Phil Gibbons is a writer, journalist, filmmaker and podcaster whose work has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, France Today and Fair.org's Extra!. His history-biography podcast can be found at someveryfamouspeople.com.
I’ve watched every Super Bowl since its inception.I still remember that for me the most compelling aspect of Super Bowl I, a blowout of the Chiefs by the Vince Lombardi Packers, was that it was televised on both CBS and NBC televised it and you could flip your dial and see it on two channels.
But after 51 consecutive years, I won’t even watch Super bowl LII.Some of this has to do with the insufferable aspects of any NFL broadcast but my lack of enthusiasm is mainly prompted by the two teams involved.
Among the reasons the Patriots have been so successful is that they essentially get a regular season bye into the AFC title game. Tom Brady’s lifetime regular season record against the Buffalo Bills is 28-3, the Jets 25-7, the Dolphins 21-10.Yes, this type of dominance can result from an extraordinary skill level but it is also because the Bills are perpetually horrid, the Jets almost as bad and the Dolphins a mediocre, at best, for years.
The Pats get five or six guaranteed wins merely by showing up against these three teams and only need to win another six out of ten to make the playoffs but also get home field advantage for most if not all of the playoffs.Put the Pats in the AFC North or NFC East and have them play the Steelers and Ravens twice a year, every year, and the results would be a lot different. A more competitive regular season would take a lot more out of the Pats and mean more road playoff games and losses.
That the Pats only had one tough playoff game, against Jacksonville no less, is another annoying aspect of their success this year.Predictably, as in virtually all important Patriot games (Google “Tuck Rule” here) the refs played an unacceptable role in the outcome of the game.
Jacksonville technically did take too much time in a critical second quarter play that negated a late first down that would have made a crucial Pats TD impossible.But any veteran fan knows that the officials always pause at least a beat and frequently longer before making that call. Not this time.And the Jacksonville fumble recovery in the fourth quarter that was inexplicably blown dead was an especially egregious mistake.Add in the Pats one penalty (the fewest since the Pats one penalty in the 2011 title game, hmmm….) to the Jaguars six, including two monster pass interference calls and this was beyond the refs making some bad calls, it was the refs dictating the outcome of the game.
I’m not saying that there’s an open conspiracy among league executives to favor the Patriots, but I’ve had it with the inordinate influence NFL refs have over the outcome of games, and especially Patriot games. This year’s utter incompetence was the worst, with numerous Patriots opponents having touchdowns overruled on the basis of arcane rulebook minutia that only a Federal District Court Judge could understand.
In past years, tuning in to root against the Patriots in the Super Bowl would have been enough. Not this year.I retain a longtime, personally intense dislike of the Eagles and their fan base, the most hostile and unpleasant in all of the sports world. Evidence here includes the need to keep a judge and court at their home stadium to attempt to quell fan misbehavior, beating a Redskin mascot half to death and stealing his headdress, and the idolization of individuals like Buddy Ryan, who put bounties on opposing players and coached the team during the 1990 “Body Bag Game” against the Redskins. (His teams also went 0-3 during the playoffs.)
Another annoying aspect of Eagle fans is their delusional state. This is a franchise that hasn’t won a title in fifty-seven years, their last MVP was Norm Van Brocklin and one of their only two previous Super Bowl appearances resulted in a beat down in which their franchise QB, Ron Jaworski, was intercepted three times by the same linebacker.
Despite this inconsequential history, it’s always necessary to take extreme caution around Eagle fans.If you live in southern California, there are plenty of sports bars that pipe in every NFL game and fan bases from around the country are well represented.
My repeated experience has been that Eagle fans will spend the first quarter focused on the game, but, as the alcohol flows so do the insults to their opponents’ fans. “YOUR TEAM SUCKS!!!!” is a pretty standard chant by the third quarter and by the fourth especially if the Eagles are destined for a loss, anything can happen. Beers tossed at opposing fans, physical threats and even parking lot brawls are not uncommon.I’ve come to believe that the Eagles’ lack of a Super Bowl title is partly the result of some appropriate karma designed to collectively punish the rabid fan base.
Sometime on Sunday, one of these two teams will walk away with the NFL championship, but for me watching this game is an impossibility. With ratings in the championship game round already down eight percent from last year, my guess is that I’ll have plenty of company.
