Sunday, February 19, 2012

Republican Faust: The Rise and Fall of Mike Connell - 1/3

by Nomad

The story of the rise and fall of Republican insider, Mike Connell isn't a familiar one. This investigation looks at the life and death of one of the people who was implicated in the rigging of the Ohio results in the 2004 presidential election. 

At about 6 p.m. on Friday, 19 December 2008, a single-engine 1997 Piper Saratoga aircraft, with only the pilot aboard, crashed into a residential area in Uniontown, Ohio as it was preparing to land at Akron-Canton airport.

Arriving  at the scene, fire crews found only burning wreckage of the plane scattered between homes on Charolais Street. The pilot had been thrown upon impact and had died instantly of massive blunt force trauma, his belongings scattered in the yards.

First responders arrived on the scene immediately after the crash. Even then, irregularities began. Simon Worrall in an article The Mysterious Death of Bush's Cyber-Guru, writes of those first minutes:
Capt. Lorin Geisner of the Greentown Fire Department was the first person to arrive at the scene. “We received a 911 call, so we contacted the tower and asked what size plane it was and how many souls were on board,” he recalls. “But we were informed that the tower was in lockdown and that no information was available.”
This was to be the first of many abnormalities in a case that would send shock waves through the blogosphere with speculations of sabotage and foul play. In the bewildering reality-bending world of conspiracy theories, the events that surround the Connell crash belong in a class all their own.

The Wizard

First and foremost, it was the identity of the pilot that was to cause much of the stir. The name Mike Connell might not have rung any bells in most American homes but, to the Washington establishment, particularly amongst the Republican politicians, Connell was a wizard. As president and CEO of Ohio-based New Media Communications Inc., Connell had deep ties to some of the top names in Washington. He offered them something that they desperately wanted: control over their Internet image, the power to market that image and the ability to operate a digital campaign strategy.

New Media Communications designs, develops, and implements web sites and marketing strategies for political advocacy and commercial organizations. The company' services include strategic planning, design, programming, as well as a variety of interactive marketing services that include banner ad creation and placement, e-mail direct marketing, market research, and analysis of digital campaigns. New Media Communications also offers hosting, site optimization, and database integration. It mainly serves entities associated with the Republican Party.
Chris Landers, writing for Business Insider, sheds more light on New Media Communications. Back in 1998, Connell's company got its first high-profile client, Jeb Bush, son of one former president and brother to the future one. "New Media designed the site that made Jeb Bush the first candidate online in the 1998 Florida gubernatorial race."

Additionally, Connell, along with his wife, Heather, formed another company, GovTech Solutions "to pursue government accounts rather than political business."
In some cases, New Media and GovTech Solutions have had contracts with the same clients. New Media might design a campaign Web site for a candidate who, once elected, would contract with GovTech to design a federally funded official site. At least four of the seven New Media clients who won House races in 2004 also used GovTech as the designer for their congressional sites.
By 2004, GovTech had served as Web designer for the official, federally funded Web pages of 37 members of Congress. And the following year, according to House financial statements, GovTech received more than $144,000 in business from 21 Republican House members and Republican-led committees.
In 2002 and 2004, GovTech received authorization from the General Services Administration that allowed federal agencies to purchase services directly from the company without going through the full bidding process.
In short, Connell, as the cyber-tech wizard for the Republican party machine, had become an indispensable player in the Republican machine. And for this, Connell was well-paid.
Between October 2002 and the first half of this year, the General Services Administration reported more than $800,000 paid to GovTech by federal agencies. The company has designed Web sites for the White House, Department of Energy, and the 2004 meeting of the Group of 8 in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, among others.
However, for investigators, he would also become a person of interest. His insider knowledge of possible corruption in vote tampering was just beginning to be exploited by investigating attorneys. The information he could have provided the courts would have been instrumental in cracking open one of the biggest voter rigging scandals in American history.

Yet, the full story of Connell's involvement virtually died the moment aircraft slammed into the side of a house and exploded in flames.

Climbing the Ladder

Connell was born into a large Irish Roman Catholic family in Peoria, Illinois in 1963. Some have speculated that it was his strong religious advocacy for pro-life that might have been his Achilles' heel, driving him to work alongside people with darker motives. His faith was something he felt strongly about.

Early in his career as a whiz kid, Connell worked with Republican Congressman Jim Leach as his finance director and as a director of voter programs for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.

In 1998, Connell was contracted to develop a voter contact database for George Bush, Sr. From that point, Connell was the IT man of choice for the Bush family. He would go on to work with Jeb Bush in Florida and when George Bush, Jr. threw in his hat for the presidential race, Connell would help set up the official website for the candidate.

Connell's fortunes began to prosper. At the ripe old age of 30, Connell would hold the keys to secrets for the Republican Party. According to SourceWatch,
New Media's GOP clients are a "'Who's Who' of Republican politics", having provided campaign web services and Internet strategy for Bush-Cheney 2000/2004, as well as Dick ArmeySpencer Abraham for Senate 2000, Heather Wilson for Congress 2000/2002/2004, Rick Santorum for Senate 2000/2006, and John Thune for Senate 2002/2004 to name just a few. New Media also designed for the Republican National Committee, for the Republican Governors Association, and between two and three dozen state GOP sites.
In April 2001, Connell spun-off GovTech Solutions from New Media to handle its growing list of federal government clients, such as for Tom DeLayand Johnny Isakson. Business filings in the state of Ohio show that Govtech's founding members were Connell's wife Heather, and the well-known GOP operative and Chairman of the DCI GroupThomas J. Synhorst.
By 2004, Govtech's clients would grow to include more than 20 members of the U.S. House of Representatives,, the web site of the House Republican Conference, and the House Intelligence, Judiciary, Financial Services, Way and Means, and Administration committees. The latter was acquired while House Administration was chaired by former-U.S. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who was convicted in 2006 of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
It was, however, his working relationship with Karl Rove, Senior Advisor and later Deputy Chief of Staff to the President that was to be his most troubling aspect of his rise. Connell helped to set up, the site Karl Rove used for 95-percent of his email communication, using a server owned by SMARTech Corporation. The purpose of using this facility to send and store e-mails by Rove and dozens of other White House staffers.- as opposed to the normal White House servers- was to evade investigators and the Freedom of Information.

