Do you remember the indignation at Pakistan’s government after the killing of Osama bin Laden? The common reaction was: either the Pakistanis knew where he was, in which case they were duplicitous, or they didn’t know where he was, in which case they were incompetent.
Well, Whitey Bulger was renting an apartment in Santa Monica for years. Do I think the FBI knew where he was? No. Do I think the FBI was incompetent because they didn’t know where he was? No–we’re a country of 300 million people, and by hiding in plain sight in a major city, Bulger made it more difficult to pick him out of the haystack.
But I do think this should cause us to reevaluate our reaction to the Pakistanis. I don’t know enough about Abbottabad to know whether bin Laden should have stuck out more there than Bulger did in Los Angeles. But I read that Bulger was living within a few miles of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, just as bin Laden was living near a Pakistani military college. No doubt the intelligence people know more than we do about what the Pakistanis should or should not have known, but as a layman in these matters, the Bulger story gives me reason to start to question the conventional wisdom.