Freedom of Information updates

Although the process of obtaining documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) can be time-consuming, frustrating and fraught with delays, the agencies of the federal government which are subject to the law nevertheless house thousands of official documents related to Peoples Temple. The records include those generated by the group itself; others show the extent of government interest in and surveillance of the Temple. Among the agencies contacted in recent months:

Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Twenty-five audiotapes of Peoples Temple shortwave radio traffic recorded by the FCC have been released to independent researcher Brian Csuk.

Social Security Administration (SSA): According to Darrell Blevins, the Freedom of Information Officer at SSA, the agency destroyed its list of beneficiaries who died in Jonestown “years ago.” In a letter of 11 June 1999 to Fielding McGehee, who had requested SSA records on beneficiaries in Jonestown, Blevins wrote that the agency would have records by SSA number, and possibly by name. But the list it created of those who died is long since gone.

Department of State: This agency has yet to respond substantially to an October 1998 request by McGehee, who asked for the preliminary lists which the agency developed in the course of compiling the official list of Jonestown dead, which was released on 17 December 1978.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): According to Linda Kloss in the FBI’s Freedom of Information office, the agency is considering putting all of its Jonestown documents — all 48,000 pages of releasable material — on CD-rom so that the public can have complete access. This would relieve the burden on the FBI of individually processing the FOIA requests filed. It would represent one of the FBI’s first uses of a CD-rom as a means of compliance with the FOIA.

In the meantime, the FBI is processing several other requests for documents which Rebecca Moore made under FOIA. The requests, filed in July 1999, ask for:

  • The Guyana Evidence Index, which was created by the FBI in 1979 to categorize and organize materials collected in Jonestown, Guyana;
  • Records related to the seven autopsies performed on people who died in Jonestown;
  • Documents which might be identified as “Dear Dad” letters or “Dear Jim [Jones]” letters;
  • Documents used by the FBI in the government’s criminal trials of Larry Layton; and
  • Records on seven people within the Temple leadership, including Richard Tropp, Harriet Tropp, Gene Chaikin, Jann Gurvich, Maria Katsaris, Jim McElvane and Mike Prokes. All except Prokes died in Jonestown; Prokes committed suicide at a press conference in March 1979.

The Church of Scientology received 39,000 documents from the FBI in March 1997, after making an initial request in 1993. According to Scientology the documents include 8,603 from the FBI’s investigative files and an additional 30,229 pages. It is not clear whether the FBI’s figure of 48,000 includes these items or not.