Serial 2215

[Editor’s note: This document was released both as a State Department cable as part of its 1981 FOIA release, and as Serial 2215 of the FBI’s RYMUR release.

[The text for this document was released in 2014 by the now-defunct Wikileaks website at This URL may be available through the Wayback Machine.]


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INFO OCT-01 ADS-00 OCS-06 CA-01 SS-15 H-02 JUSE-00 FBIE-00 L-03 CIAE-00 DODE-00 PM-05 INR-10 NSAE-00 NSC-05 PA-02 SP-02 ICA-15 /082 R
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P 071901Z JUN 79
E.O. 12065: N/A

1. Following is verbatim text of Jeremiah O’Leary story published in Washington Star June 6. Quote:

2. “U.S. Envoy to Guyana rebuts critical report on his role in deaths”. U.S. Ambassador to Guyana John R. Burke has protested to the State Department in the strongest terms the criticism by Department investigators of his performance in connection with the Jonestown massacre of more than 900 People’s Temple cultists.

3. The veteran envoy’s rebuttal of the report was made in a cable to the counselor of the State Department, Matthew Nimetz, and in a letter to retired Ambassador John Hugh Crimmins, a co-author of the report on the performance of the Embassy and the State Department in the tragedy.

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Such protests are not unprecedented in the Foreign Service, but it is rare for them to become publicly known while an Ambassador is still in active status.

4. In his protest, Burke said the critical failure was that of the Department for not giving serious consideration to his June 1978 proposal about Jonestown, rather than his decision not to pursue the issue.

5. In a May 12 cable to Nimetz, Burke said he had discovered “with frank amazement” that the report does not contain the full text of a cable he sent to the State Department on June 5, 1978 – about six months before Rep. Leo J. Ryan was killed near the remote colony by followers of the Rev. Jim Jones.

6. “What appears in the report”, Burke said, “is an extensively edited version of that cable which omits several sentences and edits other portions. Because the June cable exchange has such importance and because Crimmins and (retired diplomat Stanley) Carpenter laid such heavy stress on the precise language used, I find it incomprehensible that the verbatim text was not reproduced.”

7. Burke said he considered it important that the full text of the June 1978 message be made available to all who received the Crimmins-Carpenter report. It was in that cable that Burke asked for authority to approach the Government of Guyana to request that it exercise normal jurisdiction over the Jonestown community, which he said was operating in a virtually autonomous manner.

8. On May 25 Nimetz replied that Burke’s concerns were

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appreciated and that he believed the Ambassador was entitled to have his interpretations of the report’s conclusions made available. He said the press office was being provided with complete copies of the exchange of cables.

9. These cables were not made public in their entirety during the State Department and House of Representatives investigation of the massacre because they were classified as for “Limited Official Use” . Officials said. The full texts were declassified and provided to the Washington Star only when they were requested specifically yesterday.

10. Nimetz informed Burke that the Justice Department had requested that no documents relating to People’s Temple be released until criminal investigations were completed, but he said State received an exemption for the June telegrams.

11. The investigators had said the June exchange of telegrams was mishandled at both ends but “the decision of the Ambassador not to pursue the issue was ultimately critical.”

12. Burke wrote Crimmins that this conclusion “is not only inconsistent with the facts but is unfair to me personally and to my Embassy.”

13. “When I received the Department’s reply I could only assume it had been drafted by the office of the legal adviser and was based on the serious review I had requested. It clearly instructed us not to make our proposed demarche and up until Nov. 18 there were no specific grounds for any follow up within the terms of the Department’s reply,” he said.

14. But, Burke added, “the record shows that I did follow up on the June 6 cable six weeks before Nov. 18 (the day Ryan’s slaying precipitated the mass suicide and murder

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ritual ordered by Jones)” Burke said his second cable, in October, asked that the State Department review the June exchange in light of the planned visit to Jonestown and added, “your report indicated that no one even bothered to pull out the two references for such a review.”

15. The State Department’s reply to Burke’s June cable, drafted by a junior officer in the consular division, said the Department was of the view that any action by the Embassy to approach the Guyanese government could be construed by some as U.S. government interference unless an American citizen or family member requested assistance or there was evidence of lawlessness within Jonestown.

16. Burke said in his letter to Crimmins, “in fairness to me and this Embassy the last sentence of your conclusion should be deleted and replaced by the following: ‘The failure of the Department to give serious consideration to the Ambassador’s proposal in the June 6 cable and to authorize his demarche to the Government of Guyana was ultimately critical.'” End quote.

Vance [Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State]