Since 2010, Governor Jerry Brown has given the state of California at least a facade of political leadership that casual national observers might perceive as competent or at least adult.That Brown has perpetuated a policy of massive tax increases and cynically used climate change and immigration politics to mask governmental dysfunction and massive, long term state pension and healthcare liabilities is probably only apparent to the local, astute observer.
However, Brown is term limited in 2018 and regardless of how problematic his performance has been, the prospects for his replacement are downright horrifying. A December poll pegged former San Francisco Mayor and Lieutenant-Governor Gavin Newsom at 23 per cent of the vote, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at 18 per cent and other challengers trailing in the single digits.
That both frontrunners are Democrats is significant. California has instituted a statewide policy of a June primary election that eliminates all but the two top leading vote getters who face each other in a November runoff. That the top two in most elections are Democrats insures that the state will remain a one party oligarchy and in this case that one of these two Democrats will be the next governor.
If nothing else, these two individuals personify the mediocrity that voters in this state are subjected to on a routine basis.Newsom’s grasping ambition has been evident since his days as a San Francisco City supervisor and entrepreneur bankrolled by members of the socialite Getty clan.
Elected San Francisco mayor in 2004, Newsom barely defeated a Green party candidate who became the alternative to Newsom’s wealthy, high society connections.At the time of his election, Newsom was married to attorney and high profile television personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, who he divorced in 2005.
He immediately embraced gay marriage as a priority, propelling the city to issue same sex marriage licenses.While the move set off years of referendums and litigation, it certainly ingratiated Newsom with San Franciscans and predictably generated nationwide attention. In 2007 he ran unopposed for re-election.His vow to eliminate homelessness met with less success, as any recent visitor to his former domain will attest.
Newsom announced in 2009 that he would run for Governor.His campaign went nowhere for two basic reasons.One was that Jerry Brown was seeking the same office, but the other was even more fundamental.Since his earliest days, Newsom’s evident slickness and glib, vacuous rhetoric has alienated most statewide voters who found him smarmy and calculating.
This skepticism seemed completely justified when it was revealed that Newsom had engaged in an affair with his best friend’s wife, especially as said best friend also happened to be his chief of staff, who immediately resigned.Trailing Brown by 20 points, Newsom then officially filed to run for Lieutenant-Governor, a position that has no relevance unless the Governor dies or is incapacitated.
Serving as a human place-holder for four years did nothing to enhance Newsom’s reputation but with no other viable political options, he successfully ran for re-election in 2014.Possibly to combat his image as a womanizing cheat, in 2011, Newsom married Jennifer Siebel, a wealthy, well connected member of San Francisco’s social and business elite (surprise!).Only six years later, and just in time for his gubernatorial campaign, sudden family man Newsom and his wife have four photogenic children.Other than that, Newsom has literally done absolutely nothing for seven years.
A long time ago, Antonio Villaraigosa was considered a rising, Democratic star with major national potential.Elected to the California State Assembly from the hardscrabble East LA neighborhood of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa quickly became influential as the Speaker of the Assembly.
After an unsuccessful race in 2001, Villaraigosa was eventually elected the first Mexican-American mayor of LA in over a century, in 2005.Unfortunately, this would be the high water mark of Villaraigosa’s popularity.His image as a competent, industrious public servant quickly melted under greater public scrutiny and the demands of actually having to administer one of America’s largest and most problematic cities.
Efforts to reform the school system, address the worst traffic in the nation and fix roads pockmarked with car-swallowing potholes went nowhere.Revelations that Villaraigosa employed more staff members than the President of the United States and spent only fifteen per cent of his time on actual city business began to perpetuate the perception that he was a PR driven, empty suit merely interested in the pursuit of higher public office.
Spending small amounts of time on actual city work was his hallmark and the result of frequent Villaraigosa boondoggles around the world and across the country, usually accompanied by dozens of staff members, at public expense.Trips to locations like Israel, London, Hawaii, New York, Washington, DC and Chicago raised eyebrows, especially when their purpose was officially described as “fund-raising.”By the end of his second term, Villaraigosa was practically a laughingstock, reduced to attending the Republican National Convention.
Villaraigosa has also had his share of questionable ethical behavior.His fathering of two illegitimate children in his twenties was largely a secret during his early political career.His actual surname is Villar, the “Raigosa” emanates from his first wife, an initially charming decision to combine their names when the couple married.
