48,000 FBI Documents on CD-Rom

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has released more than 48,000 pages of documents related to Jonestown and Peoples Temple on three compact disks. The release represents the FBI’s first use of CD’s as a response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act for massive numbers of documents. The FBI will offer the CD’s as its principal response to all FOIA requests related to Jonestown and Peoples Temple, no matter how specific or targeted the requests might be. The CD’s present the documents in raw form as the FBI processed and released the material in the years following the deaths in Jonestown. There is no master index to the documents, and because they appear as graphic rather than text files, there is no capability of identifying individual documents by key words or subject matter. Efforts to locate any index which the FBI may have used as a guide through the material have been thus far unsuccessful. An independent index will be offered through the jonestown report as soon as it becomes available.

In addition, the FBI did not review its past decisions to withhold all or parts of many documents under the FOIA’s exemptions. The agency’s last review occurred about seven years ago. The editors of the jonestown report have challenged many of the exemptions, especially those related to privacy of people who have died since 1978 and those records used in the prosecution of Larry Layton, who was convicted on conspiracy charges in 1985. We have also asked the FBI to release documents which originated in other agencies and which therefore were not included on the CD’s. The CD’s run on both PC’s and MacIntosh computers. The FBI’s cover letter accompanying the CD’s gives instructions on how to open the files.

You can request your own set of CD’s from the FBI through the following address: Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Section, Office of Public and Congressional Affairs, FBI, Washington, DC 20535-0001. The cost of the set of CD’s is approximately $30.You may get a faster response if your letter notes that the CD’s have already been released in response to FOIA Request #902718, filed by Rebecca Moore and Fielding M. McGehee III.