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FBI’s Kennedy Files Are Window Into A Life — And A Bureau

BOSTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has released files on the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who died in August.

The previously secret documents became available after a number of Freedom of Information Act requests by media organizations.

And they are a peek into an extraordinary life.

They contain hundreds and hundreds of pages of death threats. There are also investigations into assassination plots, Kennedy family correspondence with the FBI and press clippings the agency used to keep track of Kennedy.

There is also a strange report of a rumor that the mafia wanted to attack the character of Edward and Robert Kennedy by using associates of Frank Sinatra to compromise the Kennedy brothers at a New York party.

There’s an extensive section on Kennedy’s 1969 car crash at Chappaquiddick, made up mostly of press clippings. The records detail the car accident that claimed the life of Kennedy’s passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, and include a cable showing local police tried to keep her death under wraps at least for a while.

All this, even though Kennedy was not considered a criminal suspect or seen as a security threat.

Athan Theoharis, a historian who’s studied the FBI for more than 40 years, says the files reveal as much about the FBI as they do about the late senator.

“Someone who was prominent was not immune to being monitored and to have information collected on that individual,” Theoharis said. “And you’re finding as well is that they’re doing is collecting misinformation, allegations, they’re clipping the press.”


The files begin in 1961, before Kennedy’s election to the U.S. Senate. The FBI has made available documents up to the early 1990s.

Theoharis says the late senator’s files help us understand the very complex relationship between the Kennedys and former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover.

“Hoover had in his office file, this massive file about John Kennedy and a massive file on Joseph Kennedy. And they also had this file on Robert Kennedy,” Theoharis said, recalling how each of those files has generated lots of publicity over the years. But it hasn’t been the same with Sen. Kennedy’s file.

“(It) sort of escaped our understanding of how closely they were monitoring him and what particular information they were collecting about him,” Theoharis said.

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