Robert F. Kennedy Papers: A dark corner of Camelot

Source: Boston Globe, 1-23-11

50 years after President Kennedy asked his brother Robert to oust Castro, RFK’s files at the JFK Library remain in family control, largely out of view

Documents on Robert F. Kennedy’s service as attorney general could help fill gaps in the history of US covert operations against Cuba, relations with Fidel Castro, and the Cuban missile crisis, but many are secret. Documents on Robert F. Kennedy’s service as attorney general could help fill gaps in the history of US covert operations against Cuba, relations with Fidel Castro, and the Cuban missile crisis, but many are secret. (Bettman/ Corbis)

Stacked in a vault at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester, individually sealed and labeled, are 54 crates of records so closely guarded that even the library director is prohibited from taking a peek.

And yet, archivists contend, the trove contains some of the most important records of Cold War history: diaries, notes, phone logs, messages, trip files, and other documents from Robert F. Kennedy’s service as US attorney general, including details about his roles in the Cuban missile crisis and as coordinator of covert efforts to overthrow or assassinate Fidel Castro.

A half-century after those critical events, a behind-the-scenes tussle continues over the Kennedy family’s refusal to grant permission for researchers to freely review them. The disagreement lingers even as the JFK Library this month celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy’s inauguration by providing “unprecedented’’ access to thousands of records of his presidency.

“The RFK papers are among the most valuable, untapped archival resources of foreign policy and domestic history left to be excavated,’’ said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, who has been rebuffed several times in his attempts to gain access to the papers.

“This history is immediately relevant to the ongoing debate over US policy toward Cuba,’’ he added. “I look forward to the day — hopefully sooner than later — that access to the RFK papers contributes to advancing that debate.’’

Access to the papers is tightly controlled by Robert Kennedy’s ninth child, Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, a lawyer whom library officials said has been designated by his mother, Ethel, to take on the responsibility.

In a written response to Globe questions, Max Kennedy denied that access to the papers is closed, saying he has “selectively granted full access’’ to prominent biographers, including Evan Thomas and Robert Dallek….READ MORE

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