Gawker.com, where the author is employed as a staff writer, declined to publish this story.
Did the Church of Scientology use a Vanity Fair contributing editor to infiltrate and gather intelligence on the cult’s enemies in the media?
John Connolly is a well-known, and well-liked, character in New York media circles. He’s a former NYPD detective and stock broker who landed a third career as an investigative reporter for Vanity Fair, where he is a contributing editor, Radar, the Daily Beast, Gawker, and other outlets. Connolly is an investigator of the old school, employed more for his ability to run a license plate number than his facility with prose. In 1990, while freelancing for Forbes, he was accused by a federal judge of using his old NYPD badge to obtain sealed court documents. According to USA Today, his stint as a stockbroker ended in the 1980s with a $100,000 civil penalty and lifetime ban from the Securities and Exchange Commission. He’s a mischievous tipster, an inveterate gossip, and an information broker of the highest order. He speaks with a cartoonish New York accent and knows literally everybody. And according to the two highest ranking Scientology officials to ever leave the church, he’s been a paid informant for the cult for two decades.
The accusation comes from Marty Rathbun, who ranked so high in the organization before he left that he served as Tom Cruise’s “auditor,” or confessor, and Mike Rinder, Scientology’s former chief spokesman. Both men have defected from the church and accuse its current leader, David Miscavige, of ruling through violence and terror. On February 15, Rathbun posted to his blog a lengthy internal church memo, purportedly written by Linda Hamel, chief of the church’s faux-CIA “Office of Special Affairs,” revealing Connolly to have secretly supplied intelligence to the church on the preparation of Andrew Morton’s 2008 biography of Tom Cruise. According to the memo, Connolly approached Morton in 2006 under the pretense of writing “an article for Vanity Fair about the books Morton has done on celebrities including the one he is writing on Tom Cruise.” He proceeded, the memo says, to pump Morton for information about his book and report it back to the church:
Connolly was here in LA working on the Pellicano story ["Talk of the Town," Vanity Fair, June 2006] and contacted Morton and met with him on the basis of gaining his cooperation to be interviewed for an article for Vanity Fair about the books Morton has done on celebrities including the one he is writing on Tom Cruise. Connolly wanted to see what Morton was like and get any information about where Morton is currently at with regard to writing the book and to see if Morton would agree to be interviewed for an article. Based on the meeting, Connolly said that Morton seems to have finished his research already and is busy writing the book.
Connolly told Morton that it would not be a puff piece and would show both sides including what would be said about Morton. (Connolly will use the article to investigate Morton’s past treatment of other celebrities, use of sleazy sources, etc. that would undermine Morton’s credibility). Morton said he would check with St. Martin’s Press to get their take on cooperating for the story. Morton seems to be interested in generating publicity for the book.
Connolly’s impression of Morton is that he is a serious writer and is a focused person but enjoyable to talk to. He knows how to use his charm to get people to talk. Morton also told him that it only took him five weeks to write the Monica Lewinsky book – so he is capable of churning out a lot in a short period of time.
Morton said that he thought that Tom Cruise was a good story and that is why he wanted to write the book. The reporter got the impression from talking with Morton that Morton has collected a lot of information about the Church and that this will be well covered in the book. Morton also mentioned that he has an assistant who is working for him.
Connolly’s impression is that Morton is a formidable adversary who is not going to back down. He thinks that Morton has made up his mind already as to the angle of the book but did not specifically say what it was.
In the US Connolly, wants to do an investigative story and put a piece together on Morton and his use of sleazy sources in the books he has done about celebrities such as Madonna, the Beckhams and Tom Cruise. This would attack Morton on his reputation questioning the credibility of his sources.
The memo proves, in Rathbun’s words, that “Connolly has been a Church of Scientology Office of Special Affairs informant for nearly two decades.” In a phone interview, Rathbun told me that Connolly’s work for the church was extensive. He was an operative, Rathbun says, of a Los Angeles cop-turned-private-investigator named Gene Ingram who was well known as a hired spook for Scientology. “I hired Ingram,” says Rathbun. “And I remember distinctly that he would talk about his pal John Connolly. For years I periodically saw his name in programs and reports as an active source of information and stories.” Rathbun cited examples: Connolly was involved, he says, in gathering intelligence on a 1993 Premiere story on Tom Cruise that the church was particularly concerned about. The details are hazy, Rathbun says, “but I remember Connolly getting intel on that story.” Rathbun also says Connolly was involved in “trying to influence” vocal ex-Scientologist Chuck Beatty in 2006.
Rinder, who was responsible for, in church parlance, “handling” the news media, corroborates Rathbun’s account. “Connolly was a resource to deal with media problems,” he told me. “Ingram used to tout Connolly’s virtues pretty often–‘Connolly can handle this; he’ll find out what’s going on and he’s got lines into all media.’ That was something I heard many, many times. Ingram even met with Connolly at the Celebrity Center in Los Angeles.” Like Rathbun, Rinder recalled vaguely that Connolly was involved in reconnoitering the Premiere story. He also said Connolly “was used to gather information” on Wensley Clarkson, a British reporter who wrote an unauthorized biography of Tom Cruise in 1998.
Both Rinder and Rathbun say Connolly was paid for his services. “Absolutely,” said Rinder. “No one ever does work like that for free. Not for the church.” Likewise, Rathbun said, “I assume he was paid. That’s the way Ingram operated.” Neither man claimed to have direct knowledge of payments. Ingram didn’t respond to repeated phone calls. Neither did the church.