I sat in David Crow’s lap when he went to do his review of Black Mass, director Scott Cooper’s nihilistic biopic of James “Whitey” Bulger. Looking into Johnny Depp cold, dead-shark eyes from the third row, I saw CIA-propped drug kingpin Manuel Noriega. In the movie, John Connolly, a friend from the Southie neighborhood who became a federal cop, calls on Bulger to keep the streets straight, if not safe, from outside criminal influence. The FBI was choosing sides in a gang war, taking a tip from the CIA. It’s the American way.
Black Mass mentioned once that Bulger was given LSD 50 times by the CIA while he was in prison. My first reaction was to mutter “lucky motherfucker” under my breath. You don’t have to be Hunter S. Thompson to see that Whitey Bulger was a lysergically infected patsy deranged by the CIA to be used as a sleeper agent for the FBI. He was used to take out crime in South Boston. The Italians were getting to be a problem, as Dutch Schultz might say in the movie Cotton Club, and if there’s one thing the FBI doesn’t like, it is problematic Italians. Usually they Hoover the problem and hide it in a closet like the photos the mob is rumored to have of the agency’s guiding light. There was a time when the south of Boston conjured images of Prince Spaghetti day. I was tortured weekly as a kid on account of that commercial. Now when you think of South Boston, you think of how the FBI took down the Winter Hill Mob.
Any commercial film about the FBI has to get the FBI sign of approval. It’s been that way at least since Edward G. Robinson starred in Confessions of a Nazi Spy. Every single episode of the Quinn Martin’s The FBI with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. was okayed by the FBI, who made the series tag on the nation’s most wanted criminals so the nation could all be junior detectives. The FBI are very careful and they are very thorough. There probably wasn’t a frame of Black Mass that men in drab suits with unimaginative ties didn’t scrutinize with an oversized Sherlock Holmes brand magnifying glass. They might even be watching you read this article. Whatever really happened to Whitey Bulger had been redacted and retooled long before it was rebooted by Hollywood. Bulger himself said his trial was a sham.
The FBI gets into CIA territory in their involvement in the crime wars of Boston. They choose a side and look the other way. We’ve seen done this countless times in movies about the CIA, from Salvador to Kill the Messenger. If films taught us anything it’s that the CIA doesn’t operate inside any stated regulation and the FBI is jealous as fuck. So when the federal cops get an inside pigeon who flew the same coop as one of their own, they are going to do their best to own that motherfucker, body, mind and soul, at the cost of their own. They will go out of their way to protect him.
Whitey’s smart. He really does believe he is using the FBI as a weapon. He has completely dehumanized them. This isn’t a political game he’s playing, it’s a war to the curb and the FBI is merely bullets that occasionally send concrete shrapnel into someone’s disgusting gob-smeared bar nuts. FBI agents aren’t people because cops aren’t really people. Even if they used to be standup guys on the street, they trade something in when they pin on a badge. The power goes to their heads and they don’t can’t tell a schlug from a thug.
So when Whitey takes part in the LSD experiments, so he might even have been primed as a weapon. Whitey may or may not be deluding himself when he swears he is no rat. He believes it.
I’ve written quite a bit about James “Whitey” Bulger since an anonymous tip flushed him out of hiding in 2012. Den of Geek reviewed Joe Berlinger’s documentary Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger. Hank Brennan, one of Bulger’s lawyers, sat for an interview. Bulger maintained throughout his questioning that he was never a rat. To hear him tell it, the Whitey Bulger story was a love story from a hard man who hadn’t gone completely soft.
According to the documentary, the FBI and the Justice Department thought they were using Whitey as an informant. The way Whitey saw it, the Feds worked for him. They were his paid lackeys. If that seems the egotistical ravings of a sociopath, those self-delusions may very well have been the product of the CIA LSD experiments. The experiments were done as part of the mind control program called MK Ultra.
Hollywood first explored mind control when they put Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate on screen in 1962, a year before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Some conspiracy theorists posit that JFK was killed because he wanted to smash the CIA into a million pieces. There are many who believe Sirhan Sirhan was a programmed executioner who was triggered to kill Robert F. Kennedy. Others have their doubts about the official stories to many public executions.
The official story says Bulger was an FBI informant who was protected by corrupt agents between 1975 and 1990. That clears the government by putting away all the players. But the CIA and the FBI had been fostering collusion for years. The CIA routinely props up dictators, fosters revolution and occasionally tampers with gang wars. Mexica’s Guadalajara drug cartel was boosted by the CIA. Other stories connect the CIA with Honduran drug lord Juan Matta-Ballesteros.
Although the CIA had officially denied it for years, a memo from the CIA’s Directorate of Operations dated October 22, 1982, mentioned a prospective meeting between Contra leaders in Costa Rica for “an exchange … of narcotics for arms, which then are shipped to Nicaragua.” Oliver North laid out funds so drugs could be smuggled into the U.S. through the airline SETCO, owned by a drug lord. Although he wasn’t under contract until 1967, Manuel Noriega had been working with the CIA since the late 1950s.
The CIA didn’t limit their drug promotions to South America. Alfred W. McCoy, a New York Times writer, claimed in his book Politics of Heroin that they propped up drug trade in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The CIA smuggled opium from China and Burma to Bangkok, Thailand, through Air America. I learned that from the movies too. McCoy also connected the CIA to parts of the French Connection scheme during the First Indochina War.
The CIA even made conspirators out of the American Psychological Association when they got them to sign off on the Bush-Cheney torture program, but the agency has been messing with minds for years. There are no official records of what they got out of Bulger while he was tripping. CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all the files on the MK-Ultra program destroyed in 1973.
Bulger started the experiments in 1956, when he was in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for armed robbery and hijacking, along with Kevin Weeks (played by Breaking Bad‘s Jesse Plemons in Black Mass) and Stevie Flemmi (played by Rory Cochrane). Flemmi, one of Bulger’s underlings in the Winter Hill Gang, claimed he and Bulger were promised reduced sentences but were deceived.
Bulger wrote in his since-published notebooks that he had a “morbid fear of LSD.” Whitey called the doctor running the program “a modern day Dr. Mengele” and wrote “I was in prison for committing a crime and feel they committed a worse crime on me.” Long after he got out of jail, Bulger was haunted by the trials, afraid that the drugs had altered his chromosomes. The street criminal who’d grown up on the code of Omerta might never have allowed himself to be under John Connolly, his FBI handler.
The FBI was also no stranger to working with criminals. In response to the June 21, 1964 killing of the three Civil Rights movement political activists in in Mississippi, the $25,000 reward claimed by an unidentified person. That’s because the FBI paid and armed mob hitman Gregory Scarpa Sr., to torture one of the suspects, Edgar Ray Killen, until he told him where the bodies were buried.
Whitey Bulger, who is alleged to have been the leader of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang during the 1970s and ’80s, was indicted in 1994 and he fled prosecution after his corrupt FBI handler John Connolly tipped him off to his pending arrest. He was caught in Santa Monica, Calif. in 2011. According to testimony from an arresting FBI agent federal investigators were led by Bulger to a stash of 30 weapons and $822,000 in cash after his arrest.
A jury found Bulger guilty of 31 of 32 criminal counts. Bulger, 84, was convicted of 11 murders, extortion and drug dealing during the time he was boss of the Winter Hill crime gang in Boston during the 1970s and ’80s. On Nov. 14, 2013, a federal judge sentenced James “Whitey” Bulger to two life terms in prison. If he’s got anything to say about the FBI or the CIA that they don’t want the public to know, it will stay locked up behind those walls.