one of the most notorious gangsters in the history of American organized crime notable for being the only famous mobster rising to notoriety in the 1920s who managed to die an old man and never serve a day in jail. Lansky’s long life and ability to avoid prison time was largely the result of his close relationships to powerful businessmen like Sam Bronfman and Lew Rosenstiel (among many others), the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, as well as his role in establishing several blackmail and extortion rings that helped him keep the law at arm’s length. Indeed, when Lansky was finally charged with a crime in the 1970s, it was the IRS that brought the charges, not the FBI, and he was charged with and acquitted of tax evasion.
Lansky was remarkably close to both Bronfman and Rosenstiel. Bronfman regularly threw “lavish dinner parties” in Lansky’s honor both during and after Prohibition. These parties were remembered fondly by Lansky’s wife, and Lansky in turn did favors for Bronfman, ranging from exclusive protection of his shipments during Prohibition to getting him tickets to coveted “fight of the century” boxing matches.
Rosenstiel also threw regular dinner parties honoring Lansky. Susan Kaufman, Rosenstiel’s ex-wife, claimed to have taken numerous pictures of her ex-husband and Lansky socializing and partying together, photos that were also seen by Mary Nichols of The Philadelphia Inquirer. In addition, Lansky, per Kaufman’s recollection, was one of the individuals that Rosenstiel sought to protect from legal scrutiny as part of his child prostitution and blackmail ring targeting high-ranking officials, and he was overheard saying that if the government “ever brings pressure against Lansky or any of us, we’ll use this [a specific recording taken at one of the ‘parties’] as blackmail.”
Lansky was known to address Rosenstiel as “Supreme Commander,” a title that would later be used to refer to Rosenstiel by another individual deeply connected to the mob and sexual blackmail operations, previously referred to in this report as Rosenstiel’s “Field Commander.”
Lansky also had close ties to the CIA and U.S. military intelligence. During World War II, Lansky — along with his associate Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel — worked with Naval intelligence in what was codenamed “Operation Underworld,” an operation the existence of which the government denied for over 40 years.
Journalist and noted chronicler of CIA covert activities, Douglas Valentine, noted in his book The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World that the government’s cooperation with the Mafia during World War II led to its expansion after the war and set the stage for its future collaboration with U.S. intelligence.
According to Valentine:
Top government officials were also aware that the government’s Faustian pact with the Mafia during World War II had allowed the hoods to insinuate themselves into mainstream America. In return for services rendered during the war, Mafia bosses were protected from prosecution for dozens of unsolved murders. […]
The Mafia was a huge problem in 1951 [when the Kefauver Committee was convened], equivalent to terrorism today. But it was also a protected branch of the CIA, which was co-opting criminal organizations around the world and using them in its secret war against the Soviets and Red Chinese. The Mafia had collaborated with Uncle Sam and had emerged from World War II energized and empowered. They controlled cities across the country.”
Indeed, not long after its creation, the CIA forged ties with Lansky at the behest of CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton. The CIA would later turn to the Lansky-linked mob in the early 1960s as part of its consistently fruitless quest to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro, showing that the CIA maintained its contacts with Lansky-controlled elements of the Mafia long after the initial meeting with Lansky took place.
The CIA also had close connections to associates of Lansky, such as Edward Moss, who did public relations work for Lansky and was said to be of “interest” to the CIA by the agency’s then-inspector general J.S. Earman. Harry “Happy” Meltzer was also another Lansky associate that was a CIA asset and the CIA asked Meltzer to join an assassination team in December 1960.
In addition to the CIA, Lansky was also connected to a foreign intelligence agency through Tibor Rosenbaum, an arms procurer and high-ranking official in Israel’s Mossad, whose bank – the International Credit Bank of Geneva – laundered much of Lansky’s ill-gotten gains and recycled them into legitimate American businesses.
Journalist Ed Reid, author of the Virginia Hill biography The Mistress and the Mafia, wrote that Lansky was attempting to entrap powerful people through sexual blackmail as far back as 1939. Reid contends that Lansky sent Ms. Hill to Mexico, where his West Coast connections had established a drug ring that later involved the OSS, the forerunner to the CIA, to seduce numerous “top politicians, army officers, diplomats and police officials.”
Eventually, Lansky was credited with obtaining compromising photos of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sometime in the 1940s, which showed “Hoover in some kind of gay situation”, according to a former Lansky associate, who also said that Lansky had often claimed, “I fixed that sonofabitch.” The photos showed Hoover engaged in sexual activity with his long-time friend, FBI Deputy Director Clyde Tolson.
At some point, these photos fell into the hands of CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton, who later showed the photos to several other CIA officials, including John Weitz and Gordon Novel. Angleton was in charge of the CIA’s relationship with the FBI and Israel’s Mossad until he left the agency in 1972 and, as was recently mentioned, he was also in contact with Lansky.
Anthony Summers, former BBC journalist and author of Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, has argued that it was not Lansky, but William Donovan, the director of the OSS, who obtained the original photos of Hoover and later shared them with Lansky.
Summers also stated that “To [gangster Frank] Costello and Lansky, the ability to corrupt politicians, policemen and judges was fundamental to Mafia operations. The way they found to deal with Hoover, according to several mob sources, involved his homosexuality.” This anecdote shows that Lanksy and the CIA maintained a covert relationship, which included, among other things, the sharing of blackmail material (i.e., “intelligence”).
It is also possible that Hoover was ensnared by the mob during one of Rosenstiel’s “blackmail parties,” at which Hoover sometimes found himself in attendance with prominent figures of the Mafia. Hoover was said to have worn women’s clothing at the some of the events and Meyer Lansky’s wife later said that her husband had photos of the former FBI director in drag. Furthermore, Hoover is on record showing an unusual concern in the FBI’s handling of Rosenstiel’s criminal links as early as 1939, the same year that his close associate Lansky was actively orchestrating the sexual blackmail of powerful political figures.
The blackmail acquired on Hoover and the mob’s possession of the evidence has been cited as a major factor in Hoover’s decades-long denial that nationwide networks of organized crime were a serious issue. Hoover asserted that it was a decentralized, local issue and therefore outside of the bureau’s jurisdiction. By the time Hoover finally acknowledged the existence of national organized crime networks in 1963, they were so entrenched in the U.S. establishment that they were untouchable.
Congressional crime consultant Ralph Salerno told Summers in 1993 that Hoover’s willful ignorance of organized crime for most of his career as FBI director “allowed organized crime to grow very strong in economic and political terms, so that it became a much bigger threat to the wellbeing of this country than it would have been if it had been addressed much sooner.”