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Web-Exclusive Book Review

Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

by David Talbot

Talbot maintains that RFK always had doubts about the lone-gunman explanation. In fact, after JFK's death, Bobby "immediately suspected the CIA and its henchmen in the Mafia and Cuban exile world." He was obsessed with finding out who killed his brother and why but concluded he would never be able to pursue a full inquiry unless he had the presidential power to break through the curtain of secrecy at the CIA and elsewhere. And he became deeply disenchanted with the seemingly open-ended war in Vietnam and mounting casualty tolls, to no apparent benefit to the security interests of the United States.

When he entered the race against LBJ, those who felt threatened by a probable reopening of the JFK assassination investigation and those implacably opposed to détente may have again coalesced and decided that Bobby posed an unacceptable threat to their interests.

This skeletal outline does not do justice to Talbot's detailed and plausible narrative. Among other things, he shines a light on David Morales, a CIA field operative who was deeply involved with the Miami Cubans and who was on site at both the Dallas assassination and the murder of RFK at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Talbot describes Morales as a "CIA assassin" and states that shortly before his death by heart attack in 1978 he revealed to his lawyer that he was involved in both Kennedy assassinations. Wayne Smith, a "25-year veteran of the foreign service who worked with Morales at the U.S. Embassy in Havana," told Talbot, "Dave Morales did dirty work for the agency. If he were in the mob, he'd be called a hit man."

Talbot describes a BBC television program, Newsnight, that aired in November 2006 with footage showing three alleged CIA operatives, "veterans of the CIA's Miami-based anti-Castro operation," at the Ambassador Hotel on the night of the assassination. Morales was one of them, although Talbot is uncertain it was actually Morales. This reviewer checked with Mr. Smith, who has seen the footage. He confirmed it was indeed Morales. (Full disclosure: Mr. Smith and I were foreign service colleagues in the Havana Embassy in 1959–60, and I knew Dave Morales briefly. In 1961, he bet me $10 that "we'll have Castro out of here within a year. It'll be just like Guatemala," in which he had been a participant. Morales never paid the bet.)

Both Smith and Talbot point out that the bullet that killed RFK was fired from directly behind his head from a distance of three inches or less. But Sirhan Sirhan attacked Kennedy from the front, making it a certainty there was a second gunman.

These and hundreds of other details, including a mysterious meeting between RFK and arch-foe Jimmy Hoffa on the tarmac at Dulles Airport, and the revelations of a dying E. Howard Hunt, make fascinating reading. Talbot insists there is significant, accessible information still locked up that would shed further light on the enduring mysteries, including CIA and Department of Justice files, Cuban and Mexican government information on such operatives as Morales, further forensic investigation, and more contributions from principals still living.

Talbot makes a strong case for reopening the investigation, and in so doing has produced a page-turning read. But, of course, key questions remain. One could also wish for more amplification on some of the assertions and numerous footnotes. And if a conspiracy this huge, necessarily involving hundreds of people, was in fact perpetrated, why has the cover-up been so effective all these years? Still, the problem of governmental entities abusing their power is still with us, so it's reasonable to look for answers when important new information and insights surface—whether or not we find a definitive smoking gun.

Bill Lenderking is a retired foreign service officer and freelance journalist. Read his review of The Great Risk Shift.

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