Documents in Public Domain Beyond Reach of FOIA

Within the past year, I have tried to collect some lost or missing government records regarding Jonestown. First, I wanted to see the timeline of the events as presented by the State Department in order to establish the reaction time of the United States government. Second, I wanted to find the original documents which longtime Jonestown researcher Brian Csuk obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on his now defunct website.

In February of this year I made an informal inquiry to the State Department for the agency’s own records and transcripts of the events surrounding Jonestown. Initially I was told that the records were no longer being in the State Department, but had been shipped to a holding facility to be archived by the National Archives office in College Park, Maryland. However, according to the National Archives, the State Department still had them. Apparently there is a gray area between 20 and 30 years where documents can remain “in transit” (read: they are sitting in a warehouse) before they can be processed. I was informed that my best option was to submit a FOIA request to expedite the search.

Then, in early March, the National Archives told me that it had located the “Transcripts Of Daily News Conferences and Daily News Briefings of the Department Of State from January 1946 to December 1992”, which, as the letter pointed out, “should contain some documentation concerning the Jonestown affair during November-December 1978.”

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a dead end too. After spending hours in the National Archives, I was only able to locate the public records of the State Departments Daily Briefings, not the records I was told would be available. Since these were considered to be in the public domain, my FOIA request was denied, and I was forced to start over.

The second lot of documents I tried to locate was the collection of papers collected by Brian Csuk and posted on his now-inoperative site. The problem for any scholar or researcher lies in sourcing the material he posted online. It must be verified and properly sourced for future research. It was for this material that I submitted my FOIA request. Again, within a few weeks, the request was denied, because the material is considered to be within the public domain, and no search would be conducted on the requested documents.

If anyone has a copy of Brian’s website and his material, please contact me at

(Chris Knight-Griffin’s two other articles in this edition of the jonestown report are Jonestown Conspiracies Revisited and Did Government Assassins Own a Tractor?)