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Profile: Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy was a participant or observer in the following events:

Jack Caulfield’s White House ID card.Jack Caulfield’s White House ID card. [Source: Watergate.com]A staff aide to President Nixon, former New York City police detective Jack Caulfield, develops a broad plan for launching an intelligence operation against the Democrats for the 1972 re-election campaign, “Operation Sandwedge.” The original proposal, as Caulfield will later recall, is a 12-page document detailing what would be required to create an “accurate, intelligence-assessment capability” against not just the Democrats but “also to ensure that the then powerful anti-war movement did not destroy Nixon’s public campaign, as had been done to Hubert Humphrey in 1968” (see November 5, 1968). Sandwedge is created in anticipation of the Democrats mounting their own political espionage efforts, which Caulfield and other Nixon aides believe will use a private investigations firm, Intertel, headed by former Justice Department officials loyal to former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Caulfield will later recall, “Intertel represented, in my opinion, the potential for both formidable and sophisticated intelligence opposition tactics in that upcoming election campaign.” Sandwedge is turned down by senior White House aides in favor of the “Special Investigation Unit” (see March 20, 1971 and September 29, 1972) headed by G. Gordon Liddy. Caulfield resigns from the White House shortly thereafter. He will later call the decision not to implement “Sandwedge” a “monumental” error that “rapidly created the catastrophic path leading directly to the Watergate complex—and the president’s eventual resignation.” Caulfield has little faith in Liddy, considering him an amateurish blowhard with no real experience in intelligence or security matters; when White House counsel John Dean asks him for his assessment of Liddy’s ability to run such an operation, he snaps, “John, you g_ddamn well better have him closely supervised” and walks out of Dean’s office. Caulfield later writes, “I, therefore, unequivocally contend that had there been ‘Sandwedge’ there would have been no Liddy, no Hunt, no McCord, no Cubans (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) and, critically, since I had personally decided to negate, while still on the White House staff, a developing intelligence interest by Dean in the Watergate’s Democratic National Committee offices, seven months prior to the break-in! NO WATERGATE!” (John J. 'Jack' Caulfield 2006; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)

Historian Ernest May.Historian Ernest May. [Source: Belfer Center]An eminent historian finds serious flaws in a historical treatise about former President John F. Kennedy. The book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, was written in 1997 by conservative historians Ernest May and Philip D. Zelikow, and purports to be an unprecedentedly accurate representation of the events of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis based on transcriptions of recorded meetings, conferences, telephone conversations, and interviews with various participants. (Stern 5/2000) Zelikow is a former member of George H. W. Bush’s National Security Council and a close adviser to future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. (US Department of State 8/5/2005) May is a Harvard professor. Both will participate heavily in the creation of the 2004 report by the 9/11 Commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 387-393) Almost three years after the Kennedy book’s publication, Sheldon M. Stern, the historian for the John F. Kennedy Library from 1977 through 1999, pores over it and the May/Zelikow transcripts. In the original edition, May and Zelikow admitted that their final product was not perfect: “The reader has here the best text we can produce, but it is certainly not perfect. We hope that some, perhaps many, will go to the original tapes. If they find an error or make out something we could not, we will enter the corrections in subsequent editions or printings of this volume.” But when Stern checks the book against the tapes, he finds hundreds of errors in the book, some quite significant. Stern concludes that the errors “significantly undermine [the book’s] reliability for historians, teachers, and general readers.” May and Zelikow have corrected a few of the errors in subsequent editions, but have not publicly acknowledged any errors. Stern concludes, “Readers deserve to know that even now The Kennedy Tapes cannot be relied on as an accurate historical document.” (Stern 5/2000) One error has then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy talking about the planned “invasion” of Russian ships heading to Cuba, when the tapes actually show Kennedy discussing a far less confrontational “examination” of those vessels. May and Zelikow imply that the Kennedy administration was discussing just the kind of confrontation that it was actually trying to avoid. Another error has CIA Director John McCone referring to the need to call on former President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “facilitator,” where McCone actually said “soldier.” May and Zelikow will be rather dismissive of Stern’s findings, saying that “none of these amendments are very important.” Stern will express shock over their response, and respond, “When the words are wrong, as they are repeatedly, the historical record is wrong.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 42)


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