the first of a two-part series titled “The United States of Secrets.” Their reporting focuses on inside accounts of the controversial spying operations put in place after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Here, you will see former National Security Agency employees affiliated with a program called ThinThread, a tool which could capture and sort massive amounts of phone and e-mail data, but had an encryption function to protect the privacy of individual Americans. They and others describe the moment they found out that the technology was being used without the privacy protection.
Guardian, Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown, Nafeez Ahmed, June 12, 2014. Social science is being militarised to develop 'operational tools' to target peaceful activists and protest movements. A US Department of Defense (DoD) research program is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar program is designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant commands." Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD 'Minerva Research Initiative' partners with universities "to improve DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US." Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model "of the dynamics of social movement mobilization and contagions." The project will determine "the critical mass (tipping point)" of social contagians by studying their "digital traces" in the cases of "the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey." Twitter posts and conversations will be examined "to identify individuals mobilized in a social contagion and when they become mobilized."
Huffington Post, Famed Physician Dr. Cyril Wecht: 'Fight Justice Department Misconduct,' Andrew Kreig, Sept. 27, 2010. Forensic medical expert Cyril H. Wecht provides a vitally needed defendant's perspective on the terrible Justice Department misconduct that USA Today just documented in a major investigation. On Sept. 23, the paper reported 201 criminal cases in which federal judges found that prosecutors broke laws or ethics rules since 1997. Overall, the abuses put innocent people in jail, and set guilty people free. Dr. Wecht's prosecution didn't fall within the newspaper's scope because his first judge in Pittsburgh coddled the prosecution instead of criticizing it. But we at the Justice Integrity Project, a non-partisan legal reform group, documented Wecht's ordeal from 84 overblown felony charges in 2006 carrying long prison sentences for trivial matters. He was vindicated last year at age 78. We asked him to describe what a defendant can face, in general. "Once a victim has been targeted," he responded, "there are no limits to the amount of time, energy, money, and use of personnel that the Feds will employ to pursue and persecute that individual. No charge will be considered too petty or unimportant in their efforts to coerce the victim into pleading guilty to avoid the frightening possibility of a lengthy jail term."
Editor's Note: President Obama is shown at right in the White House hosting former President George H.W. Bush and his son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a front-runner for the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination.
Nieman Watchdog, New Questions Raised About Prosecutor Who Cleared Bush Officials in U.S. Attorney Firings, Andrew Kreig, July 25, 2010. Four days before Nora Dannehy was appointed to investigate the Bush administration’s U.S. attorney firing scandal, a team of lawyers she led was found to have illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case. Andrew Kreig writes that this previously unreported fact calls her entire investigation into question as well as that of a similar investigation by her colleague John Durham of DOJ and CIA decision-making involving torture.
Catching Our Attention on Political Accountability, Oversight and Media Issues
Washington Post, Dave Brat was mostly ignored by political reporters, Paul Farhi, June 11, 2014.There are hundreds of reporters covering politics in Washington. Before Tuesday night, only a few of them paid any attention to the year’s biggest political story. College professor Dave Brat’s defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary in their Richmond-area district stunned more than Cantor and the GOP establishment. Most of the national news media slept through the campaign, waking up only when the votes started coming in Tuesday. The result: Perhaps not since the Chicago Daily Tribune’s infamous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline has the political press been so badly blindsided by an election result.
FireDogLake, Congressional Approval on Track to be Lowest for any Midterm in 40 Years, Jon Walker, June 16, 2014. Americans rarely have a high opinion of Congress, but currently its support for the body has been at record lows. Unless there is some dramatic change in the next few months this election could feature the lowest Congressional approval ratings of any midterm election in the past 40 years. Ideally, such horrible numbers should have most incumbent members of Congress terrified but that is not the case. In fact the number of incumbents who are at serious risk of losing their election this November is near historic lows. According to an analysis by FairVote, the number of naturally competitive districts has dropped to only 47 and we can assume roughly 98 percent of incumbents will win re-election. Given how incredibly insulated most members of Congress have become from electoral consequences it is no wonder the institution has become so unpopular. For the most part members simply don’t need to care about what voters think of their institution’s overall job performances. That should be considered a serious crisis in a democracy.
Gallup, Key Midterm Election Indicators at or Near Historical Lows, Jeffrey M. Jones, June 16, 2014. Approval of Congress at 16%; national satisfaction at 23%. The election environment for congressional incumbents in 2014 will be challenging, with several key public opinion indicators as negative or nearly as negative as they have been in any recent midterm election year. This includes congressional job approval, which, at 16%, is on pace to be the lowest in a midterm election year since Gallup first measured it in 1974. Approval was 21% in 2010 and 50% in 2002.
FireDogLake, America Ranks No. 1 for Over-Priced, Inefficient Health Care, Jon Walker, June 16, 2014. Once again America wins the dubious distinction of having the least efficient health system. It simply can’t be overstated how wastefully corrupt our health care system is.
Broadcasting and Cable, Newspaper Ownership, Unions Divided Over Crossownership Ban, John Eggerton, June 11, 2014. NewsGuild-CWA says combos mean increased profits rather than investment in local news. The newspaper unions and ownership are definitely of different minds on lifting the ban on newspaper-broadcast crossownership. That is according to testimony for a June 11 House Communications Subcommittee hearing on the FCC's media ownership rules. While Newspaper Association of America (NAA) senior VP Paul Boyle tells the subcommittee that the ban is outdated and hurts investment in local journalism, Bernard Lunzer, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, asks Congress to "maintain the status quo on Cross Ownership between print and broadcast" and says that claims that combinations will allow for more coverage is "just not the case."
WhoWhatWhy, Where Congress Won’t Tread in Benghazi Hearings, Larry Hancock, June 11, 2014. Secretary of State John Kerry is almost certain to be a witness in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, after being released from a subpoena to testify before the House Oversight Committee on June 12. Never mind that he wasn’t the Secretary of State when more than 100 gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed four people, including Ambassador Christopher Stephens, on Sept 11, 2012. The Secretary of State on that day was potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The noisy fight between both parties over the necessity for Kerry’s testimony, exemplifies the one thing we know about Benghazi today: We’re no closer to the truth than we were 21 months ago.
- The first issue likely to be avoided is the Benghazi-based CIA covert-action project, compromised by both the death of the American ambassador to Libya, Stephens, and the immediate political response of Congress following the attacks on the State Department complex – which we now know to have been a State Department cover for a covert CIA weapons interdiction operation run out of the “embassy annex.” There is every indication that a pro-active covert action was in play, involving not only CIA personnel but the ambassador himself. Stephens acted as a conduit to Libyans who had come to trust him when the U.S. and NA TO worked with them during the insurgency against Muammar Qaddafi. A pre-emptive covert operation to interdict heavy weapons from distribution to radical jihadi insurgencies across North Africa is not something the critics of the Obama administration will want to tout. Moreover, it’s something the administration and any agencies involved are legally prohibited from discussing, other than with the limited number of legislators sitting on specific intelligence oversight committees.
- The second issue to be avoided is the lack of institutional memory in Congress and the degree to which privatization has been allowed to overtake what were formerly the military’s responsibilities for the security of American embassies and facilities overseas.