State Department Press Briefings
S. November 19, 1978 - 10:00 A.M. - (33k) Mr. Tom Reston
S. November 19, 1978 - 4:00 P.M. - (32k) Mr. Tom Reston
M. November 20, 1978 - (32k) Mr. John A. Bushnell, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Inter-American Affairs,
T. November 21, 1978 - 12:15 P.M. - (42k) Mr. John A. Bushnell,
W. November 22, 1978 - (26k) Mr. John A. Bushnell,
Thurs, Nov. 23 No Briefing (the next day casualty count will double)
F. November 24, 1978 - (30k) Mr. John A. Bushnell,
M. November 27, 1978 - (15k) Mr. Hodding Carter
T. November 28, 1978 - (15k) Mr. Hodding Carter
W. November 29, 1978 - (11k) Mr. Jeff Dieterich
Thurs. Nov. 30, No Briefing
F. December 1, 1978 - (26k) DEAD LINK
Mon. Dec. 4, No Briefing
T. December 5, 1978 - (18k) Mr. Hodding Carter
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TRANSCRIPT OF SPECIAL NEWS BRIEFING
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 1978
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. RESTON: All right, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, let me apologize for being late. I have a statement to be read here, part of which has been handed out to you but part of which has not, and I would like to head through that.
The Department of State is shocked and deeply sorrowed by yesterday's tragic events at Port Kaituma, Guyana, which resulted in the deaths of Congressman Leo Ryan of the State of California and several others in his party, including members of a National Broadcasting Company news team and a photographer for the San Francisco Examiner.
Our Ambassador to Guyana, Mr. John Burke, has been in direct and continuous touch with Prime Minister Burnham of Guyana and other officials of the Guyanese Government who are similarly shocked and are taking all possible steps to apprehend the perpetrators of this crime.
Congressman Ryan died trying to assist several Americans who apparently wanted to leave the religious community in Guyana.
Perhaps no lengthy eulogy is necessary other than to emphasize that Congressman Ryan died doing what he believed was the most important thing a Congressman or, indeed, any Government official could do - that is, trying to help our citizens.
We also express our deepest condolences to the families of the journalists from the National Broadcasting Company and from the San Francisco Examiner who died while pursuing their profession in the highest traditions of American journalism.
The United States Government will continue to monitor this situation around the clock in order to provide all possible assistance to the Americans involved and to promptly respond to any requests for support from the Guyanese Government.
Now, I have a bit of a factual report for you here, and then I'd be happy to take any questions which you may have which are not covered by the various statements I will be making.
Ambassador Burke informed a State Department Task Force that an Embassy Officer who accompanied the Guyanese authorities into Port Kaituma has confirmed the deaths of five members of the party traveling with Congressman Ryan: Congressman Ryan, Mr. Robert Brown of the National Broadcasting Company, Mr. Donald Harris of the National Broadcasting Company, Mr. Gregory Robinson - a photographer for the San Francisco Examiner. There has also been another death, a death of an American female - who I am not in a position to identify for you at the moment.
The Embassy in Georgetown has reported that six persons were injured, including our Deputy Chief of Mission - Mr. Richard Dwyer - who was slightly wounded.
Q: Slightly, you say?
A: Slightly injured. It is my understanding that Mr. Dwyer is ambulatory. Other injured members traveling with Congressman Ryan are Jackie Speiers, Mr. Steven Sung of the National Broadcasting Company.
Q: Who is Jackie Speiers?
A: I'm sorry; I do not have an identification for Jackie Speiers. I will try to get that for you.
MS. SCHUKER: She is a legislative assistant to Congressman Ryan.
A: I understand that she was on Congressman Ryan's staff.
And Mr. Anthony Katsaris.
We have reports of two other unidentified victims who were injured.
Q: Wait a minute; that's five.
Q: Just Dwyer.
Q: Including Dwyer. I'm sorry. Yes.
A: No information has been received thus far about the extent of the injury of some of these wounded individuals. The Embassy still has not been able to confirm the reports that have been circulating that there may have been mass suicides. However, our Ambassador was assured by the Guyanese authorities that their forces would be getting to Jonestown, which is the location of the camp, as quickly as possible in order to determine what the situation on the ground is there.
We have been identifying next of kin.
I think the events transpired in the following manner, as best we have been able to piece it together during the early evening and late night and early morning hours:
At approximately 6:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, on November 18th, Embassy Georgetown reported in a flash cable to the Department of State that a delegation accompanying Congressman Ryan had apparently been attacked and struck by gunfire while returning from the Peoples Temple Agricultural Community in the remote northwest interior of Guyana in South America.
Let me show you on the map where these places are.
The capital is Georgetown, located on the coast here.
Approximately here is Port Kaituma, which is the nearest airstrip to Jonestown - which is the location of the camp.
Congressman Leo Ryan, who is a Democrat of California, had traveled to Guyana to investigate allegations by relatives that some members of the Peoples Temple Community were being held against their will. Ryan was accompanied by a number of journalists - including a television camera crew from the National Broadcasting Company based out of San Francisco, as well as other journalists. He was also accompanied by the Deputy Chief of Mission of our Embassy in Georgetown - Mr. Richard Dwyer - and he was accompanied by Mr. Lane, Esquire, and another attorney, who are counsel for the Peoples Temple.
The group traveled to Port Kaituma, which is the nearest airstrip to the Peoples Temple Community. It is about 145 miles northwest of Georgetown. The group traveled by chartered aircraft on the afternoon of November 17th. They spent the night at Jonestown - the night of November 17th to the 18th. They returned to the airstrip at Kaituma on the afternoon of November 18th. They were accompanied by some six to ten members of the Peoples Temple Community who apparently wished to leave the Community. The party was in the act of boarding two chartered aircraft which had been obtained for the trip back to Georgetown when one of the supposed members of the Community who wished to leave produced a gun and began to shoot at others who were leaving. This was in the smaller of two aircraft on the field at that time.
This aircraft I am speaking of quickly emptied, except for a young woman who was seriously wounded.
At about the same time, a flatbed trailer pulled by a tractor appeared on the airstrip. A number of people in the trailer opened fire on Congressman Ryan and his immediate party, who were in the process of boarding the second aircraft. The gunfire also disabled this aircraft so that it could not take off.
The first aircraft took of with its own crew, the young woman who had been wounded, and the aircrew of the second aircraft; and they scrambled aboard at the last minute.
Early reports on these events were unclear and based entirely on the account of the incident which was given by the two aircrews when they returned to Georgetown.
The Government of Guyana reacted swiftly under the direction of its Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the incident at Port Kaituma took place at sundown. Hence, it was impossible for the Guyanese reaction forces to go there directly because the airstrip at Port Kaituma is unlighted. There are no night landing lights.
The Guyanese forces proceeded to establish themselves at an airstrip called Mathews Ridge, which is about 30 miles from Port Kaituma (indicating on map), where the incident took place. Their intention was to move into the area at first light. Our Ambassador in Georgetown has been in constant and continuing touch with the Prime Minister and with various organs of his government, including the security forces.
A crisis management team was immediately formed here in the Department of State under the direction of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs - Mr. Brandon Grove - and the Director of the Office for Caribbean Affairs - Mr. Ashley Hewitt. The White House Situation Room and the National Military Command Center were immediately informed, as was the Deputy Secretary of State - Mr. Warren Christopher - the National Security Council, and the Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations - Mr. Douglas Bennet. The National Military Command Center agreed to provide a C-141 medical evacuation aircraft with full medical complement. In addition to the full medical complement, our Embassy had requested a medical pathologist to be on board, and there was one on board. The aircraft originally left McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey and stopped off in Charleston, South Carolina, leaving there at 3:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, and arrived about 8:00 o'clock in the morning at Georgetown - and that's Eastern Standard Time.
