Whitey Bulger, LSD And Alcatraz
Former Leader Of The Winter Hill Gang Was Part Of CIA’s LSD Experiments And An Inmate At Alcatraz
James "Whitey" Bulger.
By John Monahan
Special For Modern Times Magazine .com
July 6, 2011 — When James “Whitey” Bulger was running organized crime in New England, he was feared, idolized, and a successful depiction of the corrupt underworld. On the streets of South Boston, he was even sometimes referred to as a Robin Hood type.
But all along, Bulger was much more than a gang boss with tentacles throughout the legitimate world or someone who was defending Irish Americans. His brother, Billy was a bigwig in the democratic party politician who rose to become president of the Massachusetts senate and president of the University of Massachusetts. He was removed from that office by current presidential candidate Mitt Romney when it was revealed that he was not cooperating with investigators seeking to track down the oldest Bulger while he was on the lam.
Martin Scorsese even used Bulger as the basis for his rework of the Hong Kong classic, Infernal Affairs. Basically, the lore behind the ‘real guy’ grew to mystical proportions after he disappeared.
But lost in most of the lore was the story of what happened to Bulger earlier in his criminal career — when he was young, dumb, and stuck in jail. The tales of drug experiments with the Central Intelligence Agency and later, his time at Alcatraz.
He might not have been able to evade capture for more than 16 years at the prime of his power without knowing how important it was to stash guns, weapons and, most importantly cash. And it was told that after those early experiences with the federal penal system, Bulger swore to not go back down that road again.
Bulger first spent time in custody for larceny when he was 14 then drifted to the U.S. Air Force where he also got in trouble and was discharged in 1952. By 1956, he was in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for armed robbery and hijacking where he was allegedly part of the MK-Ultra program.
This covert program ran from the early 1950s to the late 1960s with the goal of finding ways to manipulate and control mental states. According to Kevin Weeks, one of Bulger’s underlings in the Winter Hill Gang, Bulger and other inmates were given LSD and other drugs. Bulger later claimed, according to Weeks, that the prisoners were promised reduced sentences but were deceived.
What kind of impact might that have had on a young, criminal, street kid? Other famous former subjects of MK-Ultra are Ken Kesey, Theodore “The Unabomber” Kaczynski, and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. These are men known for their boldness, vision and in most cases, destruction. Exact details of what Bulger was subjected to is unknown, but just thinking about LSD and being locked in a cell is a scary thought.
But what happened next is just as confounding and frequently overlooked.
Fresh off his LSD testing by the CIA, Bulger gets transferred to Alcatraz prison in 1959. Yea, that place, “The Rock.”
According to reporting from the Boston Globe in 1998, Bulger became a close ally and comrade of Clarence Carnes, also known as the Choctaw kid and the youngest man to be sentenced to Alcatraz. The Globe reported that Bulger had Carnes’ body exhumed after it was buried in a pauper’s grave in 1989 and placed in a expensive bronze casket. The Globe reported that Bulger said he took care of the burial because Carnes had taken care of him in Alcatraz.
After being transferred to Leavenworth and Lewisburg, Bulger was released in 1965 and by 1971 he was immersed in a Boston gang war that began his rise to the top.
New evidence even shows that Bulger and the woman with whom he evaded capture, Catherine Grieg, visited Alcatraz soon after he went on the run.
Does all of this have anything to do with what he later became — a ruthless mob boss who killed and ordered killings while dealing in drugs and all other illegal products?
Maybe and maybe not, but the fact that a man who would later live a shadow life where he was both gangster and informant was also subject to government drug testing is troubling and should not be overlooked.
John Monahan is a freelance writer currently living in Connecticut.