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FBI denies involvement in naming of Bulger tipster

 A poster featuring fugitives James "Whitey" Bulger and Catherine Greig is seen at the FBI field office in Boston, in this June 20, 2011 file photo.
A poster featuring fugitives James "Whitey" Bulger and Catherine Greig is seen at the FBI field office in Boston, in this June 20, 2011 file photo.(Associated Press)

The FBI released a statement yesterday disavowing any involvement in the identification by the Globe of the woman whose tip led authorities in June to the apartment of notorious gangster James “Whitey’’ Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, in Santa Monica, Calif.

The statement was issued after the Globe published an article Tuesday in which editors explained the decision to name Anna Bjornsdottir, a native of Iceland who lived near the fugitive couple in California, in a report chronicling Bulger’s life on the run that appeared Sunday.

The FBI said that despite numerous media requests, it never provided the name or confirmed the accuracy of reporting about the tipsters.

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“In defending against public criticism about the decision to publish the name of the alleged tipster, reporters and editors from the [Globe] attempted to justify it by stating the FBI did not raise any objections in advance,’’ the FBI said yesterday. “That explanation suggested the FBI was culpable for the publishing of this information. To the contrary, the FBI’s silence on these inquiries should not be seen as acquiescence to that editorial decision.

“Had the FBI responded one way or the other, the effect would have been to confirm or deny the identity of one of the tipsters.’’

Jennifer Peter, the Globe’s deputy managing editor for local news, said last night that the newspaper never stated that the FBI had no objections to identifying the tipster, only that it did not raise any concerns about her personal safety.

“A great deal of thought and discussion went into the decision to name the tipster,’’ Peter said. “And in a case such as this, where there have been so many deceptions and lies in the past and where there were so many conspiracy theories circulating as to what actually happened, it seemed imperative to give as accurate and full an accounting as we could.’’

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Bulger, a longtime FBI informant, fled shortly before a 1995 federal racketeering indictment after being warned by a corrupt former handler that charges were looming. He is now being held without bail on charges of killing 19 people.

The decision to name Bjornsdottir in Sunday’s story, written by Globe reporters Shelley Murphy and Maria Cramer, drew criticism from the Boston Herald and some Globe readers.

Murphy said she told representatives at the FBI and the US attorney’s office that the paper was considering naming the tipster and that neither agency raised concerns about her safety. Both offices said they had promised the tipster confidentiality and would not comment on the tipster’s identity.

In Tuesday’s article, Globe editor Martin Baron said the newspaper learned from several sources that Bulger would certainly have known the identity of Bjornsdottir, who lives in Iceland. He reiterated that position last night.

“We’ve said all along that the tipster’s neighbors [in California] were aware of her identity because news reports had identified her as coming from Iceland,’’ Baron said. ”We have never said or suggested that the FBI acquiesced in our decision to identify the tipster. We have only said that we made law enforcement agencies amply aware that we intended to publish the tipster’s name and that no agency raised any concerns about her personal safety. That is, in fact, the case.’’

The FBI said it has a responsibility to shield the identity of tipsters.

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“In this case and in others, the FBI does everything possible to protect the identity of those who courageously assist us in thwarting criminal activity,’’ the agency said in its statement. “The FBI takes seriously its responsibility to protect those individuals from harm, and to protect their privacy. To do otherwise would have a chilling effect upon future cooperation by the public.’’


Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.