FBI, CIA Conduct National Security Reviews, Release Redacted Documents

Jim Jones praised the Soviet Union from the pulpit. Peoples Temple had contacts with the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). The Temple also had contacts with the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in Georgetown, Guyana, neither of which completely trusted Jones. “Choke-and-rob” crime was a problem in Georgetown.

Following the deaths in Guyana, the Secret Service protected President Carter and his son Chip at the funeral for Rep. Leo Ryan. FBI headquarters in Washington periodically sent reports of its investigation into Ryan’s death to its field office in San Francisco.

The FBI withheld these startling revelations from the public under the national security exemption to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for 31 years, until a recent review of all classified material in government files which are more than 25 years old resulted in their release.

The documents were among 47 from the FBI’s investigation into Ryan’s death – code-named RYMUR, for RYan MURder – which it had originally classified under Exemption 1. They were released to this website as part of its response to the FOIA lawsuit brought by Fielding M. McGehee III and Rebecca Moore, the co-managers of the site.

Despite the review, many documents have still been withheld under the national security exemption, and most which have been released have been heavily redacted through the FOIA privacy exemptions.

The new release did include two facts of note. First, Serial 1523 of the RYMUR investigation specifies that the FBI should coordinate with the CIA in its investigation.

Secondly, numerous documents reveal the origin of a conspiracy theory arising from the rising body count during the first week following the deaths: that soldiers from the GDF were rounding up Jonestown members who had fled into the jungle, executed them, and smuggled the bodies back in under cover of darkness. These documents report that an unidentified disaffected member of Guyana government who had left the country in August 1978 – three full months before the deaths – and was living in New York City contacted the FBI with these stories of post-November 18 murders. The allegation has been widely circulated in the years since the deaths, providing the foundation for numerous scenarios even darker and more sinister than the tragedy that actually occurred.

In a related development: As part of its own 25-year security review, the CIA has reviewed an unknown number of its documents related to Jonestown and released portions of several. Most of those released to this website in the last year were ones which found their way to FBI files 32 years ago and which have been negotiated for release as a result of McGehee et al v. Justice.

But the releases have been minimal, with heavy redactions. One document – released in March 2010 – is six pages. Page 1 shows where the memo is going and says it’s secret. Page 2 reveals the astonishing news that Ryan was killed at the airstrip. Pages 3 through 6 are blank.

A second document, released three months later, is five pages. Dated January 1979, page 1 – as before – shows where the memo is going and says it’s secret. Page 2 says it’s about the Jonestown tragedy, and that “[t]his is an information report, not finally evaluated intelligence.” A partially-released paragraph on page 4 quotes a Guyana newspaper as saying that the Soviet Embassy turned over some cash to the Guyana Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and that the money “was reported to have been given to the Soviet Embassy by surviving members of the People’s Temple.”

The balance of both documents remains classified.