MARBLEHEAD — He reignited the manhunt that led to the capture of Whitey Bulger. He was a key player in the effort that identified and ultimately caught the Boston Marathon bombers. And with only a few days remaining until his retirement, Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the Boston FBI office, is hoping to see the recovery of priceless paintings stolen from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum 23 years ago.
“We have a high degree of confidence we know who (the thieves) are,” DesLauriers told a meeting of the Marblehead Rotary yesterday. After sparking an innovative media effort that helped snare the elusive Bulger, DesLauriers decided to do the same thing to revive the long dormant case of the Gardner heist. Results have been encouraging.
“We did get a lot of good input,” he said. “That investigation will continue.”
These efforts followed a low point for the FBI in Boston, a period where links to Bulger led to the conviction of Agent John Connolly in 2005. All that seemed forgotten, however, in the warm and enthusiastic welcome the Rotarians at the Boston Yacht Club gave DesLauriers yesterday.
A Longmeadow native, he spoke quickly, clearly and at length. In a crowded room where virtually everyone wore name tags, he called on questioners by their first names. On the other hand, he was meticulous in avoiding certain subjects or giving opinions.
There was no discussion of the ongoing Bulger case, the marathon bombing or even recent news about National Security Agency spying.
“I can’t really comment on that,” he said.
And when asked later if he ever worries about government gathering too much information on American citizens, he stressed merely that the FBI follows the law and procedures set out by the Attorney General.
“We always abide by strict internal guidelines,” said the Assumption College graduate.
The concerns of the bureau only begin with terrorism, DesLauriers told the Rotary. With a background in counterintelligence, he noted playing a key role in 2010 when the FBI rolled up a Russian spy ring, including two Cambridge based sleeper agents. Espionage did not stop with the end of the Cold War, he stressed. In addition to looking for government secrets, spies are spying on businesses, seeking trade secrets.
Cyber threats, meanwhile, are multifaceted and range from nuisance hackers to cyber terrorists and hostile governments eager to invade systems “and maybe shut down an electrical grid.” To deal with this problem, the FBI is hiring computer scientists to do computer forensics.
Organized crime remains a concern, as are issues of civil rights and public corruption. DesLauriers ticked off the names of Boston politicians subjected to federal prosecutions, including former Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi and state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. Further, he recalled the case of the predominantly black Macedonian Church of God in Springfield, set ablaze by arsonists angry over Barack Obama’s 2008 election.
“I took that kind of personal,” DesLauriers said. “This is my hometown.” The firebugs earned “very, very lengthy sentences.”
Traveling with three FBI employees, including a media adviser, DesLauriers responded to a question about human trafficking by calling on Supervisory Special Agent Cynthia Deitle. An expert on the topic, she explained what trafficking is — “It’s slavery. ... You hold somebody in a position where you are compelling their labor.” Victims are often forced into prostitution, but she cited cases where immigrant restaurant workers are held, as well.
Asked later about the taint of the Bulger case, DesLauriers answered confidently, “We put that past behind us.” He agreed that capturing Bulger — even as some were inferring the Bureau did not want to catch him — had a lot to do with restoring the agency’s reputation.
Later, DesLauriers was asked which movie or television program most accurately captured what the agency does. It was sometime ago, he replied, and he couldn’t attest to everything in it, “but ‘Silence of Lambs’ was very good.” Scenes of agents in training brought back memories of his own early days (261/2 years ago) with the FBI.
Leaving to take a job in security for the Penske Corporation in Michigan, DesLauriers wished the new agent in charge success.
Rotarian and retired FBI Special Agent Tanya DeGenova arranged her former colleague’s appearance.
“And it’s good to see my friend Richard attracted a bigger crowd than (lawyer) F. Lee Bailey did when he came here to speak,” she said.
Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.