Boston Bombing FBI Chief Uses Media Flair That Got BulgerMichael Riley, Andrew Zajac and Tom Schoenberg
FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers ended the 16-year hunt for accused Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger by organizing a television and social-media campaign targeting female viewers of daytime soap operas whose age range roughly matched the fugitive’s girlfriend.
“We were trying to think outside the box on this one,” DesLauriers told CBS News the day Bulger appeared in court after his June 22, 2011, arrest. The Federal Bureau of Investigation sought to “be creative and use the power of the worldwide Internet and social media,” he said.
DesLauriers, 53, who heads the FBI’s Boston office, appeared to be taking the same approach as he sought an early break in Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured more than 170.
The 25-year FBI investigator, who has been leading the probe, released dramatic photographs and video of two suspects, simultaneously announcing the creation of a dedicated website for tipsters and making the plea that no bit of information “is too small for us to see.”
Within hours, release of the video set off a chain of events that led to the death of one suspect in a shootout with police and the lockdown of a Boston suburb as authorities continued to hunt for the other, identified by police as 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The suspect who was killed was his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was 26, according to a federal law enforcement official.
DesLauriers, whose career includes major terrorism and spy cases, faced one of the most complex crime scenes in Boston’s history and already had more than 2,000 tips from the public. He said at a briefing for reporters yesterday that the release of the new photographs and video, which showed the suspected bombers’ clothes, caps and faces, had the potential to elicit help from anyone who had contact with the men, even outside the U.S.
“With the media’s help, in an instant, these images will be delivered directly into the hands of millions around the world,” DesLauriers said yesterday at an FBI press briefing.
Colleagues describe DesLauriers’s investigative style as detail-oriented and methodical. He also has a self-described flair for creative approaches that can help break open cases.
DesLauriers was featured last month in a multimedia campaign aimed at recovering artwork stolen in 1990 from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
“With this announcement, we want to widen the ‘aperture of awareness’ of this crime to the reach the American public and others around the world,” DesLauriers said in an FBI video that highlighted the $5 million reward the museum was offering.
DesLauriers’s background is predominantly in counterintelligence and espionage. He headed those units in Boston and New York and nationally. In 2010, he handled a spy exchange with Russia, where the U.S. turned over 10 Russians, among them Anna Chapman, a red-headed real-estate entrepreneur in New York who later made the cover of the Russian edition of Maxim magazine holding a nickel-plated pistol. In return, four American agents held in Russia were freed.
That same year he was tapped to run the Boston office, which oversees Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. He told the Boston Globe that the capture of Bulger and the recovery of stolen art would be his priorities. Bulger is scheduled to go on trial June 6 on charges including 19 counts of murder.
DesLauriers, who graduated with top honors from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has a law degree from Catholic University of America in Washington, has been coordinating the massive Boston bombing manhunt involving more than 30 federal, state and local agencies.
“He’s a team player -- he listens,” said Shawn Henry, a former FBI executive assistant director who worked with DesLauriers. Henri is now president of CrowdStrike Services, an Irvine, California-based security consultancy.
Riding herd on such a sprawling probe can be tricky. Inaccurate news reports of an arrest on April 17 stemmed in part from information leaked to reporters from sources that included Boston law enforcement, according to CNN’s John King. The FBI later criticized the media’s use of unauthorized sources that it said could harm the investigation.
In front of the cameras DesLauriers looks the part of a classic G-man. Square-jawed with close-cropped hair, he speaks in carefully wrought sentences.
“If it’s a significant crime, we’re going to investigate it, we’re going to be persistent and diligent in our efforts. Careful, persistent diligence is what usually yields good results,” the agent said in the art theft video.
The difference between DesLauriers’s style and that of other key officials in the probe crystalized early, during a press conference on April 16. When a reporter asked the agent whether a suspect was in custody, DesLauriers said he couldn’t comment. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis answered the same question bluntly. “No one is in custody,” Davis said.
DesLauriers has been in charge of the FBI’s Boston operations since mid-2010, giving him time to develop relationships with other law enforcement agencies, said Joseph Persichini Jr., who retired as head of the bureau’s Washington field office in 2009.
“In today’s FBI, that’s a long time,” said Persichini, now executive director of the Washington D.C. Police Foundation. “You’re not meeting somebody for the first time in a time of great stress. You know what the capacities are.”
Persichini said he was taken by DesLauriers expertise and knack with people. “I tried to get him to work for me,” he said. “I just was impressed.”
DesLauriers grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, the son of a dentist. At Assumption, he majored in politics. He’s returning to the college in May to deliver this year’s commencement address to graduates and receive an honorary degree.
Over the past year, DesLauriers cases included an FBI sting operation that led to the arrest, conviction and 17-year sentence last year of Rezwan Ferdaus for plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon using remote-controlled aircraft. He worked Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz on that case.
Ortiz has been at DesLauriers’s side during press briefings. The two will team up again should authorities make an arrest in the Boston bombings.