Black Mass: Greatest Failure – Failing To Face The Question of Top Echelon Informant

(`) Black MassThe way Black Mass is written it seems the authors had an agreement with the FBI to pretend that its Top Echelon Informant program did not operate as it does; or else they were oblivious that what the FBI puts on paper for show is not how the FBI operates.

Back in the early 1960s the FBI was under pressure to go after the Mafia. This was something that it had never considered a priority. Its god-like leader J. Edgar Hoover who controlled everything it did had focused his thoughts on the Reds and other people he believed were a threat to America and he never thought the Mafia reached that level. He assumed it was a local problem the locals could handle; his concern was national threats. When in November 1957 the New York State Police broke up a meeting of over 100 Italian criminals at Apalachin, New York.

Hoover was probably taken by surprise by this but given the huge publicity it received he felt it necessary to look like he was doing something against it. He took some pro forma steps but never was keen to bust the Mafia up because he believed that was not part of his job. It was after Bobby Kennedy became attorney general Hoover found himself in a difficult position. Prior to John Kennedy being elected, Hoover could ignore the attorney generals and go to the presidents. He could not do this with the Kennedy’s. Feeling the pressure, he came up with the Top Echelon Informant (TEI) program which was supposed to be top secret.

The idea behind the program is that the FBI would try to find people who were highly placed in organized criminal groups, in this case the Mafia, and recruit those people to become TEIs for the FBI. These TEIs would be criminals with the highest access to others in the criminal hierarchy. The TEIs were brought on board so that they could give the FBI information on what other criminals at their level were doing.  In order to induce these criminals to give this information, the FBI had to promise to do something in return for them.

No one seems to want to go there. No one wants to ask “what was it the FBI was doing to keep their TEIs happy.” Or, “what was it the FBI offered the TEIs to turn on their friends?”  We were privy to one FBI agent’s conversation with his TEI. He said his job was to keep the TEI safe. What is that supposed to mean? No one seem to want to know. FBI Agent John Connolly said his job was to protect his TEIs which is another way of saying it was to keep them safe.

Let us explore this. How then is the FBI agent (handler) going to keep his TEI safe. I assume it is to pass information on to the TEI. If the handler learns that Mobster Phil is planning to plant a bomb in TEI’s house is he allowed to tell his TEI  that? If the handler learns that Mobster Phil has put out a contract on TEI can he tell him that? What if the handler learns that Mobster Phil is giving information to the cops hoping to jam his TEI in, can he tell him that?

These are questions that we have to answer when we learn that the FBI has a TEI program and the type of people who are in the program. These are the questions that Black Mass, and for that matter the federal prosecutors and federal courts, have not even considered.

To be more blunt about it and to use a term some find distasteful, how far into bed can the FBI  climb with a top level criminal?  You cannot put anything into context in the matters involving Whitey Bulger unless you decide upon that.


  1. Jerome- Thanks pal, You should check out “Paddy Whacked” by TJ English decent stuff.

  2. Doubting Thomas
    Ralph Ranalli wrote DEADLY ALLIANCE. Matt referred to the book in some of his earliest posts.

  3. Jerome- I did not attend the trial. I tried my best to follow it through this blog and tried to find as much unbiased commentary throughout which was difficult. I have been a sucker for all books written about this topic. I have read “Murderman”, which i think is a very romanticized and half truth story of John Martorano’s life and excuses. Howie Carr’s books don’t reveal truth. Howie’s books are mostly old memos and file photos regurgitated onto a page “The Brothers Bulger” displayed bias in full force. From Pat Nee to John Shea to Kevin Weeks they were all pretty lousy. I refuse to read “Riflemen” and Eddy Mackenzie’s book. Truthfully, i am not even sure a book has ever been written about the TRUTH.

    • Doubting Thomas
      No doubt that Howie Carr’s books are not the source for “truth” but they do have some truths in the books. Personally I liked HITMAN because it revealed to me just how cold,ruthless, dangerous, day-to-day living, could die tomorrow, crazy, and in some ways totally sociopathic the world that John Martarano, Steve Flemmi, and Whitey Bulger survived. I liked the pictures and the stories. Unfortunately when it comes to what really happened when it came to certain individuals getting murdered, the crimes committed among these sociopaths, and the relationships between the FBI and their informants , ALL books fall short.

      With that said I thought and still think DEADLY ALLIANCE is an excellent and gripping book.