Unfortunately, Villaraigosa’s proclivity for adultery wrecked the marriage, the final straw occurring in June, 2007 when it was revealed that he was involved in an affair with a local Telemundo reporter that the Mayor was granting exclusive interviews.His wife filed for divorce shortly thereafter.Villaraigosa remarried in June of 2016.
While it still retains an international reputation as a social and economic powerhouse, California is a state beset with some fundamentally troubling concerns.Factoring in the cost of living, California has the nation’s highest poverty rate at 20.6 per cent and the worst homelessness in the country.
The official number of undocumented inhabitants is approximately 2.5 million people and is probably far higher, a development that strains already depleted government infrastructure.While the state population is growing, affluent taxpayers are leaving, a development California is addressing with additional gasoline and sales taxes, which are already among the highest in the nation.
The problem that literally trillions of dollars of pension and medical care liabilities will come due in future decades has never been addressed responsibly by anyone in governmental leadership.The near certainty that the next governor of the state will be either Newsom or Villaraigosa and that the voters and taxpayers will have to choose between these two mediocrities is utterly appalling.
[Part 1 of this story ran on December 5. To read it click here.]
In May of 2011, days after Osama bin Laden was captured in Pakistan, that country’s Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, publicly insisted that his government had had no idea about where the terrorist leader had been hiding. When this claim was greeted with skepticism in certain quarters in America, Haqqani countered that his story was every bit as plausible as the FBI’s claim that after 16 years, it had no idea where Most Wanted mobster “Whitey” Bulger was holed up.
At right around that same time, Angela Helton got a phone call from a friend who worked for the FBI. Would she like to make a video for the Bureau? the friend asked. Helton operated a one-woman media relations firm in South Portland, Maine, called Northeast Media Associates. As someone who always wanted to work for the FBI, who took inspiration from the TV show “Alias” and by her own admission had “a bit of a big mouth,” Helton would be the natural choice for the job.
“Of course! Hello!” she told her FBI friend, and soon Helton, whose clients included Modern Pest Services, had teamed up with Charlie Berg of Blackfly Media, a former collaborator on projects for the Portland Visitors Bureau and Madgirl World, to make what the Bureau called its first video public service announcement. The PSA, she and Berg were told, would be the latest weapon for nabbing the deadly fugitive.They were sworn to secrecy.
Agents swooped down on Berg’s home in Saco, Maine, with surveillance video and sheaves of old photographs of Bulger and his longtime companion, Catherine Greig. It was all very “Men in Black,” Berg later told a reporter for the Bangor Daily News. They soon got on like a house on fire, as the agents would take “finished video back to their superiors, run it up and down the chain, and email over revisions.” Finally, after toiling 11 to 14 hours a day, Helton, Berg and their bffs from the Bureau could rest. The PSA was ready.
On Monday, June 20, the FBI publicly announced the spot would run in 14 media markets beginning Tuesday, June 21. Less than 72 hours after that announcement, Bulger and Greig were in custody in Santa Monica, California.
The national press relayed news of the capture with almost as much thought-free fanfare as it would, six years later, the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign. But just as Mueller’s apparent long indifference to Bulger’s whereabouts deserves scrutiny, as seen in Part 1, so too does the Bureau’s lightning-quick resolution of the case, a mere seven weeks after President Obama surprisingly reappointed Mueller to lead the FBI beyond his 10-year congressionally limited term.
It’s a truism in journalism that for any big story, any scandal, the first 24 to 48 hours are key: whatever narrative takes hold then is likely to remain the story. The official story of Bulger’s capture, in general contour, goes as follows.
The Bureau’s June 20 presser and the PSA itself became news on many local TV stations, CNN and other cable networks as well as the Internet that Monday. On Tuesday, June 21, the PSA, which the FBI says it paid for, began to run during “The View,” “Dr. Oz” and other daytime television programs geared toward women.
The ad was 30 seconds long and focused on Catherine Greig. It showed photos from the 1990s and mentioned her extensive plastic surgery. It described her as “harboring” Whitey Bulger, and included pictures of them together, surveillance footage of Whitey and a reference to his violent temper.
In announcing capture of its elusive quarry, the FBI initially said little other than that the arrest came about as a result of a tip generated by the ad. It did not identify anything about the tipster, who stood to gain $100,000 for Greig and $2 million for Bulger.