As of 6:00 o'clock this morning, Eastern Standard Time, there are sketchy reports of casualties; but I have previously confirmed for you that Congressman Ryan is reported - and that report, unfortunately, is confirmed - that he has been killed - along with the other people whose names I mentioned, in addition to the one additional American female national.
In addition, I want to report that there are reports - as yet unconfirmed - that members of the Peoples Temple Community in Guyana are perhaps engaging in mass suicides. The Guyanese police in Georgetown report that a woman who ran the Peoples Temple office there has killed her three children and taken her own life. Another Peoples Temple member, who says he escaped from the Community and walked 20 miles to Mathews Ridge, reported that some 200 members of that Community had already taken their lives when he was leaving.
I want to emphasize to you that we have not confirmed those reports.
There are approximately 1100 United States citizens resident at the Temple Community - the Peoples Temple Community. In addition, the possibility exists that Peoples Temple members here in the United States who number some 3,000 - mostly resident in the State of California - may also begin to take their own lives.
The State Department Task Force has been in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the police departments of the Cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, California - this was at about 2:30 this morning, Eastern Standard Time - to inform them of this possibility.
Q: Tom, did the State Department inform the police of this responsibility?
Q: Why would the State Department know more about this than the police in California, who presumably have greater contact with them?
A: Well, I think that the reason is that probably we have had greater contact with the members of the Temple in Guyana as opposed to California.
Let me just finish up here and then I'll take any questions you may have.
Our Ambassador - Mr. John Burke - has made clear to Prime Minister Burnham of Guyana are the following - and I may say that we have ever indication that the Government of Guyana is cooperating splendidly.
- We want to make sure that every effort is made to get into Port Kaituma to furnish aid, assistance, and protection to Americans who may still be there.
- Second, that we want to see that the injured are brought out to Georgetown as soon as possible.
- And third, of course: the perpetrators of this crime and this outrage be brought to justice as soon as possible.
Let me say, finally, that this has been a very sad situation. It has created enormous and understandable humanitarian interest. And in order to deal with the situation as humanely and as efficiently as possible, additional personnel from the Department of State are being airlifted into Georgetown to help deal with the situation. They are coming from Panama, from Venezuela, and from Trinidad. Do you have any questions?
Q: Tom, do we have -
Q: I'd like to ask you if -
Q: Do we have a treaty with Guyana?
A: I'll take that question.
Q: Tom, could you clear up one thing? You said there were five dead. Can you say that the fifth dead is not one of the people you're listing as wounded - just so that we don't go out with a report saying somebody's who wounded is in fact dead?
Q: The person - the fifth dead person - is not one of those you're listing as wounded -
A: That is correct.
Q: - not the woman in the plane and not Jackie Speiers.
A: That is correct.
Q: Tom, do I understand you to say that nothing is being done by our Government in a way to try to prevent any further mass suicides by the members of this group?
A: No; that is incorrect to state that.
First of all, we have informed the authorities in San Francisco and in Los Angeles about this possibility; and we hope that the authorities in San Francisco and Los Angeles will take steps which will help prevent such an occurrence.
Second of all, we are making every effort to assist the Guyanese forces,who are at this time on their way to Jonestown, to assess the situation in order - hopefully - to prevent such an occurrence.
Q: Tom -
Q: - do you have anything further on the whereabouts of Mark Lane or is it being assumed that he was one of those led into the bush?
A: We have no information about the present physical situation or status of Mr. Lane. What we are really engaged in here - here in Washington - and the burden is falling primarily on the Guyanese authorities, the Guyanese police and the Guyanese security forces - is to get into the area where the incident took place at Port Kaituma and also to get into the area at Jonestown, where the Community is resident. And I gather it takes about 20 minutes over a dirt road to get from the airport at Port Kaituma to the Jonestown Community.
To establish just exactly what the facts are - what happened, who survived, who is in need of medical attention, where they are - we just don't have enough reporting at this time. It is my understanding that Guyanese forces in company strength - which I gather is about 150 personnel - are on the way there now.
Q: Tom, according to -
Q: What is the state of your information here? As near as I can tell, you've had no direct contact with this group since the smaller aircraft got out and yet you're able to confirm deaths and so forth. What has been the contact with that situation overnight, if any?
A: Well, as I said before, the airstrip at Port Kaituma is an unlighted airstrip. It was impossible to get into the airstrip during the night. Dawn came about 5:00 a.m. this morning, and at that point the beginnings of the Guyanese forces were able to get in there; and so our reports come from the Guyanese authorities, but we have not had -
Q: Tom, is that strip -
A: Excuse me, John - if I could finish.
A: We have not had a full assessment from the Guyanese authorities nor from our own personnel.
Q: Just -
A: Yes, John.
Q: - to follow that up, you don't have a report that two Guyanese helicopters were sent there during the night and that there were -
A: That is not my information.
Q: So where does the confirmation come from, Tom?
A: The confirmation comes from Guyanese authorities who are beginning to get into the area.
Q: But according to your count, Tom, you give us five members of the delegation have died, six persons were injured. According to your count, how many are unaccounted for?
A: I have an unofficial passenger list here of those who went in on the aircraft with Congressman Ryan: the Congressman, a Miss Jackie Speier, Mark Lane, Charles Garry - who is also an attorney, I gather, an attorney for the Peoples Temple - Mr. Richard Dwyer, who I have previously mentioned is the Deputy Chief of Mission of our Embassy; Mr. Don Harris; Mr. Bob Flick of NBC-TV in San Francisco; Mr. Ron Javers of the San Francisco Chronicle; Mr. Tim Reiterman of the San Francisco Examiner; Mr. Charles Krouse of The Washington Post; Mr. Gregory Robinson, a photographer for the San Francisco Examiner; Mr. Steven Sung of NBC-TV; and Mr. Robert Brown, also obviously of NBC.
Also there were present a representative of the Ministry of Information of the Guyanese Government - I do not have a name for you - plus four, approximately four, people identified as relatives of members of the Peoples Temple Community. So the ones whose names I have not mentioned are still unaccounted for.
Q: Tom -
Q: How about all of these -
Q: Tom, I wonder if I could pursue with you a question of what kind of advice was given to Congressman Ryan and his group before they left. Based on an answer that you have already given, you clearly had some experience with this commune, knew of them to be of a somewhat violent bent. Had, in fact, Congressman Ryan spoken to anyone here? Had you given him any advice with regard to going or not going?
A: I believe the Congressman did receive a briefing prior to his trip to Guyana. He left here on the 14th of November, by the way. I do not - and I wish to state this - I do not have a characterization to offer you on the characteristics of the Peoples Temple.
Q: Did the embassy in Guyana discourage -
Q: What do you mean, you don't have a characterization? Here is an group about which you know enough that you can call up the FBI and the police officials in California to tell them that these people have threatened mass suicide if anyone tries to move against them, but you don't have any characterization of them?
A: I think what we are most concerned with here, Ted, is the specific factual situation of what happened during the shooting incident at Port Kaituma. I am not going to characterize thousands of members of a community. I will characterize the perpetrators of the crimes which apparently were committed there. But I will not characterize the entire sect or organization and every single member of it.
Q: Tom, this characterization, the comment that you have in here about threatening mass suicide, I think what Ted is asking is, is that information that has come to you since the incident, or is it that since the incident you pulled that information out of a file?
