I consider one of Black Mass’s greatest failures is that it did not address the ramifications of the FBI’ Top Echelon Informant program. This program established at the highest levels of the FBI and approved by J.Edgar Hoover was in operation in all 56 of the FBI offices throughout the country. It was a secret program as well it should have been. In effect it made the FBI partners with some of the top criminals in the country.
It was a bargain with criminals. All bargains have two sides like contracts. One person is going to do something in exchange for another person doing something. Something for something. We know that the top criminals were supposed to give the FBI information; what is hidden is what the FBI was supposed to do for the top criminals.
“Keep them safe,” according to Rossetti’s handler; “protect them” according to Whitey Bulger’s handler. What exactly does that mean?
One thing you will hear is the FBI agent is to tell his informant that he is not supposed to commit any crimes while informing. That is one of those CYA things. It is down on paper but everyone knows it means nothing. But telling a criminal at the level of a top echelon informant who is smack dab in the middle of an ongoing criminal enterprise that he is not supposed to be committing any crimes is to make the criminal worthless. If a top echelon criminal is to remain effective he must continue doing what he has been doing which is to commit crimes.
Black Mass proceeds on the assumption that protecting Whitey was wrong. It wants us to believe that FBI Agent John Connolly was off on an adventure of his own in his dealings with Whitey. What Connolly was doing was operating in a program established by the FBI. Connolly’s use of Whitey as an informant was approved at the top level of the FBI in Washington, D.C. It was known by every special agent in charge, assistant special agent in charge, supervisor, and most brick agents in the Boston office who were there between 1975 and 1990.
The FBI has a system set up. There is a national teletype network run by the FBI which is called CJIS and the machines set up in every police station is a CJIS machine that communicates with that which is located at FBI headquarters. The FBI system with regard to top echelon informants is that if anyone, say for instance the Quincy police who relentlessly tried to capture Whitey, put an inquiry into the CJIS machine about him or the car registered to him then the FBI would notify his handler, in this case Connolly, that the inquiry had been made. This alerts the handler as to who in law enforcement is looking at his informant. Why do you suppose that is done? What does the FBI expect the handler to do with that information? Is he supposed to tell his informant who is looking at him? If not, why is it being given to him?
In Black Mass the authors write: “Top echelon informant” means an informant who provides the FBI with firsthand secrets about high-level organized crime figures.” True. The authors later on the same page write: “What if the FBI protects the informant by tipping him off to investigations conducted by other police agencies?
Do you see the huge gap in those statements? We are supposed to accept the first without question namely the informant provided the FBI with high level secrets; we are supposed to be horrified that the FBI tips off the informant about other investigations. We are supposed to believe these top gangsters out of the goodness of their hearts provide information and get nothing in return.
That is total foolishness. Of course the FBI tips its informants off about other investigations. How else is it going to keep the informant providing it with information if it knows another agency is about to take the informant down? It has to protect its informants. When FBI Supervisor John Morris’s FBI group was about to wiretap John Baharian he realized Steve Flemmi (and possibly Whitey) might be intercepted; he tipped them off about it. When Gerry O’Sullivan was going to intercept Gerry Angiulo and Larry Baione, Morris put Whitey’s and Stevie’s name in the affidavit so he could tip them off about the wiretap. It was testified it is routine for the FBI to tip off informants about wiretaps which they have provided information about.
If we are to live in the real world we have to be grownups and get out behind our desks. To get something you have to give something. To get information from gangsters you have to give them protection.
Black Mass pretends that protecting Whitey and giving him information was a great abomination and outrageous activity. It wasn’t. It was what was supposed to happen. When you recognize that then you see how pretentious and wrong the book is.