State Department Press Briefing
Serial 594 • November 29, 1978

[Editor’s notes: This document appears as Serial 594 in the FBI RYMUR release and as State Department cable 302484 in the State Department release.

[The text for this document was released in 2014 by the now-defunct Wikileaks website at This URL may be available through the Wayback Machine.]

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INFO OCT-01 ISO-00 SSO-00 SCS-06 FBIE-00 CIAE-00 INR-10 NSAE-00 PA-02 TRSE-00 MCT-02 CA-01 INRE-00 SY-05 SYE-00 USSS-00 H-02 AID-05 SS-15 NSCE-00 OC-06 CCO-00 JUSE-00 ICAE-00 CG-00 DOTE-00 L-03 SVC-00 /073 R
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O 300539Z NOV 78

E.O. 11652: N/A

1. Hodding Carter, spokesman, and Jeff Dieterich, Ara Press Officer, were present at the briefing.

Quote: Q. Guyana. Any word on when the survivors will be traveling?

A. No. I don’t.

Q. There is a report that seven will be traveling to New York tonight.

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A. Jeff, do you have anything on that?

Mr. Dieterich: We are not providing any transportation for the people that are reportedly traveling in today or tomorrow.

Q. Do you know that they are, in fact; that there will be seven traveling on commercial flights?

Mr. Dieterich: I am just not in a position to confirm for you the travel plans of American citizens overseas.

Q. Hodding, on Guyana, it seems that the Washington Star’s cartoonist also is suggesting that perhaps the church whose minister is responsible might consider paying what he indicated was $8 million. Is that an accurate figure for costs of this body transportation in bringing back survivors, or is it still at three or what?

A. I think I said yesterday I am really not going to sort of give a running total until we have a total. I don’t know. I am not going to quarrel with anybody’s figures.

Q. Who is estimating? I mean where can we find out what the total of all this body transportation and survivor transportation is? Is there one agency that is handling it?

A. I think that I will release it as fast as anybody will. Obviously a great bulk of the burden is being

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taken by defense.

Q. In that connection, Hodding, is the money coming out of the defense budget or is it allocated to the various agencies? How is it working?

A. This is obviously an unprecedented event, in which we have worked to carry out a number of different purposes involving a number of different federal agencies. We now have intensive inter-agency deliberations under way to sort out the issues and that specific one, obviously, is one of them; and we expect to have answers within the next few days.

Q. Hodding, does the State Department still think there are no terrorist implications in this whole situation?

A. I am really not going to comment on matters such as that. There is a full review under way. There are legal questions involved; and I am really not going to be giving observations on that point at this time.

Q. [Questioner for next several exchanges most likely Lester Kinsolving] Hodding, going back to the survivors and their travel plans, maybe I could approach the question from a different angle.

Considering the special nature of these individuals, is the government planning any special customs and/or immigration service, and what port of entry might that special service be set up at?

A. I don’t know anything about it.

Mr. Dieterich: Again we are in the problem of confirming people’s travel plans, which we cannot do at any rate.

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Q. You can talk about the government’s plans?

Mr. Dieterich: Yes.

At any rate, if you are discussing matters involving what happens to the people in the airport, it certainly would appear to me that is a matter you have to take up with the Justice Department and HEW, the people that have responsibility once these people are in the United States.

A. I don’t know if this was posted or not.

On the question of costs and money and funds, as part of the process of addressing a whole range of legal questions which have arisen relating to this tragedy, the State Department is considering the possibility of trying to claim some of the funds or property found in Guyana. This is obviously a complex legal matter which will have to be sorted out.

A member of the legal staff of the State Department traveled to Guyana yesterday to assist the embassy in addressing this wide range of legal issues.

Insofar as Peoples Temple funds in the United States are concerned, this is, in fact, a question that ought to be addressed to the department of Justice or state officials.

Q. That wasn’t actually my question. I was thinking they have kind of taken all their funds. What I was thinking about was 1.3 million members of the Disciples of Christ who licensed this guy, ordained him, accepted

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money from him year after year.

A. I think you raised it before and I think the answer to that is no, I know of no plans to go to the court.

Q. No plans.

The reason I ask this — if I could follow-up — the supreme court has just ruled, as I understand it, that the inhabitants of several Methodist retirement centers now have a right to sue the entire Methodist Church. And I would see no reason why the State Department should saddle the taxpayers –

A. In any case, Les, actually that isn’t a question that the State Department would deal with again.

Q. I see. The Department of Justice.

A. It is a domestic matter.

Q. When you talk about getting money back from Guyana, how much money are you talking about?

A. I don’t know the exact figure. I think that is still being put together.

Q. And you don’t literally mean from Guyana, do you?

A. No. I mean the money that is there, which is in various hands.

Q. That is what I was going to ask you.

You don’t have a figure of how much has been recovered down there?

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A. I don’t have a figure.

