FOIA Fever

by Josef Dieckman

I’m not sure where they go to when I send them by mail
I hope they go to D.C.
And when they finish searching and they send me a bill
I hope they did it for free
I got that FOIA fever…

In 2005 I filed three requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for materials related to Jonestown’s ham radio operations. Of the three requests – one with the Federal Communications Commission and two with the Federal Bureau of Investigation – two have been reported to me as completed.

My request to the FCC asked for all information pertaining to the amateur radio call signs WB6MID (call sign for Albert Touchette, used in Jonestown) and WB6MNH (call sign for Paula Adams, used in Georgetown). At the very least I had expected the FCC to be able to forward copies of each license application. I was extremely disappointed when I received the results of their search. Simply put, they found no records for these call signs in their data bases. The FCC explained that their licensing data only goes back to 1980, and all information related to Peoples Temple operations would have predated November 18, 1978. I could have filed an appeal for the “no records” determination, but – without specific knowledge of post-1980 documents – declined to do so.

My other two requests went to the FBI. The first FOIA request sought information pertaining to the disposition of the transceivers used in Jonestown. I wanted to know where the radios were and – if the FBI no longer has them – what happened to them? I figured this request would generate something, especially since federal regulations require a paper trail on the disposal of any tangible items following an investigation such as that into Peoples Temple.

I was also hopeful, because the FBI release of 42,000 pages of information on three CDs included several records which I used as the basis for requesting a larger search. According to these documents – generated by the FBI in early December of 1978 – two Yaesu FT-101 transceivers were taken out of Jonestown and flown to MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, where Major Richard T. Corbett turned them over to agents from the Tampa field office of the FBI. They, in turn, were ordered to mail these transceivers to the San Francisco Bureau office. I was unable to locate any documents, however, that indicated that the radios actually made it to San Francisco.

The FBI’s reply was disheartening: “Please be advised that a search of our records failed to locate the Jonestown radio transceivers.” I spoke with Art Rider in the FOIA office of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., who said that searches in both Tampa and San Francisco yielded nothing. I found this quite perplexing, since the FBI obviously showed enough interest in the radios to have them flown in from a foreign country.

In my appeal of this “no records” finding to the Department of Justice, I stated that I found it hard to believe that the FBI has nothing – not even the required documentation of disposition – that speaks to the whereabouts of these radios. If the FBI still has them, one would hope they are sitting in boxes in a basement somewhere, properly catalogued and indexed. If they disposed of the radios, there must be documentation that reveals when and how the radios were transferred from their possession. But the agency could not even locate the records it had included on the CD release of FOIA documents.

In an effort to cast a wider net, I have tried contacting the base historian at MacDill Air Force Base for access to the facility’s own document archive. Certainly MacDill would have generated some paperwork when they received and subsequently delivered these radios. Also, I have sent requests to several Bay Area amateur radio clubs in the hopes that they would print a piece about my search in the monthly newsletters. The thinking here is that perhaps the FBI disposed of the radios at some kind of auction in the area and some unsuspecting local ham bought one or both of them. Since I have the serial numbers to both radios, identification would be easy.

There also exists the possibility that these radios, along with other items deemed to be of no evidentiary value to the Leo Ryan assassination investigation, were returned to the Government of Guyana. If that is the case with these two transceivers, then they are all but lost. I have emailed several government ministries in Guyana seeking their help. So far, I have received only one reply that my request had been forwarded to another department.

If either of these radios can ever be located, I would like to eventually see them become part of the Peoples Temple collection at the California Historical Society.

* * * * *

My second FOIA request to the FBI concerned the release of the tapes made on November 18, 1978 by Douglas Ellice, who worked for the consular office at the American Embassy in Georgetown following the departure of Richard McCoy. These tapes consist mostly of personal phone calls placed by, or made to, Mr. Ellice at his place of residence in Georgetown. I had the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Ellice some time back and he indicated that he made these tapes for no official reason, but rather recorded his phone calls as a sort of note keeping effort.

In addition, in an effort to keep up to speed on the itinerary of Leo Ryan on November 18, Mr. Ellice had a shortwave receiver tuned to a frequency normally used by the Temple. His tape recorder happened to pick up ham radio transmissions between Mike Carter in Jonestown and Sharon Amos in Georgetown, as well as a conversation between Amos and Richard Dwyer. The ham transmissions were captured by the tape recorder because, coincidentally, Mr. Ellice was talking on the phone while Carter and Amos spoke to each other. These tapes, which (I believe) the FBI subsequently labeled Q1289 and Q1290, have yet to be released to the public. [Editor’s note: These tapes were subsequently released and are available as Q1289 and Q1290.]

The FBI referred this request to the State Department, which is currently reviewing it, but of course I was not given any indication of when I might receive a decision. I will update my website as soon as I am in receipt of new information.

(Josef Dieckman has written extensively about both the so-called death tape (Q 042) and the “day after” tape (Q 875). His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. He may be reached at joeyjosef@yahoo.com.)

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on May 31st, 2017.
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