  4. Doubting Thomas
    Appreciate the kind words and your perspective on this piece or organized crime history. Did you attend any of the Whitey Bulger? What book(s) have you enjoyed the most (given the history of violence I am not sure enjoy is the right word)

  5. Jerome- Thanks Bud, I am really enjoying this friendly discussion and exchange of information and questions about this topic. It is refreshing to see people want to learn and not attack each other about this very complex piece of history. Jerome, always look forward to your comments and input.

  6. Matt- This is what happens when you rush a fictitious narrative and try to write history. It would need a 8 part Ken Burns type of civil war treatment to get this across in the correct light. How can they write a story when basically all the players are still alive? It needs time to breathe and then be totally broken down timeline wise and if people are still living the story is not over and can’t be accurate. Really does a huge disservice to the fact finders of this very large long drawn out piece of history.

    • Doubting:

      That’s true – the story does need time for the telling. It is based on a book written 15 years ago when many of the facts had not been fleshed out. It was written in a way not to offend the FBI which is still being protected by people in the media and government which will someday change. It has been done so that the story put out there takes hold and it will go away and others will accept the fiction as truth. But as you say, it is a much longer story with many more parts that have not been told.

      • Matt
        Whats missing from this puzzle is just what information did Bulger and Connolly exchange, who killed whom, and who gave the “orders” to protect Bulger and Flemmi repeatedly? I mean you yourself have pointed out at least 2-3 murders that Whitey Bulger most likely did not do and you are the only one voicing that with sound argument

    • Doubting Thomas you hit the nail on the head. Truthfully there is an incredible documentary that could be made of Whitey Bulger/Winter Hill/the Irish Gang Wars/etc all intertwined. The BLACK MASS movie really falls far short of telling this saga.

  7. Matt, I saw Black Mass yesterday and I echo Jerome. The film made Steve and John M out to be some sort of lapdogs to Whitey. Also , starting the film in 1975 was kind of really making the movie all about Whitey being an informant, not his life story. The only woman in his life in the movie was the mother of his child so all those years in Santa Monica went untouched. From what I have read it does not look like the Ben and Matt project with Damon playing Whitey is going forward. I have a sour taste in my mouth from the film. You would never know Whitey had more than one brother. I could go on but I am sure you will see it.

  8. Matt,
    In a short summary what, if anything, do you think John Connolly did do that was illegal or cause for being in jail? In summary, do you think he ever aided and abetted Whitey Bulger OUTSIDE of the Top Echelon Program guidelines?

    Sometimes the more I read about all this I am left more perplexed about what really happened. For example, in recent posts you bring up, just HOW did Connolly (or Steve Flemmi) convince Whitey Bulger to become an informant. There is still no definitive answer to that question, no?

    • Jeromez:

      When Connolly was convicted of sending a letter to Judge Wolf which was written to disrupt the hearings Wolf was holding he obstructed justice; and he lied about doing it when confronted were two of his crimes. I had no problem with those. I also scratched my head that Connolly was using Weeks as a liaison between himself and Flemmi. That was not a crime but it showed a dismal understanding of his role in society.

      In the Top Echelon Program his job was to keep Whitey protected and on the street and providing him information. it is clear that is what he did. Whitey and the feds say he took a lot of money for doing that; if he did then that would have been a crime even though he was taking money for what he was supposed to be doing in any event. He has never been convicted of taking any money – which is strange since you would think had he been taking the big bucks Whitey alleged he gave him there would be a showing of that. He was charged with taking a ring from Whitey and acquitted of that.

      You assume Whitey was an informant. We know he had an informant file set up by Connolly. I know some of the information in that files (complaints about my office and the guys I worked with chasing after him) had to have come from Whitey. If he wasn’t an informant and Connolly had constructed a fake informant file to take big bribes and tip him then I’d have little sympathy for him. But I don’t see Connolly doing that because there is information in the file that could have only come from Whitey. Whitey may have been providing Connolly with bad information or self-serving information but that does not make him less of an informant.

      How Whitey became an informant I am still working out in my mind. We know for sure Flemmi was one. Right now I’m believing Connolly befriended him, set up the file, put in there the information he was getting from him but never told Whitey that he was an informant. Whitey gave Connolly lots of information because of their friendship and accepted the protection Connolly gave him never thinking that Connolly was recording it in the FBI files. In other words, Connolly was using the friendship one way and Whitey was using it the other. Whitey thought Connolly was giving him information because he liked him; Connolly used the friendship to get information for the FBI. There never was a happening where Connolly told Whitey he was an informant. There was no requirement that be done by the FBI. But it was necessary for Flemmi to have cover for his informant activities so he arranged for the Connolly/Bulger relationship.

