The FOIA and the CIA: Six Years and Counting

More than six years after receiving a FOIA request for documents related to Peoples Temple and Jonestown, the Central Intelligence Agency has yet to offer a substantive response.

The law requires agencies to process FOIA requests within 20 working days of receipt, a deadline that passed in August 2000.

The request by the editors of the jonestown report seeks the same information which they asked for in December 1978, less than a month after the deaths in Jonestown. Following a 1981 lawsuit resulting in a court ordering consideration of the request, the agency identified fewer than 100 pages, and deleted almost all the information on them, citing the national security exemption.

The request of July 2000 pointed out that the passage of time since the original request would have reduced the sensitivity of the information. “The world – including the threats to U.S. security interests – has changed dramatically in [22 years],” the request said, “and the considerations which led to withholding the material then almost certainly have undergone similar changes.”

The CIA initially acknowledged receipt of the request, and made assurances that it was being processed in accordance with agency regulations. In more recent years, however, the agency has declined to reply to our letters and calls for status checks on the request. It did respond to a congressional query from this past spring, but only with the curt – and at this point hollow – assurance that “Mr. McGehee’s request is still open and being processed.” Replying to a second congressional query six months later, the agency explained that the “request is particularly complex because it contains information the CIA received from other agencies… which greatly prolongs the process.”

There is no indication on when we might expect a substantive release in response to the request.