Did the CIA Kill Bobby Kennedy?

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At first, it seems an open-and-shut case. On June 5 1968, Robert Kennedy wins the California Democratic primary and is set to challenge Richard Nixon for the White House. After midnight, he finishes his victory speech at the Ambassador hotel in Los Angeles and is shaking hands with kitchen staff in a crowded pantry when 24-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan steps down from a tray-stacker with a "sick, villainous smile" on his face and starts firing at Kennedy with an eight-shot revolver.

As Kennedy lies dying on the pantry floor, Sirhan is arrested as the lone assassin. He carries the motive in his shirt-pocket (a clipping about Kennedy’s plans to sell bombers to Israel) and notebooks at his house seem to incriminate him. But the autopsy report suggests Sirhan could not have fired the shots that killed Kennedy. Witnesses place Sirhan’s gun several feet in front of Kennedy, but the fatal bullet is fired from one inch behind. And more bullet-holes are found in the pantry than Sirhan’s gun can hold, suggesting a second gunman is involved. Sirhan’s notebooks show a bizarre series of "automatic writing" – "RFK must die RFK must be killed – Robert F Kennedy must be assassinated before 5 June 68" – and even under hypnosis, he has never been able to remember shooting Kennedy. He recalls "being led into a dark place by a girl who wanted coffee", then being choked by an angry mob. Defence psychiatrists conclude he was in a trance at the time of the shooting and leading psychiatrists suggest he may have be a hypnotically programmed assassin.

Three years ago, I started writing a screenplay about the assassination of Robert Kennedy, caught up in a strange tale of second guns and "Manchurian candidates" (as the movie termed brainwashed assassins). As I researched the case, I uncovered new video and photographic evidence suggesting that three senior CIA operatives were behind the killing. I did not buy the official ending that Sirhan acted alone, and started dipping into the nether-world of "assassination research", crossing paths with David Sanchez Morales, a fearsome Yaqui Indian.

Morales was a legendary figure in CIA covert operations. According to close associate Tom Clines, if you saw Morales walking down the street in a Latin American capital, you knew a coup was about to happen. When the subject of the Kennedys came up in a late-night session with friends in 1973, Morales launched into a tirade that finished: "I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard." From this line grew my odyssey into the spook world of the 60s and the secrets behind the death of Bobby Kennedy.

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Working from a Cuban photograph of Morales from 1959, I viewed news coverage of the assassination to see if I could spot the man the Cubans called El Gordo – The Fat One. Fifteen minutes in, there he was, standing at the back of the ballroom, in the moments between the end of Kennedy’s speech and the shooting. Thirty minutes later, there he was again, casually floating around the darkened ballroom while an associate with a pencil moustache took notes.

The source of early research on Morales was Bradley Ayers, a retired US army captain who had been seconded to JM-Wave, the CIA’s Miami base in 1963, to work closely with chief of operations Morales on training Cuban exiles to run sabotage raids on Castro. I tracked Ayers down to a small town in Wisconsin and emailed him stills of Morales and another guy I found suspicious – a man who is pictured entering the ballroom from the direction of the pantry moments after the shooting, clutching a small container to his body, and being waved towards an exit by a Latin associate.

Ayers’ response was instant. He was 95% sure that the first figure was Morales and equally sure that the other man was Gordon Campbell, who worked alongside Morales at JM-Wave in 1963 and was Ayers’ case officer shortly before the JFK assassination.

I put my script aside and flew to the US to interview key witnesses for a documentary on the unfolding story. In person, Ayers positively identified Morales and Campbell and introduced me to David Rabern, a freelance operative who was part of the Bay of Pigs invasion force in 1961 and was at the Ambassador hotel that night. He did not know Morales and Campbell by name but saw them talking to each other out in the lobby before the shooting and assumed they were Kennedy’s security people. He also saw Campbell around police stations three or four times in the year before Robert Kennedy was shot.

This was odd. The CIA had no domestic jurisdiction and Morales was stationed in Laos in 1968. With no secret service protection for presidential candidates in those days, Kennedy was guarded by unarmed Olympic decathlete champion Rafer Johnson and football tackler Rosey Grier – no match for an expert assassination team.

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June 19, 2009