      That’s the best I can do for you now, Jerome. But until I am able to get more information that’s the point I am at.

      • Matt
        Correct me if I am wrong but you yourself have not decided whether or not Whitey was OFFICIALLY an informant. On the one hand Whitey Bulger may have decided to become an informant and on the other hand he chose not to be an informant. Thats black-or-white thinking, no? It is a very strong possibility that Whitey agreed to exchange information with Connolly PROVIDED that he not be labeled an informant and it not being “official”. But Connolly decided to protect himself professionally and open Whitey as an informant anyway?

        But given how strong Whitey was protected and left out of the horse racing fix indictment (just one example) along with Flemmi cant we conclude that MOST likely Bulger was an informant and convinced himself he was not “ratting”.

        On a side note, is the ONLY evidence that was presented at the trial convicting Whitey of 11 murders is the testimony of Martarano and Weeks and Flemmi? And with that we cant be sure of what they testify about because they all got deals by throwing Whitey under the bus. Ironically if Whitey had not gone on the run and flipped on any of those 3 he may have gotten a sweet deal too, no? At this point I dont know what to believe regarding teh 19 murders Whitey Bulger was accused of and who actually murdered whom.

  9. Matt
    I went and watched BLACK MASS in the movie theater. I suggest you bring a pen ( a couple of pens) and plenty of paper to write down all the inconsistencies, lies, half-truths, etc. I thought the movie just scratched the surface and the movie felt “light” regarding the script. What I mean is that the script seemed rushed and not very in depth at all

    I didnt like the way Steve Flemmi was portrayed. He was portrayed as weak, a follow along puppy to Bulger. The movie starts off in 1975 and I was disappointed they didnt show the trouble Bulger got into as a kid , nor his bank robberies, nor his stint in prisons (particularly the LSD treatment). They show Whitey “convincing” Steve Flemmi why its good they work with the FBI. They show Whitey killing Debra Hussey even though he wasnt convicted of that murder at his trial. They dont include Pat Nee in any scenes from what I could tell. They really amp up John Connolly as being this agent who went off the deep end in terms of helping Whitey Bulger and covering for him.

    I was not aware that John Connolly refused to testify AGAINST Whitey Bulger at his own trial. Why did John Connolly make that decision when it probably cost him his freedom? Also the movie tries to paint the FBI as being “good” agency that has one or two bad agents that spiral out of control when it comes to the Top Echelon Informant program.

    No scenes of Lancaster Garage meetups. No scenes of Whitey returning home from prison and how he managed to stay alive with the Mullens/Kileen war. No Howie Winter (from what I could tell).

    Anyway, I am hoping that you really do finish your book regarding all of this Boston Organized Crime history. Thanks

    • Jerome:

      You are talking me out of going to the movie. The idea Whitey talked Flemmi into becoming an informant is nonsense since we know Flemmi had been one for ten years and was brought back from Canada and had two serious criminal charges dismissed against him so he could continue being an informant for the FBI.

      Then it is only in the media and in the movie that John Connolly is said to have any knowledge of any of the murders. They tried him in Boston for leaking information which led to some murders and the jury acquitted him of all the charges. There is absolutely no evidence Connolly knew of the murders; in fact, when Whitey fled town in 1995 no one knew of them outside of his buddies Nee, Weeks and Flemmi and they were not talking about them.

      Connolly did not refuse to testify against Whitey at his trial. Connolly did not testify in his own defense; I think that was a mistake. Why. I’m not sure but it had nothing to do with Whitey.

      As I’ve written the big picture here is the corrupt witness protection program and not the two agents. They weren’t doing anything in secret; half the office including some clerks knew Whitey (and perhaps Stevie) were informants. It was the FBI policy to have them – so that would be part of the ongoing scandal in the country where the FBI got a pass while blackened the name of an agent who was doing what it told him to do.

      Thanks for giving me a heads up on the movie. I’m going to need a transcript of the movie to correct all the mistakes. As for Flemmi, portraying him as weak is laughable.

      • Matt
        Dont waste $15 to see the movie BLACK MASS. If anything see the early matinee on a Saturday or Sunday for $6-7. Upon further reflection today and with reading your reply just know its disgustingly appalling how they portray Steve Flemmi. In one scene he stands by looking sad as Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) strangles Debbie Hussey to death. They dont show Flemmi cutting off limbs and pulling teeth which in other movies that has been shown. They dont show Weeks doing much at all but standing around. They dont show the hits Stevie and Whitey did on behalf of the Italian Mob.