A: It is my understanding that there had been discussion of such a possibility prior to this incident taking place early yesterday afternoon by members of the community.
Q: Tom, you seem to be drawing a line between the perpetrators and the Peoples Temple. Do you have any reason to believe that the individuals - and also to the statement that says apparently members of the Peoples Temple - do you have any reason to believe that the perpetrators may have been someone other than members of that sect?
A: What I have reason to believe is that the investigation is proceeding, that the Guyanese authorities are entering the area, that what we need to do most of all now is to find out what actually happened, and to protect and safeguard human lives.
Q: Tom, do you know how many of the 1,100 people are children?
A: I do not know. I will take that question.
Q: Tom, can you run down the embassy -
Q: Tom, I don't understand the list. Can we just nail down the list? The list is the names of the people who went in?
A: The list I have just read to you is the unofficial passenger list of the chartered aircraft which went from Georgetown, Guyana, to the airstrip at Port Kaituma, went on to Jonestown, Guyana, overnighted there, and came back to the airport at Port Kaituma, and were prepared to go back to Georgetown when the incident occurred.
Q: Do you have the names of the members - of the relatives?
A: I have - I am not in a position to identify them for you.
Q: One more question. Do you have the name of the fifth person you believe is dead and you are withholding it because you have not notified relatives, or what?
A: That is precisely correct.
Q: Tom, can you account for us the role of the embassy in Georgetown from the time Ryan arrived? My understanding, and I want to be corrected on this if it is not correct, is that they strongly tried to discourage Ryan from making this trip.
A: I don't have that precise a characterization for you. I know that Congressman Ryan received briefings here at the Department before he left the United States on November 14th. I know that when Congressman Ryan and his delegation arrived in Guyana, the embassy was supporting logistically his mission down there. I know that the Deputy Chief of Mission, who is the number two person in our embassy, accompanied Congressman Ryan and his party to Jonestown. But I do not have a characterization such as you describe.
Q: Just to round this out a bit, do you know what kind of planes these were?
A: It is my understanding that one of the planes was a Cessna. That is the smaller of the aircraft. I do not have the type or model or make of the larger aircraft, which I gather culd seat rather more people than the Cessna could.
Q: What is the distance from Port Kaituma to Georgetown, Tom, do you know?
A: I don't know what the distance is. I think I previously said that it takes twenty minutes by jeep over a dirt road, which was made by the members of the Peoples Temple.
Now I want to say that this is in an area which is often subject to heavy rainfalls, and I do not know what the weather in Port Kaituma or in Jonestown is today, and therefore I cannot tell you how long it might take to travel that dirt road.
Q: Tom, to make sure I have got one thing straight. You were saying that you are not prepared to say whether the State Department encouraged or discouraged the Congressman from making the trip in the first place in the briefing that he was given before he left here.
A: That is precisely correct.
Q: Tom, I just want to make sure I follow this thing correctly. You say that of the injured people, one was aboard the aircraft that left, a young woman.
A: Yes, that is correct.
Q: In other words, it doesn't say here, but I assume then that all of the other people who were injured spent the night out in this area in some way, and their status was determined in the morning when the first Guyanese forces arrived on the scene?
A: You assume correctly, except that I want to add the caveat that we really do not have full reports yet, so I am not sure -
Q: According to the best information you have now.
A: That is correct.
Q: Tom, is the total number eighteen? That is what I get from your listing who went in.
A: I haven't counted them up here. The total number who might have been at the airport would include the total number who went in on the chartered aircraft, plus the six to ten who apparently wished to leave the community and exit from the area to go to Georgetown.
Q: Tom, this question is not asked in an accusatory fashion at all, but I really don't understand why you cannot say whether Congressman Ryan and his party were encouraged or discouraged from making the trip. It seems to me that you had information available that would cause you to discourage him from making the trip. Did the Department not do so?
A: I am not in a position to get into the content of our briefing of the Congressman.
Q: Can you tell us whether or not there have been previous incidents involving Americans and the Peoples Temple in Port -
A: In Jonestown?
Q: In Guyana or wherever?
A: Are you speaking of incidents of violence?
Q: Incidents of any kind that would give you a background and an understanding of the Peoples Temple.
A: I think I have indicated that the purpose that Congressman Ryan gave in going down to Guyana was that there had been reports by some relatives of the people who were resident at the Jonestown camp -
Q: They were reports to the Congressman, were they not?
A: The Congressman had received reports, apparently, from relatives of American citizens resident at Jonestown, Guyana, that they were being held there against their will. Now, that is a tort of a sort, and I think the Congressman was down there to investigate those allegations.
Q: Had the State Department been aware of such allegations prior to yesterday's incidents?
A: Yes. Allegations of being held there against their will.
Q: You had gotten complaints directly from the parents, in other words?
A: I believe so. If we had not had them directly from the parents - I believe so. I think I can say that is correct.
Q: Were these taken up, Tom, with the Government of Guyana, prior to this incident?
A: We have discussed with the Government of Guyana the situation of some of these Americans in Jonestown.
Q: Tom, has the Government of Guyana asked for your help in deporting this community?
A: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: What does your previous answer mean, Tom, that you had discussed it with the Government of Guyana. It now seems as though we are doing nothing but throwing heaping praise on the Government of Guyana for their extraordinary cooperation in the past 24 hours.
A: That is exactly what I am trying to do.
Q: And what I would like to know is what kind of cooperation you received in the period prior to those 24 hours, and whether indeed the United States had asked for and received assistance in trying to find out whether American citizens were being held against their will by other American citizens?
A: I am not sure that we have asked questions along those lines. We have discussed certain court proceedings in Guyana. For instance, as an example, child custody cases which were under the jurisdiction of the Guyanese courts. We have discussed judicial procedures in such cases with the Government of Guyana.
But, really, if the people resident at Jonestown were breaking no Guyanese law, that really is a matter for the Government of Guyana to decide.
Q: Tom, can you tell us roughly how far back it was before the State Department became aware of complaints involving this community, and also whether any representatives, consular officials or other representatives of our embassy in Georgetown had visited the community at any point?
A: I cannot answer your first question because I do not know, but I can answer your second question, and the answer is that consular officials of the American Embassy in Guyana periodically had visited American citizens resident at Jonestown for normal consular types of purposes, such as, registration of births and general health inspections, the normal kinds of things that consular officers would do for American citizens resident abroad any place in the world.
Q: What kind of health inspections are you talking about, Tom?
Q: In other words, in no cases in connection with these complaints or there were no reports of somebody out there saying, "Help, I am being held against my will", or something like this?
A: I am not aware of any.
Q: What do you mean by health inspection, Tom? What is a health inspection that you normally carry out?
A: Maybe I should retract that. Maybe not. I retract the health inspections.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: Well, I was trying to figure out examples of normal consular services, and I was incorrect. But I am correct as a normal consular service being the registration of birth.
Q: Do you have anything on the kinds of weapons these people were attacked with? Were they hand guns, automatic, semi-automatic?
A: I do not.
Q: Tom, the C-141 medical evac plane, is it going to be coming back to the States carrying the wounded, and, if so, where is it going to be and when?
A: That is unclear at this point. A decision will be made at the point of departure based on a number of factors.
First of all, the condition of the wounded on board the aircraft. In other words, how soon they need to reach medical attention in a hospital. Second of all, on the availability of jet fuel at Georgetown.
Those decisions have not been reached. I can tell you that the options include going to Howard Air Force Base in Panama or coming directly back here to Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland.
Q: Do you know when you will have updated information?
