Nearly 3,000 pages of material from the papers of Robert F. Kennedy are being released by the National Archives and the Kennedy Library.
They are newly declassified and include notes jotted down by Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney General, at national security meetings during the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis.
There is also a memo he sent to his brother, President Kennedy, after a meeting with the Soviet ambassador.
Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive in Washington, has been waiting a long time to see these papers.
And just his luck, he happened to be within driving distance of the Kennedy Library in Boston on Thursday, so he went right over to get a glimpse of the newly-released papers.
Anchor Marco Werman talks to Kornbluh to get more details.
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Marco Werman: Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis comes this announcement — nearly 3,000 pages of material from the papers of Robert F. Kennedy are being released by the National Archives and the Kennedy Library. They’re newly declassified and include notes jotted down by Robert Kennedy, then the attorney general, at national security meetings during the 13-day crisis. Peter Kornbluh has been waiting a long time to see these papers. He directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archives in Washington. And just as lucky, happened to be within driving distance of the Kennedy Library in Boston today, so he went right over to get a glimpse of the newly released papers. And Peter, you were the first person to see these documents. Anything especially interesting in them?
Peter Kornbluh: All of the papers are interesting. Robert Kennedy was the chief advisor, the chief confidant and the chief secret intermediary for John F. Kennedy during the missile crisis and played a key role in the peaceful resolution of the crisis. So to see his handwritten notes, his doodles, his lists of advisors who were supporting an air strike versus advisors who were supporting a blockade of Cuba…his notations on some of his private conversations with the president, away from other advisors, certainly a striking historical record and I’m so grateful that we now have it.
Werman: Now, Peter, there’s been pressure to release these documents for a very long time. What was the holdup?
Kornbluh: These documents have been in the possession of the Kennedy family. They’re owned by the Kennedy family and it just took a very long time to find the opportunity for them to be declassified. Some of the documents are the personal papers of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and also his senate papers and some of them are government papers. And seven boxes of those government papers that pertain by the way, not only to the missile crisis but to Robert Kennedy’s role in other operations regarding Cuba, the Bay of Pigs. There’s some extraordinary documents on that. There’s his role in securing the release of the exile brigade that the CIA sent into Cuba to the Bay of Pigs and all of them were captured. And then there’s quite a number of files of his role supervising even as attorney general, covert operations in Cuba. He moonlighted as a kind of director of covert operations against Cuba in 1962 and 1963, and many of those documents have been released as well.
Werman: Is there something you’re looking for and think you’ll find in these papers?
Kornbluh: I’m looking for more evidence of Robert Kennedy’s role in securing a peaceful resolution of the Cuban crisis. He was the president’s emissary to Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to Washington. Robert Kennedy was the one who made the secret offer under instructions of his brother the president to the Soviets that the United States would secretly swap our missiles in Turkey for the missiles in Cuba. That was the secret deal that was unknown for years after the crisis ended that actually brought peace and avoided nuclear Armageddon.
Werman: Now the anniversary of the missile crisis will be on Monday and tomorrow on our program we’re gonna here from our reporter just how close the world was to nuclear war over the Cuban Missile Crisis. Was that precipice obvious in these papers that you saw today?
Kornbluh: Among the documents that I saw today was Robert Kennedy’s handwritten kind of rendition of Black Saturday, the most stressful day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Oct 27, the day when many of Kennedy’s aids and many people around the world thought that the super powers were going to go to nuclear war. He is describing the stress and the tension in the room, the decision making of his brother. That document and other documents give you a sense of how dramatically close the world came to a doomsday scenario. And having these documents available now will allow us to learn the real lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis in hopes that we never pass that way again.
Werman: Peter Kornbluh directs the Cuba and the Chile Documentation Projects at the National Security Archive in Washington. Peter, thank you very much.
Kornbluh: Thank you.
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