I swung by the Post Office Monday morning to pick up my mail. It’s a big box — one of those drawers about 1 foot high, 1 foot wide and 18 inches deep. Every day it is stuffed full of newspapers, magazines, letters — and, most importantly to my organization, contributions in the form of checks and money orders.
As I took out my key to open the drawer, I noticed that the box appeared to be ajar. The lock had been broken. I peered inside anxiously, only to find that all of our weekend mail had been stolen.
Who knows how much? This is mail that will never be recovered. Keep in mind this Post Office is located in a quiet suburban community — not the kind prone to such mischief.
Immediately, my mind started racing through my experiences of the last three years — since my organization began investigating high-profile government corruption. First the phone mail was hacked. Then the office was burglarized. Then the phones were bugged. Then a memo was crafted in the White House counsel’s office targeting the Western Journalism Center. Then the White House, in an attempt to discredit our work, began distributing a 331-page report to select reporters. Then a rumor campaign against the center was initiated: There was something rotten in Denmark, our supporters and friends were told in whispered tones all over Washington — the IRS has the goods on the Western Journalism Center.
Then one of our major donors received a call from Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary, who told him to stop contributing to the center or face losing his federal contracts. Then the IRS showed up at our door, telling my accountant, “Look, this is a political case and the decision (about our fate) is going to be made at the national level.” Then the audit spread — from 1994 to 1995. Only when I blew the whistle on it all in the Wall Street Journal last year did the pressure ease.
The Congress announced hearings into “political audits” (though none were ever held). IRS Commissioner Margaret Milner Richardson resigned. The IRS closed the case and extended our tax-exempt status. And the sun shone and the sky was blue again — for a little while.
More recently I’ve been hearing those funny noises on my phone again. Strange things are happening on our web site as it gains a larger audience. And now my Post Office box is ripped off. It could just be a simple criminal act — unrelated to any of our investigations. But I’ve learned from past experience that the best protection for us lies in the sunshine of public attention. So, I’m telling you about one more terribly suspicious occurrence.
There it is — on the record. Duly noted.
One more thing. I made an interesting discovery through this latest ordeal. I tried calling my local Post Office to see what reporting requirements there were for such break-ins. The phone number provided by information was not a local number but an 800 line. I called back and asked for a local number and was told they had all been disconnected in favor of this one national toll-free line.
So I called it.
“Thank you for calling the United States Postal Service. To continue this call in English, press 1,” said the recorded message.
I pressed 1. More options. I pressed 0 because none of them mentioned a break-in at your Post Office box.
The next recording advised me that this was a particularly busy time for the Post Office and suggested “trying your call later. Good bye.” Dial tone. This was no suggestion. This was an order.
I tried later. Same thing. I tried again in several hours. Same thing. Finally, I got a live human being after a wait of about 30 minutes. I told him my frustration of calling all day to report a break-in at my box. He was sympathetic.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate,” he said. “This is a nationwide thing. All the local Post Offices are removing their local numbers and getting connected to the central 800 number. But, don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll connect you now to the person who will handle your situation.”
Another 20 minutes went by. And who do you suppose they connected me with? My local postmaster. The person I was trying to call in the first place. Isn’t that progress? Isn’t that just like government.