Thursday, May 14, 2009

Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill

Like a drug, their ties to Buldger and Flemmi had evolved into a dependency that was hardening quickly into an addiction. ... They saw only what they wanted to see. It was a moment built on a shared premise: the future belonged to them. They'd feed the Mafia to the beast that was FBI headquarters, the press, and even the public's imagination. It didn't matter how they did it, or what methods they used, so long as they got there. Glory awaited.

The "unholy alliance" (a phrase which is, i suppose, an adequate way to sensationalize a series of events that do not require sensationalization and which is sadly overused in this book) between the Irish mob in South Boston and Boston's branch of the FBI clearly demonstrates the ways in which the means that the ends justify can sometimes become larger and more significant than the ends that justify them. (by the way, how great a sentence is that?) Basically in the FBI in the 70s the major goal of every fledgling agent was to cultivate an influential informant, which in turn led to status and promotion. When combined with the FBI's obsession with bringing down La Cosa Nostra, the Italian mafia, a remarkable number of law enforcement agents succumbed to the temptation of money and influence and lost sight of what their goals should have been.

The biggest villain of the piece seems to be agent John Connolly, who grew up in South Boston. Connolly paid his dues in other cities before being granted the reward of returning home to Boston, but it never seemed like he was truly an FBI agent; instead, he simply played the part of an FBI agent in his pursuit of prestige. Because of his roots, he was able to turn Whitey Bulger, initially a middling gangster, and his friend Steve Flemmi into informants in an effort to take down the Mafia, which at the time was clearly the bigger fish. Despite the crushing stigma of being a rat (which I feel like the authors didn't fully develop), the deal worked out pretty well for Bulger and Flemmi, because as far as they were concerned they had carte blanche to do whatever the hell they wanted while they helped the FBI nail their biggest rivals. But, long story short, Connolly went from looking the other way on a few smaller crimes that enabled Bulger and Flemmi to gather information on La Cosa Nostra to breaking FBI rules and the law to protect Bulger and Flemmi even when they murdered people and such. Wonk wonk.

Overall i'd say i give the book a B-: it was pretty interesting, but at times i was thinking, "yeah, yeah, these guys are horrible, get on with it," and sometimes it jumped around chronologically a bit. But still pretty good. By the way, I say Connolly was the villain of the book because even though Bulger and Flemmi were the crazy assed murderers and such, Connolly was an FBI agent who should have known better and who took a number of other law enforcement agents down with him. I thought the rat thing was a little undeveloped as well as the "us vs. them" attitude that those hailing from South Boston have, which the authors brought up a couple of times but never really fleshed out. But overall I'd say it was worth reading.

By the end of 2000, the dark history of the FBI and Bulger had been revealed. ... But none of the historic records contain the answer to the one question a bedevlied city is still dying to know: Where's Whitey?