The Boston Globe on Sunday published an exhaustive story about Whitey Bulger and Catherine Greig’s life on the lam. The package of articles, by Shelley Murphy and Maria Cramer, reveals the identity of the tipster who led the FBI to Bulger and Greig’s apartment in Santa Monica: Anna Bjornsdottir, a former actress from Iceland. Bjornsdottir declined to talk to the Globe.
Today, the Boston Herald counters with a front-page splash claiming the Globe may have endangered Bjornsdottir and chilled future witnesses by revealing her identity. The story, by Joe Dwinell, quotes former U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan as saying, “They can’t guarantee her 100 percent safety going forward. It’s unnecessary publicity and unnecessary harassment.”
First, kudos to the Globe. The Bulger saga has already been over-covered for my taste, but Sunday’s package is truly definitive. But the Herald deserves some credit, too, for coming up with an unexplored angle. This morning’s question: Is there anything to the Herald story or not? At the moment, we have no way of knowing. (Although see the addendum below: Murphy points out in a Globe video that Bulger and Greig almost certainly knew already who had turned them in.)
It’s not clear from the Globe’s reporting how the paper learned of Bjornsdottir’s identity, though the friends and neighbors who were interviewed certainly could have supplied the name. The paper has this to say in a sidebar explaining the backstory: “The Globe relied on sources familiar with the circumstances of the tip as well as Bjornsdottir’s friends and people who knew her in Santa Monica to reconstruct her relationship with Bulger and Greig.” Was the sentence carefully crafted to avoid saying whether Bjornsdottir’s name was originally supplied by an FBI source? There’s no way of knowing.
More to the point, the Globe does not say whether the FBI asked that Bjornsdottir’s identity be protected. If it had, and if the Globe decided to publish her name anyway, I would like to think that the editors would at least explain their reasons. Not that the FBI’s wishes should necessarily be the deciding factor.
The Herald, for its part, quotes no one in a position of authority. In addition to Sullivan, Dwinell offers up former federal prosecutor Michael Kendall and Jamarhl Crawford, described only as a “Roxbury community activist.”
The FBI is notoriously close-mouthed about its operations, and Dwinell writes that he was unable to get the agency to comment. FBI officials ought to reconsider, given that its every move in the Bulger case is suspect for obvious reasons. The Globe should be prepared to tell us more as well.
More: Commenter Ally Manning points to a video in which Shelley Murphy talks about the decision to reveal Bjornsdottir’s name. She says that “a lot of thought went into whether or not we would name her,” and points out that Bulger and Greig almost certainly already knew who the tipster was: it had been reported some time ago that the tip came from Iceland, and they knew they had befriended Bjornsdottir.
Murphy notes that there had been a lot of speculation over whether the Icelandic connection was real or an FBI fiction, and says naming Bjornsdottir was an important part of getting the truth out: “If we were to write a story and say, ‘We know who it is but we can’t tell you, we’re keeping her name secret,’ that that would cause more — it would just fuel this conspiracy theory that’s already out there.”
Murphy is absolutely right that Bulger and Greig had to have known who turned them in, and I’m smacking my forehead for not thinking of that myself. But neither she nor Maria Cramer addresses what (if any) dealings the Globe had with the FBI and whether the agency tried to talk them out of naming Bjornsdottir. I still think that’s an unexplored question that’s worth answering.