May 18, 1979 • 1814 • Georgetown-State • 2214

[Editor’s note: This text was released at https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1979GEORGE02214_e.html. The State Department FOIA release of 1981 withheld two paragraphs from this cable under the inter-agency exemption. They are denoted below in red type.]

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GEORGE 02214 200950Z
ACTION DRC-01
INFO OCT-01 ARA-11 ADS-00 L-03 CA-01 /017 W
——————107629 201802Z /12

R 181814Z MAY 79
FM AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 9683
INFO AMEMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO
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FOR L AND CA

E.O. 12065: NA
TAGS: AINF, CASC (PEOPLES TEMPLE)
SUBJ: PRIVACY ACT: RECOMMENDATION REGARDING THE HANDLING OF REPORTING ON AMERICAN CITIZENS.

1. PEOPLES TEMPLE, JONESTOWN, AND THE ASSASSINATION OF CONGRESSMAN RYAN, HAVE ALL UNDERLINED — IF UNDERLINGING WERE NEEDED — THE ESSENTIAL DILEMA FACING NOT ONLY EMBASSY GEORGETOWN SPECIFICALLY, BUT ALL U.S. DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR MISSIONS ABROAD IN TERMS OF WHAT CAN AND CANNOT BE REPORTED REGARDING PRIVATE AMERICAN SITIZENS AND THEIR ACTIVITIES SO AS TO SAFGUARD THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS, AS WELL AS THE PROTECTIONS AFFORDED THEM BY THE PRIVACY ACT. IT SEEMS QUITE OBVIOUS THAT IN THE PERIOD SINCE THE ENACTMENT OF THE PRIVACY ACT IN 1974, AND THE ISSUANCE OF GUIDELINES BY THE DEPARTMENT, AS WELL AS OTHER AGENCIES OF THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH, THAT THERE HAS BEEN AN INHIBITION ON REPORTING WHICH MISSIONS MIGHT HAVE DONE ON THE ACTIVITIES OF PRIVATE AMERICANS ABROAD. THIS INHIBITION IS QUITE UNDERSTANDABLE IN VIEW OF THE PERSONAL LIABILITY FEATURE WHICH THE PRIVACY ACT IMPOSES ON INDIVIDUAL OFFICERS SHOULD THEY ENGAGE IN REPORTING ON AMERICAN CITIZENS WHICH IS LATER DEEMED IMPROPER UNDER THE TERMS OF THE

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PRIVACY ACT. IN FACT, EACH OFFICER IS NOW ALMOST OBLIGED TO BE HIS OWN LAWYER IN DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT A PARTICULAR REPORT CONTRAVENES THE SECTIONS OF THE PRIVACY ACT, BECAUSE OF COURSE, MOST MISSIONS ABROAD ARE WITHOUT THE SERVICES OF RESIDENT LEGAL ADVISORS QUALIFIED TO PROVIDE EXPERT ADVICE IN THIS AREA.

2. IN AN EFFORT TO FACE UP TO THIS PROBLEM AND AT THE SAME TIME PRESERVE THE PRIVACY OF AMERICAN CITIZENS AND PROTECT THEIR CONTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES, WOULD THE FOLLOWING PROPOSAL (1) HAVE MERIT, AND (2) BE POSSIBLE UNDER EXISTING LEGISLATION?

A SPECIAL PRIVACY ACT REVIEW (PAR) OFFICE MIGHT BE CREATED IN THE DEPARTMENT WITHIN THE OFFICE OF THE LEGAL ADVISOR(OR AT LEAST UNDER HIS DIRECTION) WHICH WOULD SERVE AS A “MAILBOX” TO WHICH MISSIONS ABROAD COULD ADDRESS AIRGRAMS DEALING WITH THE ACTIVITIES OF PRIVATE AMERICAN CITIZENS WHICH ARE QUESTIONABLE “CALLS” IN TERMS OF THE PRIVACY ACT. TO PROTECT THE INDIVIDUAL OR INDIVIDUALS, ONLY A SINGLE COPY OF SUCH REPORTS WOULD BE PREPARED AT POST AND SUBMITTED TO THE DEPARTMENT VIA CLASSIFIED POUCH ADDRESSED TO THE PAR OFFICE FOR REVIEW. NO COPY WOULD BE RETAINED AT POST, ONLY THE AIRGRAM REFERENCE NUMBER. IF, UPON LEGAL REVIEW, IT IS DETERMINED THAT THE REPORT IS IMPROPER UNDER THE TERMS OF THE PRIVACY ACT, IT WOULD IMMEDIATELY BE DESTROYED AND THE POST SO INFORMED. HOWEVER, IF, AFTER REVIEW, A PARTICULAR REPORT IS FOUND TO BE PROPER, THE AIRGRAM WOULD THEN BE PROCESSED AND DISSEMINATED IN THE REGULAR MANNER WITH ACTION ASSIGNED BY THE PAR OFFICE TO AN APPROPRIATE OFFICE AND INFORMATION COPIES DISTRIBUTED ACCORDINGLY.

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THE POST WOULD ALSO BE SENT A “HARD” COPY OF ITS REPORT WHICH WOULD INDICATE THAT THE REPORT WAS CONSIDERED LEGALLY ADMISSIBLE AND THAT FOLLOW-UP ACTIONCOULD THUS BE TAKEN.

3. THE VERY TIGHT, CONTROLLED PROCEDURE, ENVISAGED IN THIS PROPOSAL WOULD SEEM TO GO A LONG WAY TOWARD PROVIDING LEGAL PROTECTION TO THE DRAFTING OFFICER, THE ORIGINATING POST, AND THE DEPARTMENT, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME PROVIDING AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A FORM OF DEPARTMENTAL REVIEW OF SITUATIONS IN WHICH MISSIONS ABROAD ARE NOW INHIBITED FROM REPORTING BY THE VERY INFLEXIBLE RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED BY THE PRIVACY ACT.

4. THERE MAY BE LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAKE THIS PROPOSAL IMPRACTICAL: NEVERTHELESS IT IS SUBMITTED FOR CONSIDERATION BECAUSE IT SEEMS ESSENTIAL THAT A WAY BE FOUND TO FREE INDIVIDUAL OFFICERS AND MISSIONS FROM THE INHIBITIONS WHICH NOW RESTRICT REPORTING IN CERTAIN SPECIFIED AREAS REGARDING THE ACTIVITIES OF AMERICAN CITIZENS ABROAD.

5. THIS PROPOSAL MIGHT BE USEFULLY DISCUSSED AT THE FORTHCOMING ARA CONSULAR CONFERENCE. ACCORDINGLY, IT IS BEING REPEATED TO EMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO FOR INFORMATION.

BURKE

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Originally posted on October 23rd, 2020.

Last modified on November 15th, 2020.
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