A: I wanted to ask you all about that? Would it be useful to you to have another briefing at four o'clock this afternoon should we have further reports from the Guyanese authorities at that time?
Q: Yes. You will have further reports.
A: Why don't we say, then, four o'clock this afternoon, if that is a mutually agreeable time.
Let me run through some other notes I have here to see whether there is anything else I can provide to you.
Q: Tom, can you just clarify one thing on the C-141? Were there only med evac people on that, or were there also some State Department consular or any military people aboard that plane?
A: I am aware of no State Department people who were on board that plane. It is with a medical complement; i.e., medical personnel along with a pathologist, which was requested specifically by our embassy in Georgetown at the request of the Guyanese authorities.
Q: Did they take any security?
A: And I am not aware of any security which they may have taken on the plane.
Q: So no American military personnel have been assigned?
A: I believe this is an Air Force plane, and I would assume that it is being flown by the Air Force, and therefore there are military personnel on board. I will take the question as to whether any security personnel of the U.S. armed forces are on the plane. I am not aware of any.
Q: Did I understand you correctly, if the C-141 takes off, medical needs and gas are such that it can get out, get farther away, will either go to Panama or here? There are no other - ?
A: I don't want to foreclose any option, but the contingency planning earlier this morning was that depending on the availability of jet fuel at Georgetown, and depending on the condition of the victims of this incident, that they would either go to Howard Air Force Base in Panama or to Andrews Air Force Base here.
Q: Is the preference to bring them here, Tom? Is that the first?
A: That is a preference, but that is going to be totally subject to what the medical officers and logistical officers find in Georgetown.
Q: When will you know that, because I think that would be a decision that we would like to know as early as possible?
A: Yes, sir, I understand your interest in the matter. I do not know when we will know that. I think we will only know that shortly prior to the takeoff of the aircraft, but we would be glad to post an estimated time of arrival and place of arrival, obviously of that C-141 medical evacuation.
Q: Can you tell us how soon we will know whether there will be that four o'clock briefing?
A: There will be the four o'clock briefing. We know now.
Can you hold on a moment? I have a further statement to make, not regarding Guyana. Can we see whether we can get the people back in the briefing room who have left? This is a statement on another matter, but which we feel is important to make.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a statement to make. Unfortunately, I am in a position of not being able to be responsive to any follow-up questions you may have on this statement, but I wish to make a statement for the record.
It is a statement on behalf of the Secretary of State, Mr. Cyrus Vance.
As President Carter has indicated, the United States does not intend to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country, and reports to the contrary are totally without foundation.
We expect other countries to conduct themselves in similar fashion, and we note that the Soviet Union has said yesterday that it will not interfere in the affairs of Iran and will respect its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.
As we have said, we firmly support the Shah in his efforts to restore domestic tranquility in Iran, and we have confidence that Iran can solve its own problems. We intend to preserve and pursue with Iran our strong bilateral political, economic and security relationship. Thank you.
Q: Tom, will you be in a position to have any answers on that later in the day, or to be more responsive on that?
A: I could be, yes. Let me ask Mr. Vance about it.
Q: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 11:07 a.m.)
Back to index-Press Briefing - November 19, 1978, 4:00 P.M.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TRANSCRIPT OF SPECIAL NEWS BRIEFING
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 1978, 4:00 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. RESTON: Good afternoon.
I want to try to give you a little bit of an update on where we stand on the tragic incidents which took place yesterday in Guyana. I think, essentially now, we are through Phase One of this operation, Phase One being essentially the outgrowth of the incidents in Guyana yesterday when the people were killed and wounded. Essentially, what we have is a figure of five persons dead, ten wounded, two of them seriously, and one slightly wounded who did not come out of Guyana. The person who was only slightly wounded and who is ambulatory, as I said this morning, is the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Embassy in Guyana. His name is Mr. Richard Dwyer, and he has remained behind.
Q: Are you coutning him among the dead?
A: I am counting him among the ten wounded.
Q: Richard Dwyer?
The pathologist I mentioned this morning who went down on the C-141 from the United States has remained behind to assit the Guyanese authorities as they begin to conduct their investigations into the crimes which were apparently committed.
We have now not quite entered into the next phase of this series of occurrences, which is essentially what is going on now in Jonestown, Guyana. The Guyanese security forces and police forces which I was talking with you about this morning, have not yet reached Jonestown. They are not there yet. They are presently on that dirt road which runs from the air strip to the settlement at Jonestown. They are proceeding up the road. I do not have an estimated time of arrival for you. They are proceeding on foot; they are proceeding cautiously; and I just don't have an estimate for you on when they might reach there.
Q: How far is that, Tom?
A: It takes in a jeep, in dry weather, twenty minutes.
Q: Is it wet down there?
A: I do not know what the weather down there in that particular part of Guyana is today, I'm sorry.
The bodies of the people who lost their lives at the airport are remaining behind in Guyana at the moment.
Q: In Georgetown?
A: No. They are last reported at the air strip. We believe that they will be transported to Georgetown as soon of possible.
Q: Is the Embassy officer going in with the troops to Jonestown?
A: You mean is the Deputy Chief of Mission --
Q: No. I understand it was an Embassy officer who flew out with them to Mathews Ridge and then into the airstrip this morning, to Port Kaituma, an officer of the U.S. Embassy.
A: I do not know whether an officer of the U.S. Embassy is accompanying the security forces which are making their way towards Jonestown. I will take that question. The Deputy Chief of Mission remains at the airstrip and is expected to depart shortly, if he has not done so already, for Georgetown.
Q: Without getting into anything accusatory, they have been on the ground there now for nearly 12 hours.
Q: It's just a twenty-minute jeep ride away. What is the explanation or the reason that they haven't gotten into Jonestown yet?
A: I'm not sure what the situation on the ground is. I'm not sure whether there are vehicles available for them to use. I do not know if there is motor fuel available there for the vehicles should they wish to use them. It's my understanding that they are proceeding on foot; they are proceeding cautiously. There is at least, given the events of yesterday, the possibilty that hostile action could conceivably take place, although I hasten to add right away, we have no reports of any hostile action at this time. But I think that the Guyanese are proceeding cautiously.
Q: Are we satisfied with the way they have gone about this?
Q: Tom, we have heard of some people who are unidentified who are not among the dead or the wounded. How many are there and what is the process of going about looking for them?
A: I think that we were talking about a number of people at the airport this morning who were there during the incidents. I think we were talking about around 18 or 20 who had originally come in on the flight from Georgetown, another six to ten who had indicated that they apparently wanted to leave the settlement at Jonestown, so what you're really talking about there is 25, 26, 27 people. We have accounted at the present time for 15 of them. We have no reports on the others.
Q: You have ten missing, essentially?
A: Ten that I don't have any reports to offer you on.
Q: Do you have any more reports of suicides?
A: No. I am not able at this time to confirm for you the report by the Guyanese police on the suicide of the woman in Georgetown, nor the death of the three children in Georgetown.
As to what may be taking place in the State of California, in Los Angeles and in San Francisco, I have heard reports from at least San Francisco that nothing ontoward seems to be going on there at the moment, but really I am not your best source on that, and I refer you to the police departments of those two cities.
Q: Tom, the one report of suicides at Jonestown, that is the one from the fellow who went overland last night to Mathews Ridge, and that's it, as far as you know?
A: Let me try to -- There was a report of a suicide in Georgetown.
A: And connected with that suicide was the death of three children. That is one incident. There is a report which has been made by a former member of the Peoples Temple Community at Jonestown, who escaped and went to Mathews Ridge last night. He has delivered a report to Guyanese authorities about mass suicides in Jonestown. We have not yet been able to talk with the person who made that report. Therefor, I am not able to offer you any independent confirmation of that through U.S. officials, and obviously, not through the security forces which have not yet arrived at Jonestown.
