What a week it's been in the world of Scientology watching. After a bizarre goon squad tried to intimidate Marty Rathbun at his Corpus Christi home, and then character actor Michael Fairman made public his excommunication declaration, things seemed to be whipping up into something of a fervor.
And now, within a day of each other, both Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, the two most high-ranking and high-profile defectors in recent Scientology history, were each notified by T-Mobile that someone was using Social Security Numbers to get into their cellphone records.
Coincidence? Mike Rinder tells me absolutely not.
Just four years ago, Rinder was the chief spokesman of Scientology and head of its covert operations wing, the Office of Special Affairs. Since his defection in 2007, he's spoken out, denouncing the church he was once paid to made look good.
He says there's no question in his mind who wants to get a look at his cell phone records, and those of Rathbun.
"Of course the church has my social, through my employee records," he told me today by phone from Florida, where he lives. "I'm sure there was some order that was issued [to get the records]."
At his blog, Rathbun noted that someone had used his wife's Social Security Number to change the password on their T-Mobile cellphone. When that happened, the phone automatically received a text message about it.
Rathbun told me that he really wasn't surprised, and that he expected Scientology would use private investigators to access his phone records.
"I've always assumed that they have my phone records," he told me by phone today. "I won't call people back unless they want Scientology to know it."
Rinder believes talk at Rathbun's blog about an ongoing FBI investigation into Scientology may be what motivated someone to access the phone records of the two recent defectors.
"There was a bit of panic on Marty's blog about the ongoing federal investigation," Rinder says. "It happened yesterday. I get one of those little text messages on my phone, saying that my PIN number was being changed. I called and spoke to someone at T-mobile. They said, 'Someone called to get your account information.'"
I suppose that means whoever accessed Rathbun and Rinder's phone records now has the phone numbers of people who have been calling them. Which includes me.
"Here's what to do," Rinder told me, helpfully telling me to call my own phone company. "Tell them you want an extra security password to make any changes. They will do that."
He noted that accessing his phone records is only par for the course. About a year ago, he told me, the person who picks up his garbage knocked on his door with a sheepish look on his face. He told Rinder that a man had offered to pay for any garbage Rinder put out. "The guy said, 'So we keep your bags aside, and we drive it around the corner and he's waiting there.'"
As Rinder was quick to point out, garbage-sifting is a very standard practice by private investigators, and it didn't really bother him. The only thing he changed after being told that his garbage was for sale was to put more dog crap in it.