FOIA News Briefs

Discovery of Temple Tax Numbers Renews IRS Request
Through the efforts of volunteer researcher Denice Stephenson at the California Historical Society, the editors of the jonestown report have obtained tax identification numbers for several corporate entities under which Peoples Temple conducted its business. Armed with this new information, we have asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to reopen a request for information on the agency’s decision to investigate the Temple’s tax-exempt status in 1978. Our request had been hung up for two years over the issue of the identification numbers. In addition, we have used these identification numbers as the basis for a broader FOI request that seeks all IRS records related to Peoples Temple and its various corporate bodies. The same research at CHS uncovered tax identification numbers for California state records, and we have made a similar request for records on Peoples Temple from the State Franchise Tax Board. All three requests are pending.

Commendation Records May Help Locate Military Files
More than two years after making our first FOI request to the U.S. Army for records related to its recovery of bodies from Jonestown, the editors of the jonestown report have unearthed the first documentation of the service’s role in the operation. In November 1978, acting in coordination with the U.S. Air Force, the Army asked for volunteers for the Joint Humanitarian Task Force to remove the bodies and prepare them for transport to the U.S. Nevertheless, upwards of 20 Army offices to which our FOI requests were referred could find no record of the operation.

Eventually, one FOI caseworker told us that the Army’s Southern Command record-keeping had been so shabby during that time period — not just on the humanitarian effort, but on all SOUTHCOM operations — that a congressional committee held hearings into the matter and publicly chastised the command. In the meantime, one former Army sergeant who volunteered for the operation wrote about his experiences. On behalf of Jeff Brailey, author of the book, The Ghosts of November, we asked the National Personnel Records Center for the former sergeant’s military service records. Noting that the released material included references to the commendations Sgt. Brailey earned during the bodylift operation, we have returned to NPRC to ask for original orders and other records related to the medals. That request, made early in October 2002, is still pending.

National Archives Releases One Document, Cites 30-Year Rule for Bulk of Material
Responding to a request which the editors of the jonestown report made under FOIA for records related to Peoples Temple and Jonestown, the National Archives released a seven-page declassified memo from 1987 in which the State Department detailed “Soviet efforts to discredit the US.” Among the campaigns “that are likely to have some play,” the memo said, was publicity for a Russian-language book — entitled The Murder of Jonestown: A CIA Crime — which charges that the U.S. intelligence agency engineered the deaths in Guyana. The reason for the CIA action was to prevent Temple members from following through on their request to emigrate to the Soviet Union, a charge which State feared would resonate in Eastern Europe.

Other than the memo, the National Archives said that it generally does not receive records from agencies of the U.S. government until they are considered “no longer necessary for the conduct of agency business.” In general, the Archives reported, that occurs when the records are 30 years old. The Archives said it expected to receive State Department records on Jonestown eventually, but that — as with most records it houses — they would be indexed according to the originating agency’s cataloguing systems. In addition, the Archives said it would provide general information about its collections but did not the capability to assist with additional research services.

Other Requests Also Pending:
• A request to the Central Intelligence Agency for all agency records related to Peoples Temple, Jonestown, and the Rev. James W. Jones. This seemingly-sweeping request in reality asks the CIA for little more than to reconsider its earlier decisions to withhold most of the records it located immediately after the deaths in Jonestown.

• A request to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department for all government records related to the trials of Larry Layton. This request ended up involving other divisions as well — among them, the Office of International Affairs, and Violent Crime and Terrorism division — but an agency spokesman reported that the materials have been gathered at one place for review.

• A request to the State Department for copies of all passports recovered in Guyana following the deaths in Jonestown. State recently granted a fee waiver on this request and has begun to process the material.

• A second request to the State Department for all materials which U.S. Embassy personnel removed from Jonestown and did not turn over immediately to the FBI. As with the previous request, State recently granted a fee waiver and has started its search for the records.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on March 16th, 2014.
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