According to Boston Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers, the call came into the Bureau’s Los Angeles office on Tuesday at 8 PM Pacific time. The caller gave an exact address in Santa Monica. Just after 4 PM the next day, June 22, members of the FBI and the LAPD began conducting surveillance at the address. At about 5:45, having determined it was indeed Bulger’s apartment building, they lured him out and arrested him and then Greig.
The next day, WBUR radio in Boston reported that, according to “law enforcement sources,” the tip had come from a woman in Iceland who saw a report on CNN and immediately rang up.
The Boston Globe dispatched reporters to Iceland. In October, the paper reported that the woman was Anna Bjornsdottir (aka Anna Bjorn), a graphic designer, yoga instructor, animal lover, model, actress and Miss Iceland of 1974. As “one of the world’s most beautiful and successful models” in the 1970s, according to a People magazine profile, Bjorn had appeared in one of Noxzema’s “Take it off” shaving cream ads, as well as in movies and TV shows, including “More American Graffiti” and “Fantasy Island.” She and her second husband were dividing their time between Reykjavik and Santa Monica, where they lived near Bulger and Greig.
According to neighbors, Bjornsdottir bonded with Greig over their shared devotion to a stray cat. Miss Iceland didn’t win Miss Congeniality for nothing.
Unremarked during any of the breathless reporting at the time were a number of curiosities, not least that, by the FBI’s timeline, it would have been 4 AM in Reykjavik when Bjornsdottir happened to catch CNN’s news report on the FBI’s ad and lunged for the phone. As it turned out, of the hundreds of calls that the FBI says it received in response to the ad campaign, the only call from a Santa Monica resident was that one from the erstwhile, and faraway, Miss Iceland.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Angela Helton exclaimed upon hearing the news that the ad she’d produced had had such stunning success. Her exuberant cry unwittingly summarized the response of those familiar with Whitey’s long history with the FBI, especially residents of the city of Boston.
Despite the suggestion in the Bureau’s statement that its eureka moment in cracking the case came when it decided to focus the search on Greig instead of Bulger, this was not the FBI’s first Greig-centered campaign. In May 2010, it took out an ad in “Plastic Surgery News,” an industry trade journal, which featured old photos of Greig and even the serial numbers of her breast implants.
News of that ad, the FBI’s first public effort of any kind in years, was greeted with derision in Boston, where its esoteric appeal was considered to be mainly an effort to convince the public that the FBI was actively seeking Bulger. Initially, the PSA approach was considered the same, doomed to fail but intended to convince the public that the FBI was still even interested.
After the first flush of excitement that the infamous mob boss had been caught, Boston reporters grew agitated. At a news conference in Boston they peppered Special Agent DesLauriers and federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz with questions that quickly soured the feds’ triumphal mood. Because Whitey had previously been sighted in the LA area and was actually arrested there, why had the Bureau run the ad in locations like Biloxi and Milwaukee but not in Los Angeles? The official response – the ad ran “in California” (it did, in San Francisco and San Diego) – was not satisfactory. You run the ad in cities near a location where Whitey has been seen but not in the city itself?
And where were the booking photos? Although that question is audible throughout recordings of the press conference, Prosecutor Ortiz ignored it until it was the only one left. “We don’t release booking photos,” she brusquely replied. Although in some cases the Justice Department had not released booking photos (like that of former presidential candidate John Edwards arrested for campaign finance violations), the very same week of Bulger’s arrest the booking photos of two alleged New Jersey terrorists (Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte) were disseminated widely. Ortiz’s response only raised more questions. After all, no booking photos, presto, no possible comparison with the PSA.
At this point, the Iceland connection had not yet been reported, but the FBI got defensive. It released a statement refuting press reports that the tip initially received low priority, given the time lag between when the FBI got the call and when it deployed agents at Bulger’s address. It issued a fuller press release, noting that the PSA “focused on the 60-year-old Greig’s physical appearance, habits, and personality traits and…[had] other details including her love of animals.”
The PSA, though, is silent on Greig’s habits and personality. Beyond its 20-year-old images, it suggests nothing about the 60-year-old Greig’s appearance. It also makes no mention of her love of animals. It does include a single photograph of Greig and Bulger wearing huge sunglasses and walking a dog.
