'Whitey' Bulger and the FBI deal that opened up Boston to the IRA
James 'Whitey' Bulger after his recapture in 2011
Joe Cahill in New York in 1971, when he was barred from the US
Gardaí aboard the Marita Ann
In a plot involving the late Joe Cahill, a book on the life of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger claims the FBI was soft on the IRA in the 1980s
The FBI agreed to turn a blind eye to the IRA gun-running activities of one of most notorious gangsters in the US in return for his agreement to inform on Italian Mafia families in New England, according to an account of the life of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, due to be published early next month.
The Boston Globe reporters Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, who have co-authored the book Whitey Bulger, say the deal paved the way for a lengthy relationship between the IRA and Boston-based Irish-American criminals. Their efforts included an ill-fated attempt to smuggle a boat-load of arms and explosives to Ireland in the 1980s.
Central to the plot was the late Joe Cahill, the commander of the Provisional IRA in Belfast, who in recent years has been promoted by Sinn Féin as a key facilitator of the peace process. The authors say Bulger’s associates four times smuggled Cahill into the US. On one occasion Cahill met Bulger in a Boston bar and encouraged him to send weapons to the IRA.
Bulger was deeply involved in criminality with the city’s Irish mob, running protection rackets aimed at drug dealers, loan sharks and those involved in illegal gambling. Bulger is believed to have been the inspiration for the Jack Nicholson character in the movie The Departed.
In 1975, Bulger agreed to become an FBI informer and was largely left alone by the authorities, who were mostly interested in what he knew about rival Mafia gangs. In 1994, his FBI handler tipped him off about an impending indictment and he fled Boston. For 12 of the next 16 years Bulger was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. In June 2011, Bulger, by then 81 years old, was recaptured in Santa Monica, California, and returned to Boston, where he now faces charges of involvement in 19 murders.
His FBI handler, John Connolly, acceded to Bulger’s precondition not to investigate his IRA activity when he signed him up as an informer, but this wasn’t, according to the authors, the only example of the FBI being soft on the IRA.
In the early 1980s, another FBI agent gave Bulger more than 18kg of powerful C-4 plastic explosives for the IRA, which were then smuggled to Ireland in a van.
Bulger, notorious as a gangland killer and operative, idolised few people, “but Joe Cahill was one”, write the authors. “And when Cahill insisted on going to south Boston to meet him, Whitey was flattered. ‘Jimmy really looked up to Cahill,’ said Bulger protege Kevin Weeks. ‘Cahill was a legend.’ ”