Kennedy was death threat magnet, FBI file shows

Jun 14 2010 - 7:50pm

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(The Associated Press) Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2008. Most of the secret FBI files on the late Sen. Edward Kennedy being released Monday concern death threats against the longtime senator.
(The Associated Press) Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2008. Most of the secret FBI files on the late Sen. Edward Kennedy being released Monday concern death threats against the longtime senator.

WASHINGTON -- For decades after gunmen shot down his brothers, Sen. Edward Kennedy lived under constant assassination threats of his own, sometimes chillingly specific, as he became a target for extremist rage, previously private FBI documents disclosed Monday.

Five years after President John F. Kennedy was killed and shortly after Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot, one letter warned that the third brother was next: "Ted Kennedy number three to be assassinated on Oct. 25, 1968. The Kennedy residence must be well protected on that date."

Nearly two decades later, in 1985, the threats continued, this time including the Republican president as well as the liberal Democratic senator: "Brass tacks, I'm gonna kill Kennedy and (President Ronald) Reagan, and I really mean it."

Releasing 2,352 pages from Kennedy's FBI file, many of them concerning threats over the years, the agency said on its website: "These threats originated from multiple sources, including individuals, anonymous persons and members of radical groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, 'Minutemen' organizations and the National Socialist White People's Party."

Some of the threats prompted investigations, some resulted in warnings to Kennedy or local law enforcement authorities. There is no indication any attempts were carried out.

In 1977, the FBI even looked into allegations that Sirhan Sirhan -- the man who assassinated Robert Kennedy -- had attempted to hire a fellow prisoner to kill Edward Kennedy. The prisoner, who was housed next to Sirhan for 18 months, told the FBI he was offered $1 million and a car but declined.

President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Robert Kennedy died on June 6, 1968, a day after he was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Their deaths cast a long shadow on the youngest brother's life, and prompted fears he, too, would be targeted by an assassin's bullet. Indeed, Kennedy wrote in his memoir "True Compass" that after his brothers were killed he was easily startled by loud sounds and would hit the deck whenever a car backfired.

He died last year at 77 after fighting brain cancer. Kennedy's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, declined comment on the document release through a spokesman.

Most of the documents released Monday are about death threats and extortion attempts against the Massachusetts Democrat.

The release had been highly anticipated by historians, scholars and others interested in the life and long public career of one of America's most prominent and powerful politicians. The Associated Press and other media organizations requested the documents through Freedom of Information Act requests.

There is relatively little on a major controversy, Kennedy's car accident on Chappaquiddick Island off the coast of Massachusetts that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, a young woman who had been a worker in Robert Kennedy's campaign.

The files do show that the FBI was told almost immediately of the accident and Kennedy's involvement, but authorities kept his identity quiet at the start.

The Boston FBI office relayed word to Washington headquarters at 2:45 p.m. EDT on July 19, 1969, after being notified by Police Chief Dominick Arena in Edgartown, Mass.

The advisory said that Kennedy -- the vehicle's driver -- was uninjured.

It also said, "Stated fact Senator Kennedy was driver is not being revealed to anyone."

Kopechne drowned after Kennedy drove the car in which she was riding off a bridge into a pond. He swam to safety, leaving Kopechne in the car. Kopechne, 28, was found dead in the submerged car's back seat 10 hours later. Kennedy, then 37, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and got a suspended sentence and probation.

In his memoir, Kennedy wrote that his actions on Chappaquiddick were inexcusable. He said he was afraid, "made terrible decisions" and had to live with the guilt the rest of his life.

Kopechne's death also caught the attention of the Nixon administration and one of the eventual Watergate conspirators.

One file shows FBI Deputy Director C.D. DeLoach reporting an Oct. 17, 1969, call from John Dean, then assistant to the deputy attorney general.

"He stated that both the deputy attorney general and attorney general are anxious to discreetly find out if Mary Jo Kopechne (deceased) had visited Greece in August 1968," DeLoach writes in his report. John Mitchell was attorney general at the time.

Dean supplied Kopechne's passport number. The subsequent report about the results of the check on any visit to Greece was blacked out.

Meanwhile, the FBI said Monday it has additional documents on threats to Kennedy, possibly thousands more pages, that it plans to make public once the agency finishes reviewing them.

Kennedy family members were given a chance to review and to raise objections to the documents before they were released Monday, the FBI said.

Dennis Argall, assistant section chief of the FBI's record information dissemination section, declined to specify how much time the family was given. He would only say the family was given an "appropriate" time to review the documents.

The family has no legal power to keep information withheld. But the FBI does consider privacy concerns on a case-by-case basis, he said.

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Johnson reported from Boston. Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Sam Hananel in Washington contributed to this report.

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