Q: Tom, did you release the names that took us from six this morning to ten? Do you have names to make that ten wounded?
A: I'm sorry, I'm not in a position to offer you the names of the additional wounded. Let me say with regard to where we stand with the evacuation, the C-141 plane, which I mentioned to you this morning, took off from Georgetown, Guyana, at 12:56 EST. At just about 3:30 EST this afternoon it landed at Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico. Some of the most seriously wounded are being taken off the plane there so that they can receive medical attention -- medical attention in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The rest of the evacuees will be flown from Roosevelt Roads to Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland. I do not have an estimated time of arrival for that C-141 for you at this time.
Q: Has it taken off in Puerto Rico?
A: It has not taken off, to my knowledge.
Q: How many were taken off in Puerto Rico?
A: The intention was to take off two in Puerto Rico, but I do not know -- that medical judgement could have been updated since the time I was given it, so I do not know how many actually have been taken off.
Q: --which would leave, what, Tom, seven, then? You've got one left in --
A: That would leave seven wounded on the plane which will be on its way to Andrews.
Q: Could you confirm that an American has been arrested in connection with the killings?
A: I have heard that report, but I am not in a position to confirm it for you.
Q: What was the question?
A: The question was, could I confirm a report that an American has been arrested in connection with the alleged killings, and I cannot confirm that report for you.
Q: Tom, can you tell us who is still missing? Are both the attorneys among the missing?
A: It is my understanding that both the attorneys who are counsel for the Peoples Temple Community are presently in Jonestown, Guyana.
Q: They are not missing in Jonestown?
A: It is my understanding that they are accounted for and that they are presently in Jonestown.
Q: Does it follow that they went off on the flatbed truck or some such thing?
A: No, it does not follow.
Q: Were they at the airport or did they go back to the hotel?
A: It is my understanding they were at the airport and that they are presently back in Jonestown.
Q: How do we know that? How do we know that they are in Jonestown? We have absolutely no knowledge of what else is going on in Jonestown. Do we know that the two of them are there?
A: It is my understanding that they are in Jonestown. I do not have a source for my information.
Q: Tom, to get back to the original question, who is missing?
A: All I can say is that I gave you a list this morning of the people who were on the original passenger list going into the airstrip and into Jonestown.I am just going to have to ask you to compare the list which I gave you this morning with the ones which I have accounted for.
Q: Tom, I'm sorry -- you've been extremely cautions -
A: Ted, I'm sorry. Les.
Q: That's all right. I'll yield to Ted, and then --
A: No, go ahead, Les.
Q: Is the Secretary aware that the Rev. Mr. Jones was made the head of the City Housing Authority by San Francisco's Democratic Mayor Mosconi, a protege of Congressman Burton?
A: I don't know.
Q: And during the Presidential Campaign of 1976--
A: I've answered your question.
Q: Wait a minute. I haven't finished it, Tom.
A: I've answered your question.
Ted, go ahead.
Q: Could I, please --
A: Mr. Koppel.
Q: Why not let Les finish it?
A: I do not know whether the Secretary was aware of it.
Q: All right. Is he aware that Jones was asked aboard Vice President Mondale's chartered jet in the Presidential campaign, that he shared a platform with Rosalynn Carter?
A: I don't know.
Q: Will we ask for the Reverend Mr. Jones' extradition?
A: I don't know.
Q: Tom, how close --
A: I'm sorry. Mr. Koppel was next.
Q: Tom, since you were very cautious about the mass suicides that may or may not be going on in Jonestown, I'm just wondering how it is that you know -- and you do appear to know; I mean you're not coaching it in your usual cautious language -- that both these attorneys are now in Jonestown. Do you have knowledge of anything that is going on in Jonestown?
A: I'm sorry. The full investigation obviously is going to have to be taken, carried out, by the security forces which are on their way to Jonestown and which have not yet arrived there.
Q: Well --
A: Now, just a minute, please.
That is not to say that we have no information. Obviously we believe that the two attorneys at this time are in Jonestown.
Q: Well --
A: I don't have a sourcing for our information for you.
Q: Tom, that's fine -- excuse me, if I could just follow up my own question. You know that and that the issue, which seems far more overriding at the moment, is whether or not 200 suicides or anything like it have taken place in Jonestown. You have no information at all on that?
A: I have no information beyond the information which I just went over with you, and I sourced that information for you. I have no further information to offer on what may have occurred last night or yesterday afternoon in Jonestown.
Q: Tom --
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Tom, have you talked or have Guyanan officials, U. S. officials, been in contact with either attorney in Jonestown by phone?
A: I don't believe so.
Q: You don't know that they haven't.
A: You are correct. I do not know that we have not.
Q: You have no idea where this report comes from then, is that what you said?
A: I am not in a position to give you a source on the report.
Q: Well, did they stay behind yesterday?
A: Did they stay behind yesterday?
Q: In Jonestown -- which would explain their being there.
A: You mean without going to the airport.
Q: To the airfield, yes.
A: It was my understanding that they had gone to the airport, but I will check myself and correct the record if I am wrong about that.
Q: Can we assume that neither of the attorneys was wounded? Do you have information on that?
A: I have received no reports that either of of the attorneys was wounded. On the other hand, I simply do not have any information about their physical condition. But I have received no reports that they were wounded.
Q: Tom --
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Back to --
Q: How close are we to identifying that fifth death?
A: I am not sure that the next of kin has yet been notified.
Q: I mean will we know before the day is out? Will there be some --
A: I don't know. I will check on that for you.
Q: Is she a member of a sect or not?
A: I am not going to get into that until we have notified the next of kin.
Q: Back of couple of things from this morning. If the State Department was aware of complaints before all this happened from parents of youngsters who apparently --who might have been mistreated there -- did the State Department ever take any action to stop it or actively at least investigate that possibility?
A: Yes. It's one of those things that I wanted to clear up from this morning. In fact, I had a list. I went back through the transcript to see areas that I thought were somewhat confused. Unfortunately, I don't have my list in front of me here.
But let's go to this question. First of all I was asked what proportion of the settlement at Jonestown was children versus adults. It is our understanding that there are some 1,000 or 1,100 Americans resident at Jonestown, Guyana. Of those I have seen varying reports, but some 50 or 60 might be described as children. And by "children" I want to define this carefully because I mean children under 14 years old who are readily identified as adolescent or pre-adolescent children.
Now, I cannot give you an approximate number for people who might be in their twenties; and that might have been part of, kind of, the definition of "children." But that becomes increasingly difficult to identify. But the best figure I can give you -- and it's really a guesstimate -- is 50 or 60 children.
Now, I was asked this morning when the State Department first became aware of complaints that people were being held there against their will; and I was also asked whether the State Department had become directly aware of this.
The answer is that the State Department has been directly aware from American citizens of such complaints. And when such complaints began to reach us -- the answer to that question is the first of this year. So it's been about a year ago, less than a year ago.
Q: Tom --
A: Now, just let me -- can I finish with the gentleman's question, please?
Q: Go on.
A: Now, you ask further: What, if anything, did the State Department do? Did we investigate? What was the nature of our role in looking into this matter?
State Department consular officials, as I said this morning, did visit Jonestown, Guyana, on a periodic basis -- once a month or once every six weeks.
Q: Consular officials?
A: Consular officials.