        There is a GREAT script waiting to be made about all of this sad violent piece of New England organized crime. The actor who played Billy Bulger is an excellent actor but I couldnt tell if we were supposed to feel “sorry” that he is the brother of a murderous psychopath or not. They show Whitey Bulger getting emotional over the death of his son too.

        I am disappointed in the script. They rush through key parts of each murder. They have Whitey Bulger killing Halloran and Donohue by himself with shades on. Come on Hollywood. Thats a joke right. I am disappointed that Johnny Depp didnt spend lift weights and bulk up for this role

        • Jerome:

          I am a matinee type guy so thanks for the tip. I read somewhere about Billy Bulger that the writers did not want to do much with him because they were afraid of being sued for libel; after all, as I’ve said, there is no proof Billy has done anything wrong.

  10. Matt,
    Had to post this….
    This just in….

    ‘Baby Doe’: Girl Found Dead in Boston Identified, Mother Arrested

    Hats off to the detectives who worked on this case. Unbelievable.

  11. Good stuff Matt. I’ll just put in my dissenting note in defense of Cheney and everyone who participated in the interrogation program (of course that’s not to say it was perfect, but it was not a systematic policy of torture), but we don’t have to go down that road again, as we know where we stand. Keep up the good coverage on Black Mass.

    • Jon:

      Thanks. My point on Cheney was if the troops are following orders then start at the top or leave the troops alone.

  12. Matt,
    The T.E.I. program muffed it right from the start when newly-minted T.E.I. (who Condon received a whopping $150 bonus for recruiting) the “Bear,” promptly went out and killed Teddy D., supposedly known in advance from wiretaps, and precipitated the cloak of treachery, cover-ups, and lies that apparently has pervaded the program from the beginning….through Whitey….to Rossetti.

    • Rather:

      True. The example of the Bear who bragged that he wanted to be the top hit man in New England which brag the FBI knew about is compelling. It gives lie to everything the judges, media and FBI have said about the Top Echelon program. Here it recruited a man to work with it who it knew was going to be murdering people and it had no trouble doing that. And, as you note, it is still doing it today.

  13. Matt
    Have you read the book PUBLIC ENEMIES by Bryan Burroughs? Any other book(s) that delve into J Edgar Hoover and how the FBI grew in power?

    • Jerome:

      I’ve done a lot on J. Edgar. You cannot understand the Whitey story without understanding what made him tick.

  14. What was done to Connolly, Rico and Fitzpatrick was a greater crime than anything the gangsters did. Our government knowingly falsely accused three honest men to hide it’s own wrongdoing and to deflect attention from their vile political vendetta against Bill Bulger. The Ivy League types at the Globe and the rest of the media couldn’t abide a blue collar urban Irishman ( Bulger, King or Quinn) holding an important political position and exercising power. So they concocted the story of the all powerful Whitey. Would the CIA have been able to frame three of it’s agents for the failed Iraq war? Could they have prosecuted Tom, Dick and Harry for producing bogus WMD reports? Could they claim that the Intelligence agency was right and it was only rogue agents that got it wrong? The institution failed in the Iraq war and not individuals.The FBI and DOJ as institutions have failed and acted perniciously over the last twenty years in their organized crime efforts. The three ex agents were scapegoats.

    • NC:

      I first want to say for anyone born on this date I wish them a very, merry, happy birthday and I hope all their football teams that play today win.

      What you write is correct. That is the hidden story that the media and the FBI are desperately trying to keep the lid on and they have done it well over the years. True the media could not abide Bulger but the feeling was mutual which made them more anxious to go after him. Had he been less true to himself he could have taken orders from the media and all would have been well but he never considered (like Baker) that he had to please the media, he thought his job was to represent the people who elected him to office.

      You saw where Lehr called Whitey the most evil man in the planet. It proves your point that they elevated Whitey into semi-god like status so they could try to smear his brother. It worked. Romney bought it hook, line and sinker. If Connolly did anything wrong as an FBI agent it was because the FBI is set up for him to do that as part of his job. The FBI knew what he was doing all along and had no problem with it. Just like no one prosecuted Cheney for the torture policies but they were going after the people who were carrying out his policies.

      I believe I will write about the doing in of Connolly and Rico in another post. As for Fitzpatrick, you have to keep in mind that he did a hit job on Billy Bulger in his book indicating Billy was working with Whitey and also that he disclosed to the Globe that Whitey was an informant. I feel bad he had been indicted for perjury but I don’t put him in the category of FBI agents that worked top level informants only to have the FBI turn on them.