It’s one of those things that I’m sure would have J. Edgar Hoover resting uncomfortably if he knew about it. It never would have happened on his watch. He knew how to protect his men, they were mostly men when he ruled the roost. Oh, he could be meaner than a junk yard dog when someone didn’t follow the rules but he was also one who stuck by the guys who were doing the job he told them to do.
I suppose one could never expect it to continue after he went to bed on May 1, 1972 and when the sun rose on May 2 he failed to do so and his reign of 48 years as FBI Director came to an end. Shortly after that the FBI fell into disarray as witnessed by Congress allowing the Church Committee to conduct an investigation into the FBI’s tactics since WWII. Had Hoover been around, Frank Church would have kept his peace and left the FBI alone.
Since J. Edgar Hoover’s death there have been several FBI directors but none have had the power or prestige of Hoover. In small part that is due to the limitation on the time they can serve in office which is 10 years, although one served 12, but the main part is none of his successors have any idea of what Hoover brought to the job. None had the idea of the America that was so ingrained in Hoover. Anyone who Hoover believed threatened his idea of what America is and should be Hoover sent his obedient men out to investigate and compromise that person.
Without getting into the history of all the directors who have followed Hoover, I want to speak of two: Louis J. Freeh who was director from 1993 to 2001 and Robert Mueller, III, who was director from 2001 to 2013. Freeh worked in the Department of Justice (DOJ) from 1981 to 1991; Mueller worked in the Department of Justice off and on for over 15 years. These two men came from that background as prosecutors to the FBI; unlike Hoover who never worked as a prosecuting attorney for the Department of Justice.
These men had divided loyalties when they became FBI directors. They had friends who worked in the DOJ with whom they remained in contact. Although head of the FBI, they still maintained cordial relations with their friends in DOJ, especially Mueller, who had friends in the Boston office. It is to be doubted Hoover ever had friends in the DOJ; or, if he had any, they ranked below his loyalty to his agents.
Sometime in the early 1960s after the discovery of the Apalachin Mafia meeting and the increased encroachment upon legal businesses and infiltration of unions by the Mafia pressure was put on Hoover to turn his attention to that criminal group. By the late 1960s he would be given powerful new tools with which to do this such as the Racketeering Act and the Title III the wiretap statute. But at the beginning of that decade, he had no such tools. Up to that time he had mainly concentrated on fighting the Communist threat to America (which was a real threat at one time) and the niceties of the law didn’t tie his hands concerning the methods he used to fight them. But the Mafia was going to be different; it would be harder to penetrate than the Communist groups.
He, with input from his staff, came up with this program called the Top Echelon Informant program. The idea behind this was that the FBI would recruit as informants people at the highest level or organized crime who would give it information against others at that level. To make the deal the FBI had to give these top gangsters something in return for betraying their friends. None needed money so it had to be something else. What is gave them in exchange for the information was protection. The FBI would make sure that no one interfered with them in their criminal enterprises as long as they provided the FBI with information on others at their level.
Although the FBI would say these people were not authorized to commit criminal acts it obviously knew for them to remain in contact with top other criminals they would have to do this. The paperwork told one story; reality told the other. How widespread this was and how many people died or otherwise suffered while the FBI protected its top echelon criminal friends is hidden in the FBI files. We have only been able to discover a few of those who operated with the FBI as their guardian angels.
One FBI agent in Boston, John Connolly, had upwards of a dozen of these informants. He received commendations for his ability to gather them in and secure information from them. When it became public knowledge that two of his informants were really bad guys everyone acted in horror. The FBI knew all along these two were working with him and it had been approved from the highest level down for year after year. But because the FBI got frightened, and because the directors were not willing to back up the agents who were operating in the program because of their connections with the DOJ, Connolly became a scapegoat. To the FBI’s everlasting shame it walked away from him and pretended that his providing protection to his informants was something he should not have been doing.
What is most surprising is how few FBI agents knowing about the Top Echelon Informant program and knowing about Connolly’s work in that program rallied to his side. All who were actively employed ran and hid. About 100 who had retired stood tall and tried to defend him. But to its eternal disgrace, over 95% turned yellow for fear of offending the bosses; and those in the highest level kept quiet because their fear of the DOJ directors.