State Department Cables on Leo Ryan Trip

In late September 1978, Leo Ryan announced plans to visit the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Jonestown. This is a listing of cables sent either by the State Department or its Embassy in Georgetown relating to that trip to Guyana, from his September 1978 announcement to his departure from Georgetown on November 17, 1978.

It should be noted that there is some overlap in time between this section and the other pre-November 18, 1978 State Department cables – located here – in that State and the Embassy were navigating other issues relating to Jonestown separate and apart from the Ryan visit, even as the congressman and his staff were making their plans.

It should also be noted that many of the texts for the cables below were provided by the Wikileaks site, which was discovered to be defunct in late 2022. This is especially true for cables for which there is no corresponding pdf, such as the November 9, 1978 cable from State to Georgetown. For more discussion of Wikileaks’ collapse, click here.

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.

Date Time Origin ID Content PDF Text
780922 2230 State 241892 Leo Ryan announces plans for Guyana trip Stoen Text
780925 1840 GT 7698 3125 Embassy describes “potential problems” with Ryan trip Stoen Text
780926 1034 GT 7702 3130 Embassy questions assertion that stronger response needed Stoen Text
781010 1645 State 256273 State Dept meets with Ryan staff Stoen Text
781101 1523 State 277716 State Dept meets with Ryan staff Stoen Text
781101 2215 State 278140 Ryan contacts Jonestown with notice of visit Stoen Text
781102 1745 GT 7966 3597 Embassy requests presence of lawyer on Codel Stoen Text
781102 1940 GT 7969 3600 Embassy reiterates challenges in visiting JT Stoen Text
781104 2026 State 281974 Ryan announces travel plans Stoen Text
781105 1340 GT 7982 3619 JT informs Embassy that Ryan is not welcome Stoen Text
781107 1320 GT 7988 3637 Embassy to welcome Ryan to Guyana Stoen Text
781109 0144 State 284988 Ryan responds to Embassy questions Stoen Text
781109 2309 State 285461 Ryan will not have official status in Guyana   Text
781110 0302 State 285801 Authorization for Ryan travel Stoen State Text
781114 1415 GT 8024 3714 Embassy outlines its contacts with PT Stoen Text
781115 1215 GT 8034 3729 Reporter arrives in GT without visa Stoen Text
781115 1343 State 289798 State outlines its relationship with PT Stoen Text
781115 1830 GT 8038 3734 Reporters’ problems with visas Stoen Text
781116 1716 GT 8042 3749 Embassy forwards JT press release on Leo Ryan Stoen Text
781117 1450 GT 8052 3761 Ambassador meets with Ryan and Concerned Relatives Stoen Text

Back to the top

A Note on Sources

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

• This particular collection of cables from the State Department came almost exclusively in response to a Freedom of Information request for the agency’s records on the custody battle over John Victor Stoen, a battle waged by Timothy and Grace Stoen, primarily against Jim Jones. The request was made by Rebecca Moore and Fielding McGehee, who eventually became the managers of this website.

• The larger bulk of cable releases found elsewhere in this section came from the State Department in response to a more general FOIA request for agency documents on Jonestown and Peoples Temple. 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.

• 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.

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 (78), the month (10 or 11) and the day. As an example, November 5, 1978 would be designated as 781105. 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.

Column 3 comprises the government agencies and embassies sending the cables. On this listing, the only two originating entities are the State Department and the American Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana.

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

Column 5 presents a brief description of the cable’s contents.

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 request for documents on John Victor Stoen.

Back to the top