During the course of these visits -- which were made for normal consular purposes -- to see whether, for instance, Social Security benefits were being received; to see that births were being registered as they occurred -- when we received complaints from relatives in the United States that, conceivably, people were being kept in Jonestown, Guyana, against their will, we attempted, as best we could, through our Consular Officers, to ascertain whether this was true. We attempted to talk with the individuals whose names we have been provided by their relatives here in the United States to see whether they believe they were being held against their will.
We attempted to do this, whenever we could, privately with the individuals named in the letters we had received from their relatives here in the United States.
Q: Did you ever have contact with any of them?
A: Yes. Our Consular Officers did.
Q: Were there complaints that they made and, if so, were the complaints ever followed up?
A: To my knowledge, no resident of Jonestown ever admitted to a State Department Consular Officer that they were being held in Jonestown against their will.
Q: Tom, you say these consular visits were monthly?
A: Yes -- I think the frequency varied. We would go in there periodically, as we probably would in any similar situation where you have a large concentration of United States nationals resident in a foreign country.
Q: One other follow-up, if you will, please: Any more on what we discussed this morning about briefings that Congressman Ryan might have received either here or advice he might have received in Guyana before making the journey? Was he warned not to go by anone in the Government that you're aware of?
A: Yes; I think I can clear that up. It was a matter of some confusion, and I apologize for this morning's briefing. But I have checked that out further and I really invite other questions which you were unclear about this morning because I did seek further elucidation.
I just don't have my list in front of me; but to respond to your specific question, it is my understanding that Congressman Ryan was in the Department of State in August for a briefing. It is my understanding that he came back to the Department of State very shortly before his visit to Guyana, which began on November 14th.
Congressman Ryan, by virtue of the constituency which he represents, was aware of the allegations made by certain of his constituents with regard to the Community in Guyana.
I would not say that it would be fair to characterize those briefings as warning him not to go. I think the substance of what was discussed was more or less as the following:
I think, for the part of the State Department, we indicated to the Congressman that we recognized that it was part of his duty to render service to his constituents. And this was a problem which some of his constituents perceived and Congressman Ryan was behaving in a public-spirited manner in trying to track down these complaints. We offered to render assistance and, in fact, did render assistance to Congressman Ryan during his journey in Guyana. As I mentioned this morning, even the No. 2 man in our Embassy accompanied the Congressman as he went to Jonestown.
Now, having said that, I will say that the State Department urged caution upon Congressman Ryan. And we did, in a logistical sense, indicate to him the logistical difficulties of taking a large entourage of people into so remote an area of Guyana. So we made him aware of lack of fuel supplies, lack of vehicles, difficulty of communication -- that sort of thing.
Q: You didn't tell him that it was a peaceful, idylic Community? There was no information given to him that things were peaceful there, or was that the information that he received?
A: I can't -- you know, I have tried as best I can to give you the thrust of what the State Department was telling Congressman Ryan during those briefings so far as I understand it from the briefing officers.
Q: Tom, that sounds a bit like the signs on the road when there's construction: "Proceed at Your Own Risk." Would that be a fair characterization of what State told the Congressman?
A: No. I think what a fair characterization of what State told Congressman Ryan was as I have expressed it to you.
Q: Tom, I don't understand. When you say the State Department urged caution upon Congressman Ryan, you mean to say that they urged caution in respect to the logistical arrangements in Guyana or that they urged caution in a larger sense -- that this is a group that may be volatile?
A: I think the thrust of what we were telling the Congressman really had to do with the logistical difficulties of taking a large entourage of people --
Q: Now --
A: Now wait; can I finish?
A: -- people on his own staff or on the Congressional staff, media people, relatives of people who might have been resident at Jonestown.
But, nevertheless, there was an aspect to it just to behave with caution and common sense. But I think this would be the normal kind of advice that our Embassies or the State Department would give Americans traveling abroad.
Q: So if I understand it correctly, then, you are saying that there was no special caution given by the State Department to the Congressman regarding the kind of people he was dealing with.
A: I am not in a position to elaborate for you because the person whom I talked with said we urged caution on him, and he did not elaborate. Therefore I am unwilling to wing it and try to elaborate on what I was told.
Q: It is an important point, and I wonder whether you can ask again?
A: I will attempt to get, if I can, an elaboration of the context of that word.
Q: Tom, how did Congressman Ryan and his party proceed from the Port Kaituma airstrip to Jonestown? Did they go on foot or were they received by jeeps and taken there along the road?
A: I will take that question.
Q: Tom, other unfinished business from this morning, the version of the events that we have had up to now were based upon the eye witness report only of the air crews. You have now talked with some survivors, presumably, who were also there. Do you have any change to make or any amplification to make on the basic sequence of events, or any more details about what happened?
A: I have no changes that I wish to make in the sequence of events. I don't think I have any changes to make at all. Frankly what I have been concentrating on since the briefing this morning is trying to ascertain for you what has happened in fact since since eleven o'clock this morning, and that would have to do mostly with the airlifting of the wounded and injured out of Guyana.
Q: Do you have any information about the type of plane being used, for example?
A: I said this morning that the plane which did get off the airstrip was a Cessna, and if you would like me to find out if I can what the make and model of the second airplane is which had to remain on the airstrip, I will take that question.
Q: There were a number of other details, like what kind of weapons were used.
A: I have tried to find out what kind of weapons were used. We have no reports on that.
Q: Tom, since six years ago, the San Francisco Examiner reported on page one that the Reverend Mr. Jones had ushers in his church equipped with three 57 magnums, and since last summer the New WEst Magazine reported that Rosalyn Carter's Secret Service people went into a "thet" as they described it, because of these armed guards.
Why is it that the State Department urged logistical caution rather than, say, military caution?
A: I think the answer to your question, Les, is that I have undertaken, in response to one of your colleagues, to see if possible I can get you an elaboration on the context of the word "caution."
Q: Could I follow that up?
Q: Tom, do we have yet the name of the United States embassy officer who accompanied the forces into the airstrip and who presumably may be with them in Georgetown?
A: No, but I have undertaken to get you an answer to the question as to whether the embassy officer is indeed with the Security forces who are making their way up the road.
I will also take the question of what the name of such a person is.
Q: But we don't have the name of the man who had gone up there to Mathews with the Security forces.
A: I do not have that name in front of me. I will try to get it for you if there is such a person.
Q: Did you say that in the morning transcript there is a complete passenger list for those two aircraft? Did you give that this morning?
Q: I didn't find that.
A: Yes, I did, except I did not give the names of, I think, three or four of the relatives.
Q: Tom, after the initial attack last night, did the attackers immediately withdraw? And, secondly, during the night, did any of the wounded receive any kind of first aid from any source, or did they just lie there in the aircraft for hours?
A: The answer to both your questions is, I don't know.
Q: Tom, can I ask you about this four-page hand-out you gave us this morning?
There was a phrase in it which when you gave us your oral reading of this sequence of events, you omitted, and in the second draft of it, when you said that the flatbed trailer pulled by a tractor appeared on the airstrip and that a number of people in the trailer opened fire on Congressman Ryan and his delegation, the phrase you omitted when you gave it to us orally was that this number of people in the trailer were presumed to be Peoples Temple members.
Is there any doubt in your mind as to whether they were indeed Peoples Temple members?
A: The statement which I delivered to you this morning orally is the statement of the Department of State.
The thing which I handed out to you was for your ability to follow along. I said that the statement I was going to deliver would be somewhat different from the thing which you received.
The statement which I made orally is our statement.
I am not going to make any statement which might have an impact on the law in Guyana in the absence of a complete investigation by Guyanese security forces.
