FBI files show decades of threats against Kennedy

Phone calls, letters spiked during ’80 bid

By Bryan Bender and Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / August 2, 2011

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WASHINGTON - The FBI investigated more threats against the life of the late Edward M. Kennedy than previously revealed, according to records released yesterday that vividly chronicle how the longtime Massachusetts senator became a magnet for the anger of disgruntled people around the world.

None of the half-dozen or so newly revealed threats, from the overheard mutterings of a purported mobster to a mysterious call detailing a supposed plot by Cuban communists, were substantiated. But they show how protecting Kennedy became a full-time job for FBI and Secret Service agents.

The batch of records released yesterday - covering from the mid-1960s through 2001 - was the second since the Federal Bureau of Investigation last year declassified portions of its voluminous file on Kennedy.

The documents show that Kennedy, who represented Massachusetts in the US Senate from 1962 until his death from brain cancer in 2009, lived under constant threat following the murders of two of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

The threats surfaced in a variety of ways. Some were contained in letters to Kennedy’s office; others were relayed to law enforcement agencies by anonymous callers or concerned citizens. They spiked during his failed bid for the presidency in 1980, but continued for the rest of his life.

The FBI spent thousands of hours trying to track down their veracity. In one case, agents sought to trace a threatening letter by analyzing dozens of models of copy machines.

Two of the more unusual cases came in the late 1960s. In the summer of 1968, just weeks after Robert Kennedy’s death, a man called the FBI’s Miami office to report that he, his roommate, a cashier, and a waitress at the New England Oyster House in Coral Gables overheard a patron identify himself as Sonny Capone, the son of the notorious gangster Al Capone, while making a threatening phone call.

“If Edward Kennedy keeps fooling around, he’s going to get it too,’’ the caller, who was apparently drunk, reportedly said. The FBI confirmed Sonny Capone was living in the area, but there is no record in the documents of a follow-up investigation.

In October 1969, the FBI in New York reported that the secretary of William F. Buckley Jr., a leading conservative author and commentator, received an alarming phone call from a woman with a Spanish accent who demanded to speak with him.

The woman said she was from South America, had “newspaper connections’’ there, and had learned that a plot to kill Kennedy was being hatched in Havana. The woman said the plot was being developed by communists to appear as though the conservative right had done it. The FBI waited in vain for her to call back with more details.

Such threats dogged the senator even in his home state. In late 1965, a police captain in Lynn advised the FBI that an anonymous male caller stated that “Kennedy will not reach City Hall tonight’’ and then hung up.

The Boston field office dispatched an urgent teletype to FBI headquarters, Kennedy’s office and the Secret Service were notified, and the number of plainclothes police was increased.

The newly released files, sought by the Globe and other news organizations under the Freedom of Information Act, also demonstrate how Kennedy was drawn into many controversies, and was often vilified by groups across the political spectrum.

In the 1960s, Kennedy’s appearances were protested by the right-wing John Birch Society. In the 1970s, Native American activists threatened to picket his visit to a college in Montana.

In the 1980s, he received a letter from someone claiming to be a secret agent for the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence service. The person told Kennedy that “I now commit sabotage whenever practical and possible,’’ and added, “you will never find me.’’ It was signed, “Sincerely, X.’’

Kennedy also became a target following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The FBI documents revealed more details on a previously reported anthrax hoax involving Kennedy’s Boston office in October 2001. Staff members opened a letter with a note stating “Freedom dies with you,’’ along with white powder.

The Massachusetts state laboratory said the powder was harmless, and FBI agents concluded the envelope’s return address was bogus.

Other documents reveal the extent to which the scion of the legendary political dynasty was a target for conspiracy theorists.

In a 1977 lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that Kennedy had conspired for more than three decades with several American presidents, Pope Paul VI, and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev “to cause an electronic-cosmic controlled bio-feedback implant apparatus’’ - a form of mind control.

A federal judge dismissed the case as “patently frivolous.’’

The FBI said that more records are being reviewed and will eventually be released.

Bryan Bender can be reached at Michael Levenson reported from Boston.