FBI needs to allow others in to restore confidence
For the past 23 years, Whitey Bulger was the FBI’s worst nightmare.
Now he’s their prisoner.
It was hard to find anyone in the Boston Police Department, the State Police, or the US Drug Enforcement Administration who truly believed the FBI wanted to find Bulger. He was the FBI’s prized, if highly overrated, snitch, and he had murdered many while the FBI protected him and compromised other investigations that other law enforcement agencies mounted against Bulger.
Bulger used to have the FBI in his pocket; now all he has in that pocket is the potential for revenge, should he choose to exact it. He has told friends — indeed he has even told corrupt FBI agents — that the FBI reneged on their deal to let him run his venal little empire as long as he fed them crumbs on the competition.
The obsession with the details of Bulger’s arrest is understandable. But the bigger picture is this: there has been a carefully constructed narrative, one of damage control for the FBI and Justice Department, which is now at risk. It was a narrative that held that Whitey Bulger was protected by a rogue FBI agent, John Connolly, and a rogue FBI supervisor, John Morris, both of whom had been dealt with: Connolly was given a life sentence and sent off to prison, and Morris was given immunity and sent off to disgrace.
But there are other FBI agents and supervisors who have been accused in open court by Bulger’s cohorts, Stevie Flemmi and Kevin Weeks, of accepting cash and gifts from Bulger, or looking the other way when they had a chance to lock him up. Those allegations supposedly needed corroboration before the Justice Department was prepared to seek more charges against FBI agents. Bulger might be that corroboration.
The FBI’s reputation was always under a cloud as long as Bulger was on the lam. And so his arrest in Santa Monica — so much for all those sightings in London, Italy, and other exotic locales — was a good day for the FBI. But it remains to be seen whether this turns out to be a good year for the FBI.
Honest cops who built cases against Bulger only to see them ruined or made more arduous by a duplicitous FBI say the FBI cannot control where the investigation goes now.
“The real issue here is now that Bulger is in custody, who gets access to him,’’ said Tom Foley, the retired State Police commander who led the investigation that resulted in the 1995 racketeering indictment against Bulger.
Foley and other law enforcement officials outside the FBI believe that the three men who have driven successive investigations into the FBI’s dirty dealings with Bulger — State Police Detective Lieutenant Steve Johnson, DEA agent Dan Doherty, and assistant US attorney Fred Wyshak — need to have access to Bulger to restore public confidence, to prove that anything and everything that needs to come out will come out.
“Those are the guys who have the institutional memory,’’ said Bob Long, the retired State Police commander who led compromised attempts to get Bulger in the 1980s. “They’re the ones who know what questions to ask, to follow the unfollowed leads, especially when it comes to the FBI’s role in all this.’’
Long said the FBI has an inherent conflict of interest in controlling access to Bulger and being the chief investigatory agency in the case.
“If Bulger decides to talk, whatever he has to say, the potential for additional criminal charges, will implicate the FBI,’’ said Long. “I’m not saying the FBI doesn’t have an interest in this. I’m saying they can’t control it or have exclusive access to Bulger. You have to let the guys who have proved they want to get to the bottom of this have access, too.’’
It was a multiagency task force led by the FBI that finally tracked down Bulger. Only a multiagency approach can credibly question and debrief him now.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org