25.6.11

Whitey Bulger, Kennedy and the Mafia

Driving down the motorway from Newry in Northern Ireland, back to Dublin, the radio grabbed my attention with a riveting story about the Kennedys and the Irish American mobster Whitey Bulger who was seized this month after a career of half a century and two decades on the run.

RTE 1 interviewed two straight talking American journalists who shed new light on Bulger’s career.

Not only is Bulger thought to have committed 19 or so murders, he committed several with the assistance of FBI officers, several of whom are behind bars for their efforts.

The protection went further, all  the way up to former Attorney General Robert Kennedy and J Edgar Hoover, who established a special division of the FBI precisely for the purpose of “bringing down” the Italian mafia.

Thus Bulger was an agent of the government, not just as an informer, but as a tool of policy, to replace the Italian mafia with Irish mobsters whom the authorities presumably considered more pliable.

Secular saint

The majority of Americans see no need to dwell on JF Kennedy’s father beyond his reputation for womanising and dominating his family. According to this authorised biography, father Joe may have sold a bit of liquor during Prohibition, but he was not a mobster. 

It is easy enough to pass off the family liquor business (Joe Kennedy's father was in turn a saloon owner and politician) as a canny business wheeze except that any supplier of illegal alcohol to clubs during Prohibition would not have survived a week without the protection of corrupt police and politicians. Thus Joseph Kennedy’s business was mafia sine qua non. There is also testimony from other mafiosi.

However JFK is a secular saint in America and this is something that the majority of Americans simply don’t wish to hear.

Returning to Whitey Bulger, consider that the grandsons of one of the leading underground businessmen of the Prohibition era had set up a branch of the FBI specifically to liaise with Irish gangsters to bring down the Italian mob.

It begins to sound like a conflict of interest. But even if it is not, it might be a point of interest.

Silence about mafia

Not to the American press. I Googled “Kennedy and Whitey Bulger” and got only a few hits that mention Bulger’s protection by the FBI – though this paper thought Bulger was running the Boston FBI.

The American press is concerned about Whitey’s lifestyle, the NYT is concerned only by Whitey’s opinions as a Bostoner on New York.

This is hardly surprising. If we turn to Oliver Stone’s much hailed movie, JFK, it explores one or two consipiracies about who might have killed JFK, along with the man who killed him, and then just three years later, the man who killed the killer.

Conspiracies about the revenge of the Cuban mafia for the botched Bay of Pigs invasion which they’d financed in order to regain control of their Havana casinos; about the military industrial complex that doubted JFK’s commitment to the impending Vietnam war….. (well that’s about it for Stone).

But silence about the Italian mafia, and certainly not Kennedy’s Irish and Italian mafia associates. When you think that the Kennedy's had taken on the Irish mafia on their home turf - well, would that not feature among your top theories? How could Ollie Stone have missed that one?

The mob is always Italian

It recalls the performance of the American media when then candidate Barak Obama came out of the Chicago political machine, the legacy of Mayor Daley, the most famously corrupt political operation since Tammany Hall, and not a single American television broadcaster mentioned his political heritage. Not one.

You might search Wiki for mention of the Irish mafia and you will find the Wiki page is frozen due an ongoing debate about whether the page should be deleted. One contributor says it’s unfair to categorise mobs by ethnicity. Aw, shucks. Tell that to the Italians. Seems the mob is always Italian, not Irish, never Jewish.

It is undeniably true that the history of the Irish mafia is not quite as invisible in Hollywood as the history of the Jewish mafia, but I’ll let the argument rest, if American movie and television producers are willing to forego all future reference to the ethnicity of gangsters and mobsters. Period.

By no coincidence a story was planted in the Irish Examiner on March 14th, three months before Bulger's arrest, the title: Joe Kennedy Was No Angel But Neither Was He A Bootlegger. Sheesh, is that a headline? Sounds more like a plea.

Stick together

Returning to Whitey Bulger, an Irish mobster, killing with the assistance of a squad of the FBI, dedicated to his service by Robert Kennedy and J Edgar Hoover, with the express aim of removing the Italian competition.

Why only now, in his eighties, has Whitey been fingered. Did his FBI minders of the past four decades lose track of him? The two American journalists interviewed on Irish radio said he was already pleading senility and was certain to escape trial. He has been ‘discovered’ now so that the FBI can close the book on a sorry chapter, while saying that they did, eventually, get their man.

The Irish radio presenter had no questions about the extent of the Irish mob, what became of Bulger's organization, the surprising parallels with the origins of the Kennedy family fortune. A someone living in Dublin during a the biggest financial and political crisis since the decade of Boulger's birth, I can tell you, the Irish don’t ask awkward questions of each other.

They’ve learned to stick together. On both sides of the Atlantic.