A lingering question for the FBI’s director
Back in 1976, as we were celebrating the 200th birthday of this republic, Congress passed a law limiting the tenure of the FBI director to 10 years.
This was done because, after the scandalous findings of the Church Commission, Congress realized that letting J. Edgar Hoover serve as director of the bureau from its founding in 1935 until his death in 1972 had only confirmed Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Hoover was a power unto himself, and the FBI that was created very much in his image sometimes acted more like the secret police of the totalitarian regimes Hoover regularly denounced: running rogue wiretaps, harassing political dissidents, using illegal means to collect evidence. Hoover’s FBI wasn’t accountable; it was untouchable.
So now, just weeks after the FBI’s worst nightmare, a gangster and FBI informant by the name of Whitey Bulger came strolling back into town, Congress is about to ignore its own wisdom and let Bob Mueller, the FBI director and former US Attorney in Boston, stay on an extra two years.
President Obama says he needs Mueller to stay because there’s been so much turnover in the national security teams at the CIA and Pentagon, and that’s all well and good.
Mueller has wide, bipartisan support in Congress. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know Bob Mueller and he’s no J. Edgar Hoover, though the folks at the ACLU might take exception to that.
The recent FBI targeting of antiwar and labor activists in the Midwest has a disturbing echo of the days when the bureau considered Martin Luther King Jr. a sinister threat to national security.
But Mueller’s a Marine veteran and tough enough to take a question or two before Congress gives the president what he wants, and Mike Albano is just the guy to ask it: What did you know about Whitey Bulger, and when did you know it?
Back in the 1980s, when he was serving on the Massachusetts parole board, Albano expressed some sympathy for a group of men who had always maintained they had been framed for the 1965 gangland murder of a hoodlum named Teddy Deegan in Chelsea. The FBI had been instrumental in seeing that the men - Peter Limone, Henry Tameleo, Joe Salvati, and Louis Greco - were convicted. The FBI contended that Tameleo was the consigliere of the Mafia in Boston, and that Limone was a Mafia leader. There is no question that both men were bad actors, and Mafia players, but the evidence showed that neither had anything to do Deegan’s murder.
So in 1983, after Albano indicated he might vote to release Limone, he got a visit from a pair of FBI agents named John Connolly and John Morris. They told Albano that the men convicted of Deegan’s murder were bad guys, made guys.
“They told me that if I wanted to stay in public life, I shouldn’t vote to release a guy like Limone,’’ Albano said. “They intimidated me.’’
Turns out that Connolly was Whitey Bulger’s corrupt handler and Morris was Connolly’s corrupt supervisor. When they weren’t pocketing bribes from Bulger, they were helping him murder potential witnesses who were poised to expose the FBI’s sordid, Faustian deal with the rat named Whitey Bulger.
Albano was messing with the FBI’s national policy of going after the Mafia and the Mafia alone. That was the justification the FBI gave for making deals with devils like Whitey Bulger and his partner in crime, Stevie Flemmi. They were supposedly giving up their pals in the Mafia. The problem with the FBI’s national policy is that it didn’t take into account that the most vicious, murderous gangsters in Boston were Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi.
After Albano was elected mayor of Springfield in 1995, he soon found the FBI hot on his tail, investigating his administration for corruption. The FBI took down several people in his administration, and Albano is convinced that the FBI wasn’t interested in public integrity as much as in publicly humiliating him because he dared to defy them.
In 2001, the four men convicted of Teddy Deegan’s murder were exonerated. Turned out the FBI let them take the rap to protect one of their informants, a killer named Vincent “Jimmy’’ Flemmi, who just happened to be the brother of their other rat, Stevie Flemmi. Thanks to the FBI’s corruption, taxpayers got stuck with the $100 million bill for compensating the framed men, two of whom, Greco and Tameleo, died in prison.
Albano was appalled that, later that same year, Mueller was appointed FBI director, because it was Mueller, first as an assistant US attorney then as the acting US attorney in Boston, who wrote letters to the parole and pardons board throughout the 1980s opposing clemency for the four men framed by FBI lies.
Of course, Mueller was also in that position while Whitey Bulger was helping the FBI cart off his criminal competitors even as he buried bodies in shallow graves along the Neponset.
“Before he gets that extension,’’ Mike Albano said, “somebody in the Senate or House needs to ask him why the US Attorney’s office he led let the FBI protect Whitey Bulger.’’
I called FBI headquarters in Washington and tried to do just that. The nice lady who answered suggested I talk to one of the FBI’s “public affairs specialists.’’ But my call was not returned.
Four years ago, when questioned about the FBI’s corruption in Boston, Mueller told the Globe, “I think the public should recognize that what happened, happened years ago.’’
That’s true. And we still don’t know what really happened.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.