Perhaps the Bureau’s PR department is just shoddy and muddled up what the PSA actually contained and what was in its own press release of June 20. The latter mentioned that Greig, a former dental hygienist, was likely to have good teeth, that she was five foot six, had blue eyes, frequented beauty salons and “loves dogs and all kinds of animals.” None of those details, along with Whitey’s own enthusiasm for animals and books about Hitler, appear in the PSA.
So what are the odds that at 4 AM in Iceland, a yoga instructor who vacations in Santa Monica caught the CNN report, glimpsed Greig’s much younger face, zeroed in on the animal angle from what at best would have been a quick reference and immediately made the connection? This, while having no prior reason to associate the elderly couple with Bulger or organized crime.
What are the odds, moreover, that among Greig’s many neighbors – especially retirees who saw her and Bulger on a regular basis, interacted with them and were acutely familiar with the woman’s passion for stray cats – not one would have also seen the PSA on CNN and made the split-second connection?
In fact, those residents could not believe that their two neighbors were the notorious couple.Their apartment building manager, who was quite friendly with Bulger and routinely interacted with him, never recognized the gangster, despite having attended Boston University. Miss Iceland is not known to have any Boston connection.
As incredible as all that seems, it is not as if the FBI had never previously received a tip about Bulger in Santa Monica. In 2008, after “America’s Most Wanted” aired a segment on the wanted criminal, a viewer called in saying he’d seen a man who looked like Whitey playing chess on the Santa Monica beachfront. The show’s creator, John Walsh, confirmed that the tip came in and was passed on to the FBI. The FBI did nothing.
In July of 2011 this fellow, Keith Messina of Las Vegas, complained to the Boston Herald: “They are saying someone in Iceland found Whitey? Who is that person? I found Whitey three years ago. I didn’t make the call for the reward. I just wanted the guy caught. But now the FBI is lying and saying the reward is going to Iceland. I saw the guy. I did the right thing and called. I left my name and number. I should be at least entitled to something.”
Walsh, no doubt protective of his access to the Bureau, took pains to say that Messina’s tip had no specifics, but the man never got a call from the Bureau to elaborate. And how specific would one need to be when, as it turned out, Bulger and Greig lived only a few blocks from the beach – and, incidentally, about five miles from the FBI’s Westwood office?
It was not until August 1, and then only after Reuters had filed an FOIA request, that the US Marshals Service released the mugshots. By that time the national media caravan had moved on, and national consciousness with it. In Boston, though, where Whitey’s story has legs to this day, the pictures were major news. Bulger, completely bald, bearded and looking more like a monk than a wiseguy, was indistinguishable from pictures on the PSA or the Most Wanted list. Lyndsey Cyr, the mother of his only child, said publicly that she would never have recognized him. Upon close and prolonged inspection, Greig’s nose and mouth bear a trace of her youthful photos, but the 30-second PSA gave its viewers no such time to linger.
It is worth mentioning that numerous studies on memory, facial recognition and eyewitness reliability have shown that people have an extraordinarily difficult time accurately identifying a person’s face, even when no significant time has passed. Again, what are the odds that a person caught unawares by a news report at 4 in the morning would accurately identify a face from 20-year-old photographs briefly glimpsed?
Anna Bjornsdottir got the $2 million for Bulger, according to the Boston Globe (the FBI says the full $2.1 million went to more than one person). She has never spoken publicly about the case. When confronted by Boston Globe reporters in Reykjavik, she fled into her apartment building. Her husband, Halldor Gudmundsson, a long time CEO of Iceland’s largest ad agency, has also been silent, except to send an email saying that Anna values her privacy.
She’s not likely to fear retribution, as reports in the Icelandic press indicate that she returned to visit her old haunts in Santa Monica even after her identity was disclosed.Whitey is in jail, officially a rat, hated by his former associates, so there is no danger there. Her story is worth additional media millions, yet she has not cashed in.
Although the official version of Whitey’s arrest was ultimately grudgingly accepted by Boston media, chiefly because they could never prove otherwise, many in Boston have never accepted it, and interest in anything Bulger persists. Dick Lehr is the co-author of the book “Black Mass,” and is also considered the gold standard of journalists following the Bulger saga.He followed up in 2013 with “Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss.” There Lehr writes that an argument with Whitey over Bjornsdottir’s stated admiration for Barack Obama was an additional factor in her recognizing him.Bulger’s anger and subsequent refusal to acknowledge her reportedly made quite an impression on her.