Q: Tom, do you know whether the Guyanese authorities are proceeding to Jonestown tonight, or do you know whether they will rest overnight on the road?
A: I don't.
Q: Tom, what attitude is the Department taking towards additional members of the press who might go to Guyana? The San Francisco Examiner has two men on the way, and I understand Time Magazine also has.
A: I said this morning that there has been an understandable humanitarian concern with what has happened in Guyana, both in terms of the victims and in terms of us wanting to resolve this situation as efficiently as we can.
We have made an effort to bring increased embassy personnel to Georgetown. We have a C-130 on the way from Panama,stopping in Venezuela and going on into Georgetown, bringing administrative and consular personnel with it.
I understand also that there is one consular officer who is coming in commercially to Georgetown on commercial aircraft from Trinidad.
The embassy has an increased workload and I am sure that there will be others who will be interested in this story, and we will try to deal with it as efficiently as we can.
Q: Tom, has there been direct contact either by the embassy or by the Department with the DCM, the Deputy Chief of Mission.
A: Yes, I understand. I assume that there has been, because at one point I was told that he expected to be in Georgetown by dark, and at another time I was told that he was still at the airstrip at Port Kaituma.
Now I assume that that indicates some communication between Georgetown and the Deputy Chief of Mission, but I don't know of any specific telephonic communication.
Q: Do you plan to get back to us again this evening?
A: No, I had not planned on getting back to you again this evening.
Q: Are there any efforts for handling some of the people in Jonestown who might want to leave? Is the United States going to provide transportation for those people who might want to leave now?
A: We will await the arrival of Guyanese security forces in the Jonestown area so that we can ascertain what the facts are on the ground. If there are people in need of medical attention, we will be prepared to provide all assistance necessary to treat them or to deal with their desires. But until we have a good fix on the factual situation, I think that the question which you ask is a hypothetical one.
Q: Tom, can you tell us if Congressman Ryan proceeded without -- on this trip without any kind of contact with the Jonestown community or its leaders, or was there some kind of a prior contact before he went in there?
A: I am not competent to answer your question. I suggest you contact the Congressman's office.
Q: Are there any bodies that might be brought out, and how will they be brought back to the United States?
A: The bodies will be brought back as soon as possible from Port Kaituma to Georgetown.
Q: Tom, can you tell us who is on the C-141 that is on its way back? Is it just the wounded, or other members of the Congressman's party?
A: It is, without giving names, nine wounded, one relative of a wounded person, the crew, which is flying the airplane, a back-up crew to fly the airplane, and I believe nine medical, seven personnel, medical personnel, doctors and nurses
Q: Seven or nine, I'm sorry.
Q: Seven medical.
Q: Tom, is the Justice Department involved or the FBI involved in investigating the shooting or killing yet?
A: Ask the Justice Department.
Q: Do you happen to know yourself?
A: I don't.
Q: Tom, is it known how many other Congressmen have been murdered while in a foreign country?
A: Not by me. Any other questions?
Q: Wait a minute, Tom, I haven't finished.
A: Go ahead, your next.
Q: All right. You said twice that those bodies will be taken back to Georgetown as soon as possible.
Q: Do you have any idea how soon after that they will be brought back to the United States?
A: No, sir. It is my understanding, or it would seem logical to me that pursuant to the laws of Guyana, there would have to be an investigation, which would mean that there would have to be an autopsy to establish the cause of death of these people. And I believe that that would probably have to be carried out within the territorial jurisdiction of Guyana.
Q: Could I ask a question on another matter?
Q: Could you tell us what the origin was of this statement by Secretary Vance this morning on Iran, what prompted it?
A: It was in response to press items which we saw in the Soviet press yesterday with regard to the situation in Iran.
Q: Tom, in other words, if the autopsy and investigation drag on, apparently the Carter administration is not going to do anything except deplore the murder of the Congressman and the news men.
A: The question is entirely hypothetical. The United States Government has dispatched a pathologist to assist the Guyanese authorities. We believe that the cooperation thus far of the Guyanese authorities has been splendid.
Q: Thank you, Tom.
(The briefing concluded at 4:40 p.m.)
Back to index - Press Briefing - November 20, 1978
On-The-Record Briefing by
John A. Bushnell, Deputy Assistant Secretary,
ARA (Inter-American Affairs), on the Guyana Incident
Monday, November 20, 1978
Mr. Bushnell: I have been handling the task force which we have set up over the weekend to manage the situation in Guyana.
I might start by trying in very broad sweep to give you the situation in a prepared statement and then I'll respond to your questions. This can all be on the record.
We know now that there has been a great calamity in Guyana involving a large number of American citizens. There have been coldblooded murders and apparently many suicides. Yesterday we managed to evacuate the injured from the attacks on the Congressional Delegation at Port Kaituma. Today our attention is concentrated on the situation in Jonestown, the center for the People's Temple in Guyana. The entire situation is complicated by the very large logistical problems. Jonestown is about 150 miles from Georgetown, the capital, by air. There are only a couple of very small dirt strips in the area, and they are several miles from the compound on the center of Jonestown itself. This morning the situation was further complicated by torrential rains. We expect shortly to have official American personnel in Jonestown. In fact, I've just talked to the Ambassador in Georgetown and he believes that some American personnel have now arrived in Jonestown; and we hope within a couple of hours to have adequate radio communication with them. We do not have that at the moment. At the moment we have the information passed to our Embassy by the Guyanese police who entered Jonestown last night. This is fragmentary and incomplete but indicates a number of dead currently estimated by the Guyanese police at about 400.
Throughout this incident, the Government of Guyana has been cooperating fully with us. Thus far all the reports indicate that the incidents only involve Americans. Of course, major crimes have been committed in Guyanese territory and that government recognizes its responsibilities in this area.
Early on in this crisis, the United States Government offered whatever assistance might be needed to the Guyanese Government. Given the magnitude of the problem, the Guyanese Government has asked us for assistance, particularly in the area of transportation, and we are making urgent arrangements to introduce military helicopters into the area. We are also supplying a number of other non-lethal items, such as radios, to the Guyanese police and security forces operating in the Jonestown area.
Although a considerable number of American - largely military - personnel will be involved in the support operation, at this point the primary legal responsibility for bringing those who are guilty to justice remains with the Guyanese Government. As I have said, they are cooperating fully with us and have formed this morning a Cabinet-level committee to coordinate their efforts in this very unfortunate situation that has occurred on their territory.
Q: Could you say - your comment about the major crimes committed and the Guyanese Government recognizes its responsibility - do you mean by that that you have had discussions with them regarding the extradition of any of these people under the treaty that we have with Guyana?
A: We have not at this point had any discussions on extradition. The evidence - the facts that we have - I wouldn't call it "evidence" at this point - the fact that we have indicated that crimes such as murder have taken place in Guyana. These are crimes in Guyana; they are not crimes in the United States, and initially this would involve trial under the Guyanese law and procedures, and they recognize that situation.
It is conceivable that there are crimes that have taken place in the United States, particularly involving such issues as conspiracy. That question is under investigation by our law enforcement authorities. Conceivably, that could result at some point in a request for extradition, but that is a more uncertain situation than the situation we have on the ground there today.
Q: I want to follow up that point specifically because Mr. Holsinger, who I understand is an aide to the late Congressman Ryan, has already charged that the State Department ignored requests -- or, rather, that the Guyanan Government ignored U.S. court order requests that Jones be extradited. Do you know anything about that at all?
