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Correction to This Article
A caption with the article about FBI records on death threats received by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) incorrectly described the 1968 teletype pictured. The teletype, seeking protection for Kennedy, was not sent by J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the FBI; it was sent to Hoover by an unidentified official.

FBI files show Edward Kennedy's life was constantly threatened

FILE - In this May 8, 2008, file photo, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Most of the secret FBI files on the late Sen. Edward Kennedy being released Monday concern death threats against the longtime senator. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this May 8, 2008, file photo, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Most of the secret FBI files on the late Sen. Edward Kennedy being released Monday concern death threats against the longtime senator. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (Susan Walsh - AP)

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By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy lived with constant threats on his life after the assassinations of his brothers and was monitored by the FBI for his possible ties to communist radicals in Latin America, according to a trove of FBI files on the late senator released Monday.

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The more than 2,200 pages, disclosed in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by news organizations, cover the FBI's relationship with the Massachusetts Democrat from 1961 to 1985. Kennedy died of cancer in August.

The bulk of the material covers FBI investigations of threats of violence and extortion against Kennedy and other public figures, including Kennedy's political rival President Ronald Reagan. One anonymous letter sent in October 1968 threatened "assassination for Kennedy number three within twenty four hours . . . all Kennedy residents are in danger on that day."

Sirhan Sirhan, who fatally shot Kennedy's brother, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, in 1968, even offered $1 million to a fellow inmate in California to kill Edward Kennedy, according to the files, which say the prisoner declined.

Ted Kennedy was acutely aware of such threats but rarely spoke of them publicly. Then-Sen. Walter Mondale recounted that Kennedy's own fears bubbled powerfully to the surface on an infamous plane trip in April 1969, less than a year after Robert Kennedy's death. Operating on little sleep and not much food, the senator suddenly burst out loud enough for the whole plane to hear: "They killed Jack and they killed Bobby, and now they're trying to kill me. . . . They're trying to kill me!"

Kennedy waited 12 years after Robert was assassinated before running for president, largely because of his family's concerns about such threats, according to a longtime aide, Robert Shrum. "You took precautions," said Shrum, Kennedy's speechwriter during his 1980 presidential campaign. "We had a doctor with us everywhere we went. We had ambulances in most places. The memory was there. But you just lived with it."

Concerned about the threats, Shrum and other Kennedy aides asked President Jimmy Carter, Kennedy's rival for the Democratic nomination, for Secret Service protection two months before Kennedy officially announced his candidacy. Carter granted the request.

Longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover is a regular presence in the documents, which touch on some of the controversies involving Kennedy and his family -- and Hoover's own troubled legacy of spying on Americans. The FBI closely monitored Kennedy's fact-finding trip to Mexico, Central America and South America in 1961, and one document shows that Hoover received a file from an FBI employee in Mexico City that said the senator "is interested in meeting with 'leftists' to talk with them and determine why they think as they do.''

The document added that "the Kennedy party" was meeting with a university official in Mexico "on whom this office and bureau has information indicating communist sympathies.''

In a statement accompanying the document release, the FBI said that "given the Bureau's long interest in the influence of Central American revolutionaries and communists on American radicals, the Bureau took an interest in Kennedy's travels." During the trip, the documents show, the FBI recovered a notebook kept by Kennedy documenting his travels that was accidentally left on his airplane.

The files include 77 pages on the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne when Kennedy drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island off Martha's Vineyard in 1969. The pages are nearly all newspaper articles, but one internal FBI document informed Hoover of the accident and says the police chief in Edgartown, Mass., "confidentially" advised that Kennedy was the driver.

"Stated fact Senator Kennedy was driver is not being revealed to anyone,'' the document said.


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