Q. I think you said the other day the United States was not considering trying to recover funds from the Peoples Temple here?

A. Yes.

Q. That may be changed?

A. No. I say that is a matter that I can’t address that I am being asked.

Let me go through something which, in fact, I think the working group and others would just like me to say again.

On the question of people coming here under our auspices, i.e. being flown to Charleston specifically, there will be a military flight of survivors from Guyana to the United States if and when there is a large enough group of people eligible to leave Guyana who wish to travel in such a group. It is impossible for us at this time to predict the timing of that flight. It now appears for your planning purposes unlikely that it will happen before the end of this week.

If and when a decision is made to schedule such a flight, the State Department will make every effort to notify major news organizations at least twelve hours in advance.

Now, as to whether it is definitely going to be Charles-

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ton that they come to — that is our present plan, assuming there is a group — it is possible, and again we will try to let you know, they will have to entertain other possibilities.

The problem about giving you a time is essentially bound up on two points.

First, we can’t be sure when the Guyanese government is going to allow some of these people to leave Guyana. Second, we have to then ascertain what the wishes are of the people themselves. They have the ultimate right to decide how and when they will return to the United States, if at all.

Q. The pledge you talked about yesterday of reimbursing the government would apply to such an airlift; wouldn’t it?

A. I believe that all return flights in which the people don’t have the cash in hand carries with it a standard form or pledge of reimbursement.

Q. Hodding, over the last few years my publications have obtained documents largely from government agencies through FOIA requests. They document that this cult and other cults like it are not religious, but were deliberate synthetic creations part of a series of projects that included the MK-Ultra operation, that was run through British intelligence control over a section of the CIA, was run through Aldous Huxley and Gregory Bates out of Palo Alto, California. Since this information is in the hands of various governmedt [government] agencies, is the State Department looking at the angle that per-

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haps this was not a religion at all and, therefore, does not come under the kinds of rights that a religion would have?

And I would like to raise the question again of the terrorist implications, because it appears now that that information is being brought out by people who want to give a cover to the outbreak of terrorism as some kind of spontaneous uprising by these kinds of cults.

Now, this is a very serious question, and I think the State Department has avoided it for two weeks.

A. I think it is a serious question. I think questions were asked seriously yesterday, alleging something considerably different, which is the possibility of it being communist inspired and run.

I mean there are any number of possibilities. My problem with all of these, Laura, is that we are in the process of an ongoing investigation of a rather unprecedented, dramatic and tragic event, and I can’t sit here and give a running commentary on how that investigation is going.

Q. The point is — excuse me — John Bushnell originally said that they were not investigating the terrorist implication.

A. Look, obviously all aspects of this case will be pursued.

Q. Hodding, as far as the people going into New York

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this evening, why are those people arriving on a commercial flight, and why might the others not arrive on a commercial flight?

A. I don’t know. In each case it will have to do with their own cash possibilities, i.e. that they can afford perhaps to fly commercially and, therefore, wish to do so immediately as opposed –

Q. Our understanding is that the seven people coming into New York this evening were receiving funds from the State Department to make that commercial flight. Is that true?

A. Without addressing the question of whether the seven people are coming in tonight or anything else, I think that the arrangements that are made on the individuals are just simply up to each one to make for themselves based on their own cash possibility.

It is my understanding that we have not made funds available to those who fly commercially.

Q. Hodding, do you know if the government of Guyana has any claims on these funds of the Peoples Temple for expenses that that government may have had?

A. That is a good question. I do not know whether they have, in fact, put forward a claim. I will take that question; whether they have suggested that they have a claim on some of that money for their own costs.

Q. Hodding, has the 1.3 million member Disciples of Christ made any offer to the State Department or any other government agency to help pay for the cost of

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bringing these bodies or people back?

A. To my knowledge, no, and, frankly, les, I don’t think that they would –

Q. Would you turn it down if they did, Hodding?

A. We would not turn down any money.

Q. You won’t turn down any money. Okay.

A. Given the budget implications that have been put on us, we will take it.

Q. Hodding, are you saying that you can’t say yet whether these seven people are coming into New York this evening?

A. I am merely saying that if they want to announce their arrival they will.

Q. But the State Department doesn’t intend to on anyone that is coming in on commercial flights?

A. That is correct.

Q. Hodding, if I can ask one more question about Guyana. As I understand it, we have a military transport plane waiting down there now. Is that correct?

A. Let me see if I can tell you what we still have on the ground, or whether that’s been –

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Q. What I am wondering is, how long does the us intend to keep that transport plane there in the possibility that these people might come back via military transport as opposed to commercial planes?

A. I don’t know. Jeff?

Mr. Dieterich: My understanding is that there is not a military transport plane waiting now in Georgetown. Should this flight become necessary, one will be dispatched from some place in the United States.

Mr. Carter: As I see it, what we basically have — it is mobile down there as of last night with two long-range helicopters.

End quote.

Vance [Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State]