by John Tierney
In yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe, Bryan Bender reported on the Kennedy family's tight-fisted and iron-willed efforts to keep the official papers of Robert F. Kennedy secret. Those papers, spanning Kennedy's public career, are housed under close guard at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The papers of greatest interest to historians and researchers are those from Kennedy's years of service as Attorney General in the Administration of his brother, John F. Kennedy. In particular, historians say the records presumably contain valuable archival resources -- perhaps diaries, notes, messages and memos, phone logs and recordings, and other documents -- that would reveal details, and answer questions, about Robert Kennedy's role in the early 1960s as the coordinator of Operation Mongoose, a covert effort to assassinate Cuba's Fidel Castro or to destabilize his regime.
But so far, nobody has been able to see this trove of documentary resources about the foreign-policy intrigues and governmental activities of a half-century ago. Why not? Because Robert Kennedy's family controls access to them. The person in control is Max Kennedy, Robert and Ethel Kennedy's ninth son, and he won't let anyone see them. His explanation, in a written response to questions from Bender of the Globe, is classic stonewalling -- some blather about scholars with "poorly conceived projects" who fail to follow "correct procedures" to seek permission to consult the papers. (What? They didn't genuflect as they approached Max's office?) Nice legal-speak from Mr. Kennedy. It's also hogwash. This is the sort of nonsense that now flows from a family that once was considered, at least in some circles, synonymous with the highest aspirational values of American politics and government -- principles such as a respect for transparency, openness, and the free flow of information.