Two vicious hitmen were getting away with murder from the mid-1960s to the late-1980s in Boston -- thanks to the FBI.
And thanks to the Associated Press, we now know that it wasn't just a few rogue agents in Boston who were using mob assassins as informants in exchange for letter the killers go about their business. The authorization for this unholy alliance came directly from Washington, possibly from J. Edgar Hoover himself.
Portions of this sordid tale have been known for years. Lawsuits totaling $1 billion have been filed against the government by victims of crimes committed by the FBI's informants.
The Boston office of the FBI was so eager to crack the Patriarca Mafia family that it made book with the Winter Hill gang, which was every bit as bad as the Mafia. They, too, were drug dealers, thieves and murderers of the first rank.
In the most egregious example of FBI collusion, agents virtually stood by while one of their informants, a hitman, planned and carried out the execution of a mob rival. Then the agents maintained their silence while their snitch not only made a deal to get himself off, but framed four other men for the killing.
Nothing, not even breaking the back of a powerful organized crime family, justifies that kind of outrageous behavior by government agents. Government agents cannot be permitted to stand by while people are killed -- even if the people are mobsters. And they cannot allow people to go to jail for crimes they didn't commit -- even if the people being framed are shady characters themselves.
It has become fashionable of late and in some circles to question the conduct of Youngstown area FBI agents over the last two decades, but there is no evidence of that kind of collusion here. Indeed, we recall a 1982 incident when FBI agents had three hoodlums under surveillance. When it became obvious that the three were assaulting a man and might well kill him, agents stepped in, even though it blew their cover.
U.S. Rep. Dan Burton is chairman of a House committee investigating the FBI abuses in Boston. Burton is something of a zealot on the topic of governmental abuse of authority. We believe his inquiry into the Boston case will be thorough and we suspect that he will not be shy about investigating other instances of abuse where there is evidence to support the charges.
On one hand, this is not the best time to be holding the FBI's past practices up to scrutiny, given the war on terrorism. On the other hand, it may be the very best time to send a message that a democratic government does not subscribe to the theory that the ends justify the means.