Investigators believe that these servers in the basement of building in Tennessee would also be used in a much more astounding way in 2004: to help steal the presidential election of 2004.

Friendly Servers

Over time, Connell began to find himself involved in the seamier side of politics. Even as far back as 1990, he was fired for "clearly unethical" behavior" from Indiana Senator Coates ' campaign. In addition to his legitimate business, Connell also had a hand in creating a website for the notorious Swift Boat Veterans’ for Truth smear campaign against John Kerry.

Obviously, Connell was having mixed feelings about the things he was being asked to do. “Mike was known as the GOP’s Mister Fix-It,” says Stephen Spoonamore, an IT security expert and friend of Connell’s.

This development of this relationship is detailed in the Worrall book:
The two men had gotten to know each other at Spoonamore’s Washington, D.C. offices in late 2005. “The two of us hit it off,” recalls Spoonamore. “We were the same age, the same generation. We had a lot of friends in common.” At the end of the meeting, Connell broached a delicate topic. “Mike asked me, ‘How easy is it to destroy all records of e-mail?’ ” recalls Spoonamore. “He sort of gestured toward the White House and said, ‘Because I have clients down the street who are working on that problem.’ And I stepped back and said, ‘If you are talking about White House e-mail destruction, I want nothing to do with it.’ ”
A year later, at an IT conference in London, Spoonamore confronted the pro-life Connell about the Ohio election: “He said, ‘I’m afraid that in my zeal to save the babies, the system I built may have been abused.’ ”
For all its complications the theorized method is pretty straightforward. Basically, the results of the vote are electronically hijacked, sent to a "friendly" server, manipulated to achieve the desired outcome, and then forwarded back to the official counting stations.

According to writers Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, Ohio Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell hired Connell in 2004 to create a real-time computer data compilation for counting Ohio's votes. Under Connell's supervision, results from the Ohio Secretary of State election servers were suddenly re-routed to the GOP controlled servers at Smartech in the basement of the Old Pioneer Bank building in Chattanooga where the votes were flipped from Kerry to Bush.
At 12:20 am on the night of the 2004 election exit polls and initial vote counts showed John Kerry the clear winner of Ohio's presidential campaign. The Buckeye State's 20 electoral votes would have given Kerry the presidency.
But from then until around 2am, the flow of information mysteriously ceased. After that, the vote count shifted dramatically to George W. Bush, ultimately giving him a second term. In the end there was a 6.7 percent diversion---in Bush's favor---between highly professional, nationally funded exit polls and the final official vote count as tabulated by Blackwell and Connell.

Between Theory and Evidence

It is no exaggeration to say that Ohio was a key component in the 2004 presidential election. Had Bush lost Ohio or Florida, he, in turn, would have lost his 286-252 edge in the Electoral College and would have gone down in defeat.

According to Writer Micheal Parenti in his article, The Stolen Presidential Elections, in Florida alone, independent investigations would later reveal serious irregularities directed mostly against ethnic minorities and low-income residents who generally voted heavily Democratic. But then there were a lot of suspicious and serious problems with the way the election was run.
Parenti lists a few of them:
Under orders from Governor Jeb Bush …state troopers near polling sites delayed people for hours while searching their cars. Some precincts required two photo IDs which many citizens do not have. The requirement under Florida law was only one photo ID. Passed just before the election, this law itself posed a special difficulty for low-income or elderly voters who did not have drivers licenses or other photo IDs. Uncounted ballot boxes went missing or were found in unexplained places or were never collected from certain African-American precincts. During the recount, GOP agitators shipped in from Washington D.C. by the Republican national leadership stormed the Dale County Canvassing Board, punched and kicked one of the officials, shouted and banged on their office doors, and generally created a climate of intimidation that caused the board to abandon its recount and accept the dubious pro-Bush tally.
The Ohio investigation, involving the suspicions that results from that state had been re-routed and altered, had been stymied by the lack of solid evidence. It is easy enough to theorize but what was actually needed was testimony from an insider. That insider was to be Mike Connell.

According to Simon Worall's article, it was Stephen Spoonamore who encouraged Connell to come clean. To Spoonamore, it was obvious that Connell was having pangs of conscience.
Three days later, in the back of a cab heading toward the airport, Spoonamore asked Connell if he would be willing to talk to a Congressional judiciary committee about what he knew.
“I actually took Mike’s hand and said, ‘If I can arrange for a private meeting for you to sit down with the committee and explain what you think may have happened in 2004 and how your systems may have been abused, will you do it?’
And he said, ‘Yes.’ ”
The problem was, of course, bringing him to the courts to testify.

Here is part of an interesting interview conducted by Velvet Revolution with Spoonamore, in which he shares his ideas about American politics and the problems. (It was recorded about the time of the events we are discussing- last 2008.)

In Part 2, I will continue with the Connell story, the lawsuit he became embroiled in and what followed.