The Dire Need of The FBI Caused Hoover To Agree To Do The Unthinkable And Partner Up With Whitey Bulger

I’ve written how the FBI did much good but involved itself in criminal acts, how J. Edgar Hoover was out of his comfort zone chasing organized crime people, but when he was forced to do so he did it well again violating the law by doing break-ins and planting electronic bugs to secretly listening to conversations.  I noted how LBJ in July 1965 stopped him from doing this.  Hoover was at his wit’s end having had his most effective tool for combating organized crime taken from him.

Imagine the despair. With the electronic bugs the FBI agents could sit in the comfort of their offices and listen to the Mafiosi talk all day, cull out the important information, and pass it out among other agents. Nothing could have been easier.  The information gained could be disguised and used in making future arrests or raids. Little Al, the name the Chicago FBI gave to their most prolific bug, could be turned into Informant A in an affidavit and described as one who has provided reliable information in the past.

Desperate times (having to get out of the office and walk the bricks) required a desperate remedy. The FBI did not take long in coming up with it.  They would recruit surrogate electronic bugs, namely people who could listen in to the conversations of the Mafia leaders and report to the FBI what was being said.  They called a person who could do this a Top Echelon Informant. (TEI)

Hoover was desperate indeed to have gone along with this.  He had to know that to institute it he would be putting his cherished agents in harm’s way.  He knew, instinctively, that his men were no match one-on-one with these hardened criminals. That is why for so many years he denied the existence of their organization. He sensed that his agents associations with mafia-types would put them perilously close to committing crimes themselves. The radicals, Commies, spies, youthful conspiracies were easy picking for his trained men; but organized crime murderers weren’t motivated by ideals, they had learned about life in the murderous back alleys of the cities. They were a different breed who survived in a violent society. They could have FBI agents for breakfast.

Hoover with his back against the wall and against his better judgment took the chance. They would deal with this type of criminal. The orders went out to recruit them. Unlike the electronic bugs, these TEIs could talk back. They would want something.

Ralph Ranalli in his book Deadly Alliance said the first reference to Top Echelon Informants (TEI) began to appear sometime between 1963 and 1965.   He noted that the FBI’s Manual of Instructions (MOI) had by December 1964 a class of informants called Top Echelon. The people to be recruited were described as “Madams, prostitutes, pimps, fences, con men . . . ”   These people were useful in supplementing electronic bugs which were ongoing at the time.  They were not the kind who could replace electronic bugs.

Ranalli points out that by 1971, the year before Hoover died, the Manual of Instructions stated that a TEI was a “member of La Cosa Nostra” and those closely associated with them.  Ranalli leaves open what happened between December 1964 and 1971 which was the July 1965 shutting down of the bugs and the FBI response to it.

Judge Wolf in his findings tells us about this. (He doesn’t relate it to the shutting off of the bugs.) He noted that “In November 1965 FBI Special Agent H. Paul Rico targeted Flemmi for development as a [TEI] . . . — the highest status a source can achieve in the FBI . . . At that time, a [TEI] was defined as an individual who ‘could provide a continuous flow of quality criminal information regarding the leaders of organized crime.’ ”  Rico wrote that if Flemmi survived the Boston gang wars he “would become ‘a very influential individual in the Boston criminal element’ and ‘be in a position to furnish information on  LCN members in the Boston] area.’ “

Flemmi had been giving information to Rico since the early 1960’s.  He was not accepted as a TEI until the program had been designed. Created in response to LBJ’s directive in July 1965 it was operational in November 1965. The 1964 MOI had been changed. This quick response told of the deep hurt the FBI suffered in its investigative ability and its dire need to come up with a solution, any solution, well thought out or  not, even if it paved the way for FBI agents to partner up with murderers.

Rico had plans to leave Boston and head to Miami.  He had to insure that Flemmi had an agent who could protect him.  He had picked out John Connolly as the one who would do it.  He also made arrangements for him to connect with Whitey Bulger.  Connolly would put Whitey up for membership in the TEI club in February 1976, almost 11 years later than Flemmi.  Connolly wrote that Whitey has “demonstrated ability to produce information regarding the highest levels of organize crime.” 

Whitey and Stevie Flemmi would remain as TEIs until the end of 1990 when the FBI closed them out. This was done because Connolly had retired and the FBI had no one to replace him that Stevie and Whitey would accept. Judge Wolf found that during the time Flemmi and Whitey were informants from 1975 to 1990 if Connolly were called to testify he would state they were “extremely valuable confidential informants who provided vital information [regarding] the government’s successful efforts to investigate and prosecute La Cosa Nostra in New England, the department of Justice’s top priority here.”

Judge Wolf seemed to agree with that assessment.  Judge Wolf told us how they recruited the TEIs and what they knew about the TEIs.  I’ll tell you next post what he said about that and what the TEIs expected as the quid pro quo.




