Black Mass — A Must Read — But With A Caveat

I mentioned in my last discussion of O’Neill’s and Lehr’s Black Mass is that it is less than objective because of the history between them, their employer and the people they write about.  There is another bias that should be kept in mind which is their relationship with their main sources from the FBI.

It is commonly thought that Connolly became too close with Whitey; others suggest the cops involved in this matter became too close with the gangsters; it is clear Howard Carr became enamored with Martorano;  I’ve heard people say Judge Wolf let his guard down with the Italian mobsters who were in his court every day, and we’ve seen criminal defense lawyers routinely taken up with the most vile people who become their clients.

One reason is when you deal with a person face-to-face on an almost daily basis you begin to find good things in the person that makes his or her evil deeds seem less repellant.   Another is that the person becomes part of the same team you are on pulling together for the same goal.  A third is the need for a “friendly atmosphere” between the subjects.  That is the way you get the most information: the time worn adage tells us you get more with honey than vinegar.

FBI agents Morris and Fitzpatrick for their own personal reasons became sources for O’Neill and Lehr.  Fitzpatrick on the first page of his Notes quotes from a First Circuit decision, “The McIntyre lead violated a bright line law enforcement rule that informant identity never be revealed, and put at risk the life of an individual who was helping the FBI.”   Yet both Morris and Fitzpatrick crossed that line.

I have no doubt O’Neill and Lehr tried to keep a professional distance from them but they of necessity gave credence to their version of events over that of others. That was their only source into the Boston FBI office and due to their ongoing contact they developed a personal relationship with them.  Morris during his testimony in the Connolly case described his relationship with O’Neill as one of friendship.

This relationship must be kept in mind when reading Black Mass.  Both Morris and Fitzpatrick had violated the so-called sacred oath of an FBI agent which is to keep the identity of a FBI informant secret.  Morris did it because he wanted to get Whitey and Stevie Flemmi killed by having the Globe publicly identify Whitey as an informant.  He believed this the only way for him to extricate himself from the web of corruption he had become enmeshed in.   Fitzpatrick’s reason was because of a grudge he sought sheer revenge.   He had been all but drummed out of the FBI having become somewhat of a loose cannon.  In his twisted thinking he believed by exposing Bulger he’d be able to change the FBI’s ethos and bring it back to the good old days of J. Edgar Hoover.

It is important to understand when thinking of Morris that Whitey Bulger, an intelligent man who was skilled at manipulation, terror and deviousness, called him Machiavellian. What could Morris have done to have received from Whitey what in his mind is the ultimate compliment?  I know one thing though, Morris was able to portray himself as the dupe of Connolly so he could keep his pension and stay on the street.  Pretty clever, don’t you think, considering he was Connolly’s boss.

As for Fitzpatrick, I’ve talked of him here, and here.  He’s a conflicted man.  He explained his decision to reveal an informants identity saying, “Whitey Bulger was a liability who’d never given the FBI any information of substance, especially regarding the Angiulo mob my squad had brought down.

Fitzpatrick persists in taking credit for the destruction of Angiulo when he had nothing to do with gathering the evidence against him and his organization.   No one else in the Boston FBI office has ever said Whitey didn’t give any information of substance. There’s a dispute over Whitey’s role in the Angiulo wiretap but there were plenty of cases built upon what he gave the FBI, especially against his competition or friends when that information helped Whitey.

When you understand that some of the conclusions of Black Mass may be affected by these prejudices then you will be better able to appreciate the book.  As I said, it is well worth reading as probably the best book written for a general audience to be able to understand the issues surrounding Whitey.