State Template

This is a listing of cables sent either by the State Department or by one of its embassies – on this particular chart, almost exclusively from Georgetown, Guyana – between June 1974, when the American government first learned about the Peoples Temple agricultural project in Jonestown, and the end of 1977.

A key to the notations in the columns appears below the chart. A note on sources used in the compilation of this chart also appears below.

Office of Origin
ID No.
788888 8888 Georgetown 888888 Letter to FBI re: PT before 11/18/78 State Text

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A Note on Sources

The cables at the basis of this research come from a variety of sources.

• The bulk of them came from the State Department itself, in response to a Freedom of Information request for documents on Jonestown and Peoples Temple. The request was made by Rebecca Moore and Fielding McGehee, who eventually became the managers of this website. Of the 5700 pages that State released in 1981, fully 3000 were cables dating from 1974 until 1981, most of them from November and December of 1978 and early 1979.

• A smaller collection from the State Department came in response to another FOIA request, this one for what the agency had on the custody battle over John Victor Stoen, a battle waged by Timothy and Grace Stoen, primarily against Jim Jones.

• The second most productive official source was the FBI, which released many State Department cables collected during the FBI’s investigation of the Leo Ryan assassination (RYMUR).

• In 2014, the State Department released thousands of agency files as part of a general declassification review. Hundreds of those related to Peoples Temple. They didn’t become widely available to the public, however, until 2015 and 2016, when Wikileaks put them online. While the resulting record was neither official nor complete – there are scores of cables that the State Department continues to withhold and that Wikileaks didn’t access – the texts that Wikileaks posted are accurate.

It should be noted that many cables contain information which was deleted under an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act. The majority of those cables were eventually re-released with the exemptions lifted. The more-recently declassified passages appear in red type of the text version of the cables.

The most commonly-used exemptions by State are:

b(1) = information the release of which would jeopardize national security
b(6) = information the release of which would violate an individual’s privacy

How to read this chart

This is a key to the meaning of the columns and the notations within them:

Columns 1 and 2 comprise the dates and times that the cables were sent. The dates are in the format of the last two digits of the year (74-79), the month (01-12) and the day. As an example, November 18, 1978 would be designated as 781118. The times are in Greenwich Mean Time, used internationally on all cables. They are included because – especially in the first few days after the tragedy – scores of cables were flashing back and forth between offices on a single day.

Columns 3 comprises the government agencies and embassies sending the cables. Abbreviations include:

State = State Department
Georgetown = U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana
POS = U.S. Embassy in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
CAR = U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela
PAN = U.S. Embassy in Panama City, Panama

Column 4 provides the cable identification number, unique to each document.

Column 5 presents a brief description of the cable’s contents. (The abbreviation “W/W” which appears on numerous cables means “Whereabouts and Welfare,” the State Department’s notation of the checks it makes on American citizens in foreign countries.)

Columns 6 and 7 provide links to the PDF and Text versions of the cables. The PDF indicates whether the cable came pursuant to the general FOIA request of State or to the second request for Stoen documents.

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Originally posted on February 9th, 2020.

Last modified on October 30th, 2020.
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