  1. thank you once again for your effort to share your knowledge about the saga of the bulger brothers. you were there and i was not, and i thank you for clearing up those points. i think part of the frustration is that people read books and articles and hear rumors and stories and grow angry at what they think is ineptitude and apathy regarding billy bulger. perhaps someday you could list what is rumor and fact. like what does an officer of the court have to do when they may or may not have contact with a fugitive?i again thank you very much for your blog and i will admit after reading it i feel differently about the hitman john m and how the legal world has treated john c. thanks again and i look forward to reading more of your work. best regards, doug

    • Thanks Douglas, appreciate the reply. I hope to do what you suggest that is to list what people accuse Billy of, the evidence for each accusation and what I think of it. After reading it you may not agree with me which is fine because I really do not know what went on between Billy and Whitey, if anything, nor does anyone else other than themselves. I can only say what I know and in my many years investigating Whitey with very competent cops I never heard anyone suggest something not be done because of Billy. What I want people like you who have read the blog is to think about these issues and try to figure out what is behind a lot of the allegations. I started this because too many things were being accepted as true with respect to things around Whitey without people really having examined them.
      Your question about what an officer of the court (a lawyer) has to do when in contact with a fugitive refers to Billy’s conversation with Whitey shortly after Whitey went on the lam. When I was a defense lawyer I was awoken one night at 3:30 am by a person who I knew (Harry) who told me he just escaped from jail. He wanted to know what I could do for him. I told him to turn himself in and went back to bed. I didn’t feel I had an obligation to do more than that since I figured he’d go back to where we grew up and the cops who grew up with us would be waiting there for him as it turned out that happened.
      Keep in mind that there’s an obligation an attorney to a client not to reveal his communications to others without his consent. In Billy’s case he was faced with a more difficult question because the fugitive was his brother. The Massachusetts General Laws recognizes that siblings have a different relationship than people not related. A brother can hide a brother in his house to prevent his capture by the police without being charged where a person not related to a fugitive could be charged with accessory after the fact.
      Billy said he told his attorneys about the call and expected they would tell the right authorities. My sense is he took the call, wished Whitey good luck, and did nothing. Does that mean he violated any duty? I don’t think so because there is no obligation that I know that demands an attorney report such a telephone call. (I not 100% sure of that and may be wrong) The reason I believe Billy did not do anything is he really believed (according to his autobiography) that many of the charges against Whitey were false and that Whitey was justifying in running away because he was being railroaded. Billy went into a long diatribe in his book against paid witnesses.
      I’ll talk more of these things and thank you for your interest.

  2. the information at the end of this post is most interesting. so whitey and stevie would not accept a new handler afte john c retired in 1990. so whitey had no handler and was still a top ci until he went on the run in 1994. do you think life would have been diferent for whitey if he had only one brother jackie. after all from the time he was released from federal prison in 1965 until 2011 he was not arrested. i find it hard to believe billy bulger plyed no role and not break the law himself felony obstruction of justice. over the years. no mention is ever made on this posts of the lancaster garage leaks in 1980 and billys reaction with the state trooper at logan who put whitey up against the wall as dirty money was being brought out of the country. in 1987. i beleive the trooper lost his job over that and ended up shooting himself. this is what i mean by billy having blood on his hands. i think overall this blog is very well done by a man who knows a lot more than i do. however the idea of billy walking away scot free is repulsive.

    • Thanks for writing. An FBI agent who testified at Connolly trial said Whitey was dropped as in informant and targeted because he no longer had important information; another said it was because they had no one to handle him. I feel it was clear that in December 1990 when Connolly left the FBI realized it had no one to handle them and also were told by Connolly that they weren’t interested in informing anymore. White was not a TEI (top echelon informant) or any other type informant from 12/90 onward. Kevin Weeks testified Connolly and Whitey still maintained a relationship between 12/90 and 12/94 (when Whitey fled) and that Whitey gave Connolly money.
      Your other issue is one I know a little more bit about. I chased after Whitey from 1976 to the mid 90s with many skilled police investigators. Not once did we ever consider the relationship between Billy and Whitey while doing that. The idea that Billy protected Whitey is a recent invention made up out of whole cloth – no one has produced a scintilla of evidence to back it up. My experience tells me it is absolutely false.
      Billy Johnson was the trooper at Logan Airport. I knew him and worked with him a bit. We got along pretty well. He was a good guy but had his quirks. I’ve learned just recently from state police sources that he did not commit suicide but was shot in New Hampshire. I don’t know if that is true or not. The fact Billy Johnson got in trouble at Logan was not surprising to me. To put it mildly, he walked to the beat of different drummer. I don’t think Billy Bulger had anything to do with his problems at Logan.
      I’d ask you to keep an open mind about Billy. I hope to go through all the allegations against him to see if they are based on anything substantial. All I can say that the suggestion that law enforcement backed off on its investigations of Whitey because of Billy are patently untrue. I’d also suggest that most of the time Whitey was doing his evil he was protected by the FBI which was a lot more powerful than Billy could ever be. Thanks again for your interest and comments.