FBI Insists on FOIA Privacy Claims in RYMUR Case

After a lengthy review of more than 400 pages from documents selected for that purpose by the plaintiffs in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit McGehee et al. v. Justice, the FBI has concluded that its privacy and remaining national security claims – virtually without exception – still stand, and both parties have asked the judge in the case to decide the matter.

The 400 pages are among several thousand, the release of which is still being litigated. The documents are all from RYMUR, the FBI’s two-year investigation of the death of Congressman Leo Ryan and the tragedy in Guyana on 18 November 1978.

The plaintiffs – Fielding M. McGehee III and Rebecca Moore, who are also co-managers of this website – selected the documents as possible candidates for disclosure. Material included in the request for the limited review includes information which is located elsewhere – either on the public record, in other previously-released Peoples Temple files, or (in some cases) elsewhere within the RYMUR release – interviews with people who have since died; and 32-year-old (and counting) addresses of Temple members before they left the U.S.

The plaintiffs also point out that some people whose identities have been withheld had no claim to privacy, including unnamed members of the press, people who interrupted their contacts with the FBI to field media interviews, and people about whom the FBI obtained their information from a newspaper.

Perhaps the single most important document with significant deletions is a 417-page FBI report on the shootings at Port Kaituma. It includes interviews with survivors of the shootings – both those people who accompanied the congressman, and members of  Peoples Temple who were leaving with him – and all the names and much of the information is already known. The lawsuit contests extensive redactions throughout, claiming an “overwhelming public interest in the event.”

The FBI responded with virtually the same arguments it has made since the request for the information was first filed in 1999. For one document, the FBI allowed the additional release of the word “the”; elsewhere, the FBI let slip the name of “Bagby” as an interview subject, in that Monica Bagby’s name was withheld for the balance of the lengthy interview; and the agency reclassified a half-line of type it had previously released. The remaining documents retained the same classifications as they had since the system-wide review earlier this year of national security exemptions on documents more than 25 years old.

A decision in the case is expected in 2011.