While Whitey’s famous temper was mentioned in the PSA and his racist attitudes were legendary to those who already knew him, an argument over Barack Obama being translated into recognizing him as a crime boss from a 30-second ad sounds farfetched. How many elderly, cranky white men would have had exactly the same attitudes in 2011?
The superintendent of Bulger’s building, Joshua Bond, told Lehr about a similar run-in he’d had, but the dispute did not lead him to imagine he was fighting with a fugitive organized crime kingpin. Lehr never spoke personally to Anna Bjornsdottir, and has said that the Obama incident was confirmed by “sources.” While Bulger’s neighbors might have provided this information, it might also have come from law enforcement intent on convincing a skeptical public with information that can’t be disputed, understanding that the stray cat fable alone was a real stretch.
The Bulger manhunt “was the most expensive in FBI history…whatever we asked for, we got,” according to a former Boston Police Department detective and member of the Bulger task force until 2003. That makes it hard to believe that, as the FBI told Lehr, the Bureau didn’t run the ad in Los Angeles because it couldn’t afford the media buy.
Whitey had been on the lam for sixteen years when all of a sudden the Bureau hired a tiny shop in Maine to produce an advertisement in a process that required breakneck speed. Why the urgency? Why suddenly work 11- to 14-hour days to produce a public service announcement? Politicians of both parties and the media at large have never fully grasped the depths of the Bulger-FBI scandal and the dark shadow it should cast on Bob Mueller’s reputation. Did Mueller’s confirmation meeting with Obama stimulate this rapid-fire publicity campaign? Had the Pakistani ambassador hit too close to home and taken away leverage in one of the US’s most complicated foreign policy relationships?
Nobody believes Pakistan’s government knew nothing about Osama Bin Laden’s lair. Why should anyone believe that the FBI knew nothing about Bulger’s retirement home location until a former beauty queen in Iceland picked up the phone?
Earlier this year, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel to investigate connections between the Russian government and the campaign of Donald Trump. From both sides of the aisle came praise for Mueller, the former FBI director with an alabaster image.
To the extent that anyone, in hailing his bona fides, paid attention to Mueller’s role in the notorious case of Boston criminal kingpin James “Whitey” Bulger, it was to describe Bulger’s arrest in 2011 as a masterful job of FBI investigation. In fact, the case of Whitey Bulger, a fugitive eluding capture for 16 years, had been one of the biggest scandals in the history of the FBI, and the Bureau’s official story of its resolution is so preposterous that it either casts a withering light on the competence of Mueller and his G men or reeks of something smellier in Mueller’s domain.
From 1979 to 1995, Whitey Bulger engaged in a criminal reign of terror that eventually established him as the most powerful underworld boss in New England. As so often in the annals of organized crime, the outlaw and the law were partners in a dread dance, and in late 1994, tipped off by his FBI handler, one John Connolly, that indictments were imminent, Bulger went on the lam and disappeared.
Beyond putting Bulger on the Ten Most Wanted list (and then not until 1999), the FBI went nowhere with the case for six years. After ascending to the Bureau’s leadership in 2001, Mueller likewise demonstrated indifference to apprehending Bulger until, a decade later and on the heels of his reappointment to the job, it was politically expedient both for himself and the U.S. government (of which more in a moment).
Questions about the FBI’s relationship with Bulger while he dominated Boston’s criminal underworld in the 1980s and ’90s have never been fully resolved. That a corrupt relationship existed is undisputed. From the 1970s Bulger had been a confidential informant of the FBI, recruited to help the Bureau take down the Italian Mafia. It was a toxic combination, through which Bulger only gained power.
To give but a taste of the dirty work: H. Paul Rico, who’d had a long, tainted career with the Bureau in Boston, was indicted for helping Bulger and an associate plan a murder in 1981 while Rico was head of security for World Jai Alai, a company Bulger was skimming. (Rico died in 2004 before he could be tried.)
John Connolly, Bulger’s handler beginning in the 1970s, is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence in Florida for the murder of a Bulger associate who was rumored to be cooperating with a criminal investigation.
Connolly’s supervisor, John Morris, has admitted to tipping off Bulger about another cooperating witness – information that Bulger used to murder this man, a mobster desperately seeking witness protection – and an innocent bystander in 1982. Morris, who got immunity for his cooperation, additionally admitted to receiving $7,000 in cash bribes from Bulger.
