Black Mass: How The Question of Top Echelon Informant Permeates the Book

(`) Black MassI 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.  

10 replies on “Black Mass: How The Question of Top Echelon Informant Permeates the Book”

  1. Hi Matt,

    I understand that you attended the Whitey Bulger trial pretty faithfully over two years ago. I’ve sought the following information and haven’t found anything factually specific which directly addresses it. Maybe you can help.

    Were James Bulger and Stephen Flemmi ever officially closed out as TEI informants by the FBI? If so, do you know when that may have occurred? Aside from what you may have seen presented at trial, is factual corroboration of this publicly available?


    1. Jay:

      Whitey and Stevie were closed out and opened at different times on the FBI records. But those were only record entries which had no relation to reality. It was a CYA thing by the agent. FBI agent Powers testified in John Connolly’s trial that Whitey was opened no May 13, 1971 and closed on September 10, 1971. (Whitey never knew of this.) He was reopened on September 18, 1975, became a top echelon informant on February 4, 1976. Was closed out for a short period in 1978 (he was looking at the indictment in the race fixing case) He remained open from May 4, 1979 to December 3, 1990.

      He testified Flemmi became an informant on November 27, 1965. He was closed on December 1967 and reopened in September 1980 and stayed open until some time in 1982; he was closed until 1986 and then opened again and remained open until December 1990. Flemmi testified he was never told at any time he was closed out.

  2. Matt,

    The U.S. Government made a Faustian bargain with top criminals in organized crime Nation wide…do you really think all the U.S. wanted was merely information from the “contract”? And, since we know that the “Devils” have kept on doing business for decades, can anyone truly not agree that “protection” = “personal immunity” for the TE contractor ? It seems to me that the word “informant” is too narrow a definition for the acts that Peter Lance has described for the “wet work” done by TE in NY…but, as with Faust the “deal” has gone bust, and it’s now time to implode the whole program, and assist the victims who can prove they have been damaged with restitution.

    1. Jean:

      Yes some people from the FBI say there was no protection because the TEI was told he couldn’t commit crimes. Yes, I have to read Peter Lance’s book again which is another example of a TEI gone wild. You understand we have no idea how many TEIs have murdered people while being protected by the FBI. If we did it would be scandalous.

  3. Under the government’s RICO prosecution theory, Bulger was not protected for the 1973-1985 murders but he would have been protected for crimes like money laundering, weapons possession and other post May 23, 1997 crimes charged (i.e., Kevin O’Neil paying the rent on the liquor store when Whitey was on the lam) in the 2001 indictment. The RICO statute of limitations requires at one crime within 10 years and another within 5 years, so Bulger could have actually prevailed on that legal defense theory.

  4. The Rogue Agent theory is completely bogus as you have pointed out. A totally dishonest claim comparable to the FBI’s claim they didn’t know who Tsarnaev was two days after the Marathon bombing. It falls right in line with WMD in Iraq and the Gulf of Tonkin episode. Two invented stories to sway a gullible public into going to war. They are similar to the Lusitania sinking which was almost certainly a British Admiralty plot to get America into a war started by Britain in which Churchill, Grey, Asquith and George had blundered into and which the Brits couldn’t win without America’s help. Americans have to stop falling for the war propaganda and the disinformation that the CIA and FBI dish out on a regular basis. Whitey was small potatoes. The Roxbury gang of Salemme, Kelley, the Greek, the Martorano brothers and the Flemmi brother killed seven times as many people as Whitey. The Satanic acts were committed by the DOJ, FBI, DEA and the judges who combined with a thoroughly pernicious press to manufacture Whitey as a great villain and give the Mafia, Martorano, Flemmi, Weeks, Nee and Winter a pass. 2. America, Egypt and Israel effectively blockaded Gaza for over six years causing great suffering to the innocent civilians there. Would you compare that to FDR putting 120 thousand innocent Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the forties? Were both war crimes?

    1. Mike,

      Interesting read, but I have one question.

      Is La Cosa Nostra running short on Italians down in PA?

      How could this guy Porter get made, let alone be underboss?


      1. Rather:

        Some Mafia groups let others than Italians join. I’m not sure that is how it worked in Philadelphia. But the general rule is you have to be Italian.

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