In a case of journalistic malpractice aided by big-mouth federal law-enforcement officials, The Boston Globe has outed the tipster who told the FBI where to find James "Whitey" Bulger, the former South Boston crime boss.
in a long and riveting article
on Sunday, revealed that the tipster and recipient of a $2 million award for information leading to Bulger's capture was Anna Bjornsdottir
of Reykjavík, Iceland. She was Miss Iceland in 1974, and went onto work as an actress in movies and TV commercials. The Icelandic beauty, now 57, is famous for her role as one of the sexy blonds in the Noxzema shaving-cream TV ads
, who tells viewers to "take it off, take it all off."
Her name was supposed to have been kept a secret by law-enforcement officials. But The Globe, after figuring out who she was, felt it had a duty to reveal her identify. When Globe reporters approached her on two occasions outside her Reykjavík apartment, she ran back inside. Later, her husband sent The Globe an e-mail, saying she wouldn't talk about the Bulger case.
Most of the Globe's story, "Whitey in Exile
," deals with Bulger's life on the lam for 16 years -- living for much of that time in a rent-controlled Santa Monica apartment. He had some $800,000 of cash stuffed in the walls along with an arsenal of guns and knives.
In a tease for its story, The Globe explained: "It is a portrait of the gangster as a grumpy old man, hunkered down in a Santa Monica flat with his girlfriend. Neighbors liked them, but no one got close -- or, rather, almost no one. And that was their undoing."
It was through gum-shoe detective work, dumb luck, and the unwitting help of law-enforcement officials that Globe reporters figured out who the tipster was who brought down the 82-year-old Bulger -- wanted for organized crime activities that included allegedly murdering 19 people while leading the notorious Winter Hill Gang, a fixture of South Boston's "Irish Mob" in the 1970s to mid-'80s.
Now, questions are being raised about whether Bjornsdottir's life might be in danger due to The Globe's decision to out her.
In its story, The Globe explains that Bulger's undoing began about six years ago with a scene fit for a Hollywood script - an abandoned tiger-stripped cat roaming outside Bulger and Greig's Santa Monica apartment. Greig went outside twice a day to the feed the hungry tabby whose name was "Tiger."
Bjornsdottir - also a cat lover -- was living nearby at the time. She was touched at the sight of Greig feeding the wayward feline. The two struck up a conversation while the cat was being fed, and they eventually became friends, according to the Globe's account..
reporters were led to Reykjavík
and Bjornsdottir by two things. First, big-mouth law-enforcement officials -- apparently in the FBI or U.S. Attorney's office - had let loose
an intriguing detail last September: Bulger's tipster was a woman living in Iceland.
Who could it be? Globe reporters put two and two together when they visited the Santa Monica neighborhood where Bulger and Greig, now 60, had lived. There, they came across a neighbor who recalled how Bjornsdottir and Greig had become fast friends, having bonded over the abandoned cat.
Bulger's downfall came on June 20. That's when the FBI started running TV commercials seeking information about the whereabouts of Bulger's girlfriend, figuring the best way to catch Bulger was through her. In Reykjavík, Bjornsdottir saw a news item about the ads on CNN. She phoned the FBI. The next day, FBI agents arrested Bulger and Greig at their Santa Monica apartment, near where the wayward tabby used to roam.
Bjornsdottir now works as a graphic designer and yoga instructor, and some in Iceland are wondering if her life is safe, according to an article
in Monday's Boston Herald
. An arch rival of The Boston Globe
, The Herald
said it won't be revealing Bjornsdottir's name. It offered no explanation, but it appears that it felt this was a case of journalistic ethics and responsibility, and it also was a way of keep their heads high after being scooped by The Globe
The Globe, to be sure, could easily have written a story without using Bjornsdottir's name -- offering just enough details to make it interesting. But in the end, the paper's editors could's resist dragging Bjornsdottir into the story; for doing so in their minds made a good story a great story - and most journalists find greats stories irresistible.
Many of Bulger's gangland pals are now dead or too old to do anybody much harm. But that surely is no comfort to Bjornsdottir, who had thought her privacy would be protected when she contacted the FBI. That she was outed may well deter other potential informants from coming forward in high-profile cases.
The FBI has been embarrassed for years by the case of Whitey Bulger, for it was a corrupt FBI agent -- Bulger's "handler" -- who tipped off the crime boss that he was about to be arrested; this was after an indictment was issued charging Bulger with murder, racketeering, and other crimes. In the end, Bulger played the FBI like a fiddle, serving as an FBI informant for rival crime groups, while the FBI ignored his own gang.
Now, somebody in the FBI or U.S. Attorney's office has inadvertently helped the Boston Globe reveal the name of a person who had been promised anonymity. It will be interesting to watch the finger-pointing that is sure to start in the coming days over the latest wrinkle in the sordid case of Whitey Bulger.