A curious thought occurred to me. If it’s true, for me it undermines the whole Government case against FBI Agent John Connolly. It cracks completely the carapace of corruption concerning him. It undermines what we’ve been told about others. It makes the sentence of Catherine Greig a mockery of justice reminiscent of Soviet Justice, long cruel sentences for minor offenses. It puts to shame the idea the Billy Bulger was somehow ill-considered in his actions. It is so evident, so much staring me in the face, a five alarm fire in the next door apartment, and I missed it.
I’ll talk about it tomorrow. Today I have to set the background. I know it’s so un-American to delay a person’s gratification but without an understanding of the background its significance pales somewhat.
FBI Agent John Connolly said that he was put into the business of dealing with murderers. We know that. So were and are all the other FBI agents that were urged to recruit and work with Top Echelon (TE) Informants. It was a mark of high achievement for an FBI agent to have one; Connolly had listed around ten. Two of them enrolled in his stable according to FBI files were James “Whitey” Bulger and Steven Flemmi.
The TE program came about after the middle of the 1960s. J. Edgar Hoover in his waning years with his slowly failing facilities as he moved into his eight decade was pressured by his gangster fighting agents to give them a tool to replace the one they just lost in their fight against the Mafia.
Around the very late Fifties under pressure from the Apalachin arrests by Sergeant Edgar Croswell of the New York State Police Hoover switched gears and targeted the Mafia. It was a good morale move. Prior to that time the FBI job had become somewhat dull. One agent, famous for his action against the mob in Chicago, tells how he was about quit the FBI because he was so bored. Then with the shift, agents like him, interested in action, adventure, suspense and Mafia doings were invigorated.
Word came down from the Seat of Government (SOG), that what the old-time agents called J.Edgar Hoover, a name suggesting he ran the country, to set up units to take down the Mafia. Not having concentrated on that crime group, the agents found they had little to go on. The plan developed in conjunction with headquarters was kept in the secret files of SOG. The FBI would break the law to get the law breakers.
From various offices throughout the country FBI agents began breaking into buildings to place electronic listening devices (bugs) into gangsters offices. They then began to secretly listen to and recording their conversations. As time passed the FBI knew as much about the Mafia as the Mafia knew about itself, if not more.
Things went well until some agents decided one of LBJ’s close associates was involved in some heavy hijinks. LBJ had survived the Bobby Baker Affair and the later the Jenkins Scandal just before his election. Worried that further scandals would be the death knell of his Administration, rather that the idea of jumping more deeply into the Vietnam conflict, LBJ in June 1965 ordered that all the FBI bugs be taken out
The Chicago agent said when he heard this it was the worst day of his life. J. Edgar had all these aggressive agents who were enjoying the highs of fighting the Mafia heading back to their desks to do background checks. Morale crumbled. The fight against the Mafia had come a cropper just as success seemed assured.
Desperate times require desperate measures and desperate measures are usually ill considered. Thus the TE program. If the FBI could no longer use an electronic bug in a Mafia location to provide information on its intentions then why not substituted a person for a bug? Get someone high up in the Mafia to provide the information the bug had been giving. Give him a promise preferring part of the pie to an empty plate.
What then to promise? How does the FBI induce a person up to his neck in crime whose livelihood is crime and who must continue criminal collaborations to be effective to partner with it? It has to give him protection and keep him safe from other investigations. Little else would move a malignant man not under criminal charges to agree to be managed.
The FBI missed the mark in its panicky creation of the program. The analogy between a bug and a TE failed for several reasons. Bugs were passive, TEs active; Bugs asked for nothing: TEs everything; Bugs gave information straight from the bosses mouth; TEs filtered it back.