I’ve written how the FBI did much good but involved itself in criminal acts, how J. Edgar Hoover was out of his comfort zone chasing organized crime people, but when he was forced to do so he did it well again violating the law by doing break-ins and planting electronic bugs to secretly listening to conversations. I noted how LBJ in July 1965 stopped him from doing this. Hoover was at his wit’s end having had his most effective tool for combating organized crime taken from him.
Imagine the despair. With the electronic bugs the FBI agents could sit in the comfort of their offices and listen to the Mafiosi talk all day, cull out the important information, and pass it out among other agents. Nothing could have been easier. The information gained could be disguised and used in making future arrests or raids. Little Al, the name the Chicago FBI gave to their most prolific bug, could be turned into Informant A in an affidavit and described as one who has provided reliable information in the past.
Desperate times (having to get out of the office and walk the bricks) required a desperate remedy. The FBI did not take long in coming up with it. They would recruit surrogate electronic bugs, namely people who could listen in to the conversations of the Mafia leaders and report to the FBI what was being said. They called a person who could do this a Top Echelon Informant. (TEI)
Hoover was desperate indeed to have gone along with this. He had to know that to institute it he would be putting his cherished agents in harm’s way. He knew, instinctively, that his men were no match one-on-one with these hardened criminals. That is why for so many years he denied the existence of their organization. He sensed that his agents associations with mafia-types would put them perilously close to committing crimes themselves. The radicals, Commies, spies, youthful conspiracies were easy picking for his trained men; but organized crime murderers weren’t motivated by ideals, they had learned about life in the murderous back alleys of the cities. They were a different breed who survived in a violent society. They could have FBI agents for breakfast.
Hoover with his back against the wall and against his better judgment took the chance. They would deal with this type of criminal. The orders went out to recruit them. Unlike the electronic bugs, these TEIs could talk back. They would want something.
Ralph Ranalli in his book Deadly Alliance said the first reference to Top Echelon Informants (TEI) began to appear sometime between 1963 and 1965. He noted that the FBI’s Manual of Instructions (MOI) had by December 1964 a class of informants called Top Echelon. The people to be recruited were described as “Madams, prostitutes, pimps, fences, con men . . . ” These people were useful in supplementing electronic bugs which were ongoing at the time. They were not the kind who could replace electronic bugs.
Ranalli points out that by 1971, the year before Hoover died, the Manual of Instructions stated that a TEI was a “member of La Cosa Nostra” and those closely associated with them. Ranalli leaves open what happened between December 1964 and 1971 which was the July 1965 shutting down of the bugs and the FBI response to it.
Judge Wolf in his findings tells us about this. (He doesn’t relate it to the shutting off of the bugs.) He noted that “In November 1965 FBI Special Agent H. Paul Rico targeted Flemmi for development as a [TEI] . . . — the highest status a source can achieve in the FBI . . . At that time, a [TEI] was defined as an individual who ‘could provide a continuous flow of quality criminal information regarding the leaders of organized crime.’ ” Rico wrote that if Flemmi survived the Boston gang wars he “would become ‘a very influential individual in the Boston criminal element’ and ‘be in a position to furnish information on LCN members in the Boston] area.’ “
Flemmi had been giving information to Rico since the early 1960’s. He was not accepted as a TEI until the program had been designed. Created in response to LBJ’s directive in July 1965 it was operational in November 1965. The 1964 MOI had been changed. This quick response told of the deep hurt the FBI suffered in its investigative ability and its dire need to come up with a solution, any solution, well thought out or not, even if it paved the way for FBI agents to partner up with murderers.
Rico had plans to leave Boston and head to Miami. He had to insure that Flemmi had an agent who could protect him. He had picked out John Connolly as the one who would do it. He also made arrangements for him to connect with Whitey Bulger. Connolly would put Whitey up for membership in the TEI club in February 1976, almost 11 years later than Flemmi. Connolly wrote that Whitey has “demonstrated ability to produce information regarding the highest levels of organize crime.”
Whitey and Stevie Flemmi would remain as TEIs until the end of 1990 when the FBI closed them out. This was done because Connolly had retired and the FBI had no one to replace him that Stevie and Whitey would accept. Judge Wolf found that during the time Flemmi and Whitey were informants from 1975 to 1990 if Connolly were called to testify he would state they were “extremely valuable confidential informants who provided vital information [regarding] the government’s successful efforts to investigate and prosecute La Cosa Nostra in New England, the department of Justice’s top priority here.”
Judge Wolf seemed to agree with that assessment. Judge Wolf told us how they recruited the TEIs and what they knew about the TEIs. I’ll tell you next post what he said about that and what the TEIs expected as the quid pro quo.