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FBI Files Show Bureau’s Interest in Ted Kennedy’s Pre-Senate Politics

FBI documents released today reveal the bureau had been gathering background information on the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) pre-Senate dealings with people on the left and the right as early as 1954.

Among the 2,352 pages the FBI released today, which mainly concentrate on death threats made against the youngest Kennedy brother and the Chappaquiddick accident that scarred his legacy, is a set of documents from between 1961 and 1968 that provide insight into Kennedy’s activities. One of these documents, a biographical memo written shortly after Kennedy’s 1962 Senate election, details previous information the FBI had collected on him.

Ted Kennedy’s “bufiles” — short for Bureau Files — appear to start on May 11, 1954, when family patriarch Joseph Kennedy Sr. called the FBI to complain about information in a story Washington columnist Drew Pearson planned to write that linked Ted Kennedy with communists.

He advised that he had received information that Drew Pearson was going to write a story about his son “Teddy” in that “Teddy” had not been permitted to go to school at Fort Holabird, Maryland, while in the U.S. Army because of an adverse FBI report which linked him to a group of “pinkos.” Mr. Kennedy stated he had sent word to Pearson that he would sue him for libel if he printed so much as one word of this in that he would not tolerate his son being victimized in any form. Mr. Kennedy stated that his son had enlisted in the Army at the age of 19 after attending Harvard for one year. Bufiles reflected that we had conducted no investigation concerning Edward Kennedy, and Mr. Kennedy was advised of this fact.

A search of American University’s digital collection of Pearson’s published work reveals no mention of this incident in any of his columns.

The memo also reveals that in October 1961, Ted Kennedy had retained an adviser to help court the Portuguese vote in his upcoming Senate race. The adviser was described “as being a rightist and extremist on behalf of the Portuguese Government.” The adviser registered as a foreign agent later that year at the request of brother and then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Information in the memo and other files also highlights the FBI’s interest in a trip Ted Kennedy took to Mexico, Central America and South America in July 1961. Kennedy was “interested in meeting with ‘leftists’ to talk with them and determine why they think as they do.” Kennedy also planned to meet with the spokesman for a Mexican anti-communist group and a Mexican university rector who had known communist sympathies. The 1962 memo states that “while in Mexico City, Kennedy asked the ambassador to invite left-wingers to the Embassy where he could interview them; however, the Ambassador refused to do so and stated that if any such interviews were to be conducted, all arrangements would have to be made by Kennedy himself.”

“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,” the FBI said in a press release announcing the files’ release.

The FBI release has itself been the subject of controversy, as the Bureau agreed to let the Kennedy family review and raise objections about the documents prior to release, though their objections could not be based purely on concerns about embarrassment. The files had originally been slated for release May 28, according to MSNBC.com, but the FBI pushed back the release date based on claims that the files needed further review. Conservative group Judicial Watch sued last Thursday to have the full file released.

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