When Connolly alerted Bulger that he was about to be arrested, it was not the first time the agent acted to protect the crime boss. Connolly had thwarted previous investigations of the Boston PD and the Massachusetts State Police by telling Bulger of specific wiretaps and surveillance; as a result, those agencies had long been wary of cooperating with the Boston FBI.
By numerous accounts, Bulger and his partner in crime Stephen Flemmi, who eventually turned state’s evidence against Whitey, believed they were shielded from prosecution, if only because of the secrets they could spill. “If I’m going to jail, you’re going to jail,” Bulger once thundered to Morris, who soon after suffered a heart attack. Bulger’s defense lawyer has argued that a senior official in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Massachusetts, Jeremiah O’Sullivan, had offered Bulger immunity. O’Sullivan is dead and Connolly, who introduced the two, is disgraced, but the tangle of evidence suggesting systemic corruption or tacit accommodation has been richly documented in books and dramatized in film.
And where was the nation’s future top cop in the 1980s as Bulger and Flemmi routinely engaged in murder, extortion and drug trafficking, and as FBI agents waded in the gore? In what is doubtless an inconvenient coincidence for a man now characterized as a bloodhound for truth and justice, Robert Mueller was a criminal prosecutor in the Boston office of the Justice Department in the early ’80s and then acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts in 1986-87.
It is possible that prosecutor Mueller, having earlier lost an infamous racketeering case against the Hells Angels in San Francisco, decided that securities fraud, New Cold War skullduggery and more mundane corruption better suited his ambitions. It is possible that FBI director Mueller, beset with the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack and his duties as an apparatchik in the Global War on Terror, had more pressing matters than Bulger.
But it’s at least as likely that Mueller was well aware from his time in Boston that the rot emanating from there went far beyond a few bad actors; that, as scandalous as the Bureau’s failure to capture Bulger was, it would be more scandalous still if Bulger had a chance to reveal the full extent of the rot; thus, the best way to protect ugly secrets about Mueller’s flailing agency and the Justice Department would be to let the crime boss run out his days in the shadows.
We may never know the reasons Mueller didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass for the Bulger investigation beyond the pro forma inquiry, when visiting the Boston Bureau as FBI director, “Where are we on Whitey Bulger?” And because Bulger, a high order rat, ultimately never did spill the secrets, preferring to hold to the fiction that he had never informed for the FBI, we still do not know the extent to which the government enabled racketeering and murder.
But if we don’t have answers, there are questions — not least of those being: how, once Mueller’s attentions were roused, did it take the Bureau a mere seven weeks to accomplish what had supposedly flummoxed it for 16 years? The official explanation for this amazing feat is absurd, involving, as we shall see in Part II, a PR agent inspired by the TV show “Alias,” photos of the crime boss that even the mother of his child couldn’t recognize, and a former Miss Iceland.
This part of the story begins in the aftermath of the U.S. government’s assassination of Bulger’s fellow mark on the Most Wanted list, Osama Bin Laden, in 2011. Much was being made of the fact that Bin Laden had lived so long untroubled in Pakistan, the implication being that Pakistani officials were wily Orientals and all-around friends of terror who also probably hated America for our freedoms.
Enter Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, who got on the phone with TheAtlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg to say: “If Whitey Bulger can live undetected by American police for so long, why can’t Osama Bin Laden live undetected by Pakistani authorities?”
If the Pakistani ambassador was saying this to the press, one can only imagine what he was telling U.S. government officials behind closed doors. Haqqani may have said more than he intended, for it is as hard to believe that his country’s intelligence agency knew nothing of Bin Laden’s whereabouts as it is to believe that the FBI knew nothing of Bulger’s. But in all events Haqqani had picked a scab.
That conversation was reported on May 2. Ten days later, Mueller had a sit-down with President Obama, who afterward proclaimed the director had “set the gold standard” and deserved another two years of public service. The extension had no precedent since Congress established a 10-year term limit for the FBI director in 1972, a reaction to the long, vicious reign of J. Edgar Hoover.
Still, if Mueller was smart, he might have felt some pressure. Congress would have to vote to reconfirm him. It did so almost exactly a month after the FBI stunningly captured Whitey Bulger, on June 22, 2011.