BOSTON — A newspaper’s revelation that the tipster who led the FBI to notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger is a former Miss Iceland is raising concerns about her safety and whether the leak might discourage people from coming forward in other high-profile cases.
In a report Sunday, The Boston Globe named Anna Bjornsdottir, who met Bulger and his girlfriend in Santa Monica, Calif., as the person who led the FBI to them.
The 57-year-old Bjornsdottir is a former actress who starred in Noxzema shaving cream commercials in the 1970s and was crowned Miss Iceland in 1974. The Globe reported that she spent months at a time in Santa Monica, where she bonded with the girlfriend, Catherine Greig, over a stray cat.
The newspaper said she was home in Reykjavik when she saw a report on CNN in June about the FBI’s latest publicity campaign to catch Bulger and Greig. It noted in a follow-up story that the tipster’s name was already available to Bulger, who authorities say had a history of shooting anyone he knew or even suspected of double-crossing him.
Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said he does not believe Bjornsdottir will face retaliation, citing testimony from several former Bulger loyalists who have cooperated with prosecutors in the past decade and not been harmed.
But Sullivan said he does worry the revelation could hurt the FBI’s ability to cultivate both criminal informants and tipsters who report sightings in high-profile fugitive cases.
"For some folks who are informants or tipsters, the idea of anonymity is critical," Sullivan said. "Some people just wouldn’t cooperate at all if they thought for a moment their identity is going to be revealed."
In addition to heading the notorious Winter Hill Gang and being wanted in connection with 19 murders, Bulger was an informant who gave the FBI dirt on the New England Mafia, his gang’s main competition.
Some in Boston believed the FBI didn’t really want to catch Bulger because the agency had already been embarrassed by his corrupt relationship with former Boston FBI agent John Connolly Jr., who was convicted of racketeering for warning Bulger that he was about to be indicted, prompting him to flee Boston in late 1994.
Peter said the Globe felt it was important to publish a complete story about how Bulger was captured because of the skepticism about the FBI’s desire to apprehend him.
In comments reported by the Boston Herald, the Globe’s main competition, Reps. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts and Dan Burton of Indiana, have called on the FBI to find out why Bjornsdottir’s identity wasn’t better protected, citing concerns about her safety.
The FBI has not publicly commented on the Globe story. Since Bulger’s capture in June, the agency has repeatedly said that as a matter of policy it would not provide the identity of any tipsters.
Former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick, who was second-in-command of the Boston office and headed organized crime investigations in New England in the 1980s, said the public outing of a tipster could damage the FBI’s reputation.
"The FBI automatically is expected to protect confidentiality. It’s one of the reasons that they are able to get information," Fitzpatrick said. "Now it becomes suspicious. A suspicion has been created that perhaps the information is not that confidential."
In the Globe’s follow-up story, Jennifer Peter, deputy managing editor for local news, said a reporter had told the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office that the newspaper was considering publishing Bjornsdottir’s name and that neither agency raised concerns about her safety.
Peter said it was also clear from their reporter’s interviews with neighbors in Santa Monica that Bulger, 82, and Greig, 60, already knew Bjornsdottir was the tipster.
WBUR, National Public Radio’s news station in Boston, reported days after Bulger and Greig were captured in Santa Monica that the tipster was from Iceland. The Globe also reported her home country, citing unnamed law enforcement officials.
Peter said neighbors told the Globe that Bjornsdottir was the only person with connections to Iceland who lived in the neighborhood. The editor stressed that the Globe learned Bjornsdottir’s identity not from the FBI, but by talking to neighbors who saw her interact with Bulger and Greig.
Bjornsdottir’s current whereabouts are unclear. Bulger has been denied bail and is awaiting trial in a Boston-area jail where federal detainees are held; Greig is being held without bail at a detention center in Rhode Island.