In 1988 – I place the time then because it was in that year that the Boston Globe came out with the Spotlight Team article on the Bulger brothers – I received a call from Kevin Cullen a Globe columnist. I’d talked to Kevin on occasion over the years. This time he wanted to know if I thought Whitey Bulger was an FBI informant. Without hesitation I said no. He didn’t offer any reason for asking. I forget if I explained why I did not believe it. But had I, my answer would have been simply that it is law enforcement 101 that you don’t have a person who is the leader of a criminal enterprise and who is believed to be a cold vicious killer as in informant. I thought no more of his question until the Spotlight Team article appeared wherein it said that Whitey Bulger seemed to have a special relationship with the FBI.
Even reading that I did not give much credence to it, I figured the Globe was trying to figure out why Whitey seemed an untouchable and that was the best explanation they could come up with. I believed Whitey was an extremely disciplined guy, rarely drank and if he did very little, spoke to one or two other people and never in a location where he could be overheard. I knew from the cops who had a bug in his condo that when he went into it he always turned the music up to hide the conversations. Little did I know the Globe had two FBI agents telling the Globe he was an FBI informant. One, John Morris, then working in the Boston FBI office told the Globe hoping to get Whitey killed; the other, Robert Fitzpatrick, a retired former ASAC in Boston who told the Globe because he wanted to get revenge on the Boston FBI office.
I continued in my little world thinking that the FBI was on the level and would never, ever, in a million years have Whitey as an informant. Prosecutorial investigative basics lesson one was you work up the ladder. You don’t start at the top and work down. Just the thought of using Whitey reminded of the time when the DA before Delahunt used a drug dealer to squeal on all his users; the dealer got a good disposition for turning in his customers. I thought it was an absurd but those were the days when drug use was rare and you could garner a good headline by arresting a dozen people for drug possession.
When I learned in 1998 from Judge Wolf’s hearings that Whitey was in fact an FBI informant I had a hard time believing it. Even worse the FBI had his partner Stevie Flemmi another vicious killer along for the free ride. What was the FBI thinking I wondered. It seemed to me the FBI had turned the business upside down, they were getting the big criminals to squeal on the little criminals. The criminals had taken over the business. I couldn’t figure out how it had happened.
I tried to figure it out. I realized I did not know the identities of the informants of the investigators who worked with me. Maybe the FBI did not know they were informants of John Connolly. Maybe Connolly wandered off the ranch in signing them up?
By the time Connolly’s trial arrived the fact of the matter was still obscure to me. At his trial I heard Connolly’s supervisor testify that he and many others in the Bureau up to the Director knew Whitey and Stevie were FBI informants. Connolly had the approval to use them. I figured then that the knowledge was limited to a few misguided individuals on a need-to-know basis until a witness named Ford testified. He used to work in the Boston FBI office as a file clerk. He said knowledge of Whitey’s status was so widespread in the office among the clerical staff that he went to Connolly to tell him about it. Connolly told him not to worry and then added that Stevie Flemmi was also his informant.
It became clear to me that if the staff of the office knew, then every agent in the Boston who had worked there over the fifteen years Whitey and Stevie were informants had to know this. It would turn out that the knowledge went far beyond the Boston office, as it would in any event with the transfer in and out of the office of agents, but right up through the chain of command to the Director, the assistant directors, and the agents in charge of all criminal investigations. The widespread knowledge of this is shown in a recent book by a retired agent Fitzpatrick, Betrayal, the same one mentioned above who broke the FBI most sacred code of protecting the identity of informants. (I’ll stick to the FBI now but it was also known to at least on prosecutor in the US Attorney’s office, Jeremiah O’Sullivan.)
How was it then that upwards of a thousand FBI agents knew Whitey and Stevie were informants whose reputations made it clear that they were cruel and heartless criminals and the leaders of an evil murderous group of individuals who controlled the bookmakers, the drugs, and were involved in the crimes associated with these activities such as leg breaking, extortion and loan sharking yet no one in the FBI had any problem with it?
How is it that no one spoke out publicly when it was known that the job of an FBI agent is to protect his informants? These thousand or so of FBI agents knew Whitey and Stevie had become part of their team yet no one cried out foul. These were men whose job it was to investigate and stop criminal activity, not to empower it.
A clue to this comes from one of the top FBI criminal investigators, Bill Roemer who spent his career in the FBI and who wrote several books about the Mafia. He had this to say: “The FBI is the greatest law enforcement organization in the world. And Mr. Hoover was the greatest law enforcement administrator of all time. He had his idiosyncrasies, and he was a tough man to work for. But as I often said then, “If you don’t want to work for the man, don’t, just get out.”
He went on explaining: “He wouldn’t tolerate mistakes because they detracted from the reputation of the Bureau. And that was the reputation he worked hard to build and maintain.”
Roemer pretty much spelled out what it was to work for Hoover. You toe the line and protect the FBI’s reputation because that was Hoover’s reputation. He mentions nothing about Hoover wanting them to do a good job investigating cases. It was all about image. In a previous post I spoke about the First Commandment of the FBI, “Don’t Embarrass the Family.” The many hundreds of agents kept their mouths shut and let their Bureau become partners with criminals because their first loyalty was not to the American people but to their agency. It is difficult reconciling that with the idea it was “the greatest law enforcement organization in the world” as it and the true believers in Congress keep telling us.
One aspect of this blog is to attempt to understand how so many good, intelligent and courageous men (and most of the agents during Hoover’s 48 year reign were men) were turned into people who appeared to value Omerta above the truth or fidelity to the organization before their integrity. Unless we understand this, we won’t understand Whitey’s upcoming trial.