Ted Kennedy, Party Man

No doubt Judicial Watch’s release of old FBI files on Ted Kennedy will get a lot of attention on his partying ways, but that might miss the larger point.   It took JW three tries to get the FBI to release its unredacted files on Kennedy from a 1961 trip to Chile, Colombia, and other Latin America nations, which the FBI fought on grounds of national security.  When the redactions were finally removed, however, it seems clear that the FBI acted to protect Kennedy’s reputation rather than American security:

  • “While Kennedy was in Santiago he made arrangements to ‘rent’ a brothel for an entire night. Kennedy allegedly invited one of the Embassy chauffeurs to participate in the night’s activities.”
  • “[I]n each country Kennedy insisted on interviewing ‘the angry young men’ of the country. He wanted to meet with communists and others who had left-wing views. …Ambassador Freeman, Bogota, said the first person whom Kennedy wanted to meet was Lauchlin Currie.” (The document subsequently identifies Currie as a person who “had been mentioned in Washington investigations of Soviet spy rings.”)
  • “[I]n Mexico Kennedy asked Ambassador Mann that certain left-wingers be invited to the Embassy residence where interviews could be held. Mann took the strong position that he would not invite such people and stated that if any such interviews were to be conducted, all arrangements should be made by Kennedy himself.”

The more newsworthy mention might be that of the brothel rental, given Kennedy’s reputation.  On another level, though, one has to wonder what Kennedy was doing on the trip in the first place.  At the time, he had worked as an assistant DA in Suffolk County for a grand total of nine months, having started in February 1961.  What part of an assistant DA’s job requires a tour of Latin America, let alone brothels and interviews with “angry young men” of the Left?

The demand to meet with Lauchlin Currie is by far the most intriguing part of the document, and likely what the FBI preferred to keep quiet.  Currie had already been suspected for years of being a spy for the Soviet Union.  The US revoked the passport of the Canadian-born economist and former adviser to FDR in 1954 due to suspicions over his activities.  The VENONA intercepts mention Currie nine times, information which would have been available to Kennedy’s brothers John and Bobby at the time.

This incident recalls the contact between Kennedy in the 1980s with Yuri Andropov in seeking to undermine the Reagan administration in order to boost his chances for a 1984 presidential run:

Picking his way through the Soviet archives that Boris Yeltsin had just thrown open, in 1991 Tim Sebastian, a reporter for the London Times, came across an arresting memorandum. Composed in 1983 by Victor Chebrikov, the top man at the KGB, the memorandum was addressed to Yuri Andropov, the top man in the entire USSR. The subject: Sen. Edward Kennedy.

“On 9-10 May of this year,” the May 14 memorandum explained, “Sen. Edward Kennedy’s close friend and trusted confidant [John] Tunney was in Moscow.” (Tunney was Kennedy’s law school roommate and a former Democratic senator from California.) “The senator charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts, to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Y. Andropov.”

Kennedy’s message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. “The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations,” the memorandum stated. “These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign.”

If nothing else, this new file shows that Kennedy was at best a man with tremendously flawed judgment, and at worst, a malicious political opportunist willing to sell out anything for his own personal ambitions.  The brothel incident, by comparison, merely adds a little color to the legend, albeit shamelessly exploitative color.

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