A: To my knowledge, there was not an official request communicated in the normal way for the extradition of Jones from Guyana. I would say on this subject that there have been a number of legal problems which have arisen in the interface between large numbers of Americans and the Guyanese system.These have particularly involved the custodianship of children who were in the colony in Guyana where one or another parent or relative wished to claim them. Action has been taken in some of these cases in Guyanese courts, and this has been an issue of some discussion from time to time - certainly between our Embassy and the Guyanese authorities - but I know of no formal extradition request having been made for Mr. Jones.
Q: Mr. Holsinger also said, Mr. Bushnell, yesterday that Congressman Ryan was very concerned and had complained to his staff that the information coming from our Embassy there was inadequate - that he was getting less than the in-depth analysis that he was requesting based upon reports from his constituents that they had relatives who were being held involuntarily in the encampment.
A: Let me just say that the consular section of our Embassy has made regular visits to Jonestown in order to provide consular services. Because of the substantial volume of requests which they had from American-citizen family members suggesting that members of their family were being held in Jonestown against their will, they tried in these cases, where this was brought to their attention, to have private face-to-face discussions with these people in Jonestown. They had a large number, a substantial number - I don't have an exact figure - over the course of the last many months of such discussions. They did not find any case where meeting face to face with the person in Jonestown that that person indicated they were being held there any way against their will. What they found was reported back to the concerned family members.
It obviously was not possible, given the remoteness of Jonestown and our limited consular staff and so forth, to always respond as rapidly as concerned family members might like nor with as much detail as they might like; but I think that in the cases on which we were made aware the consular officers did have face-to-face contact in Jonestown with the involved family members.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, is there anybody left alive in Guyana to extradite - according to the reports you've had?
A: There are certainly a number of people who have been associated with the Peoples Temple colony there who are still alive. There are a small number who have at this point made there way into Georgetown and there are some others that have made their way to various police points in remote areas of the country. Whether or not any of these people were involved in any of the deplorable criminal actions, we have no way of knowing at this time. The last report that we have from the Guyanese police on the ground in Jonestown is that they do not - they have not found any living persons there.
Q: What about the nine that were supposedly arrested?
A: I am not aware of some number of nine supposedly arrested. But there are a number of people who have come in to police posts remote from Jonestown, a number of miles from Jonestown. These people are under police custody at the moment - if we want to use the word "custody" - until the situation is sorted out. Whether or not any of them are responsible for any sort of crime has certainly not yet been determined. That is presumably being looked at in some respect.
There is one case that I know of - and there may be other cases - where the Guyanese authorities have denied - refused to allow Americans associated with the People's Temple to leave the country because of the potential suspicion at least that they were involved. So far as I know, there is no one yet arrested charged with the crime.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, Mr. Holsinger said some other things to reporters yesterday. He said that Congressman Ryan had asked State to investigate this, but was assured there was no cause for alarm and he said directly they told us everything was fine among the Temple followers in Guyana; they said it was a private matter between private citizens and Iran (sic) should not get involved.
A: I think given the level of understandable emotion that we have surrounding this whole issue and we have upstairs in the operation center a number of people who have been on the phone to relatives and so forth over the last 48 hours, there are a lot of things which, fortunately I might say, we in the State Department don't become involved in all the time. But in the sort of family tensions that arise, in this sort of situation there is the feeling frequently that, one, that the Government, whatever the Government is, and in this case it tends to be our Embassy in Guyana, is not able to satisfy all of the questions, all of the aspect,that concern family members raised. I think that is understandable.
I would say that we had a series of briefings for the Congressman and his staff before he made this trip. We pointed out to him, on the one hand, that our consular officers had been regularly visiting Jonestown; none of them had ever been molested in any way; these visits had been open; that the had been able to talk to whoever they wanted to, as I indicated earlier. Nonetheless, we pointed out to him that it was well known to him, as well as to us, that the camp had armed guards; that it was in a very remote area; very hard to reach; there was not a significant Guyanese law enforcement presence in the area. Nonetheless, I think that we have certainly found it in the State Department very difficult to say to any Congressman that he should not visit other American citizens, particularly those who are his constituents, wherever in the world he might find them.
We did feel that because he had been visited personally by a number of people who had left that settlement in Guyana and who had first-hand information of what went on there - they have also visited us and given us explanations given to him - that, in fact, he was aware of the situation there; as aware of some of the plans and the procedures of this group of people; as we were.
We discussed all these problems with him and his staff in detail. We pointed out the very real limits of any American Embassy anywhere in the world in terms of security for visiting people, but we had to leave, and I think it was proper for us to leave to him, the choice of whether or not he made the visit and the final arrangements for doing so.
Q: Has the Department made contact with Gary and Lane and has it learned anything from them or anyone else as to what sparked it exactly, what went on beyond what we have in the press reports?
A: I would say, to be perfectly frank with you, this morning some of our consular officers in Georgetown talked for an hour and a half with Mr. Lane. They have prepared a report, which is at this point arriving here. I have not read it. But we have been in contact. We have obviously substantial problems and will have of the Privacy Act in terms of revealing what is in the cable to the press even after we have looked at it, but it may give us some additional information.
Q: Can you be a little more specific on the inter-relationship between the United States and local authorities? In other words, you spoke before of questioning. Are American officials or will they be present at such questioning, participate? It is sort of a joint investigation? Or are you confident that somehow, you know, they are doing the job and you will hear about it? How inter-related or how involved is the U.S. Government in the investigation?
A: The basic responsibility for the investigation and, of course, the basic capability to do it is with the Guyanese. We have offerred assistance of various sorts. They have taken us up on the offer of particularly transport and things like this. We anticipate having a number of legal attaches - those are attaches of the FBI - going to Guyana as soon as we can arrange it. These are people that would have had expertise with the sort of situation that has arisen there that could help them with interviewing and so forth.
We have indicated that we will make available laboratory work and other sorts of things like that from the United States.
At this stage in the investigation, which is the very initial stages, we are essentially standing opne to provide whatever miggt be useful that they would require and until the investigation advances we will not know precisely what they will be.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, at this point are you clear at all on how many of the American deaths that were reported this morning were suicides and how many were murders? What do the Guyanese police report to your people?
A: Frankly, we are not clear on that until we get the reports from our own people in that area. The initial report that we had indicated that at least many or most of the bodies which they had seen seemed to have no signs of external trauma or damage. That, however, was not a complete inventory. I would not want to rule out that there are bodies with that sign, but at least the initial report from the people initially arriving indicated that the bodies that they seem to be inspecting and seeing closely did not have any signs of external damage.
Q: That would still leave about 700 Americans unaccounted for. There are 400 bodies and yesterday you people said there were 1100 people there.
A: I want to stay away, if we can, and I think it is going to raise a lot of hopes, perhaps unnecessarily, in this country with too much of a numbersgame. Our estimate of 1100 Americans in that colony was an estimate as of some months ago. It is not something which we have any facility for keeping up to date every time there is a birth, every time anybody leaves, and so forth.
Q: John, is it possible to get a chronology of consular visits in recent months, including those that related to the specific complaints from relatives?
A: We can prepare for you, I think, from the records of the Embassy - we will probably have to contact them to do this - a list of the dates over 1978, let's say, at which consular officers visited Jonestown. In all of these visits they took up some problems raised by family members. So that, the list of visits would include - all those visits would involve that problem.
Q: Sir, in those visits that these consular officers made, I think you said in your opening remarks that they had not come up with any instance in which in a private conversation with a member of the community those people expressed either the fact that they wanted to leave or that they were being held against their will. But in your briefings with Congressman Ryan and his staff, certainly they presented indications to the contray, indications which may have turned out to be true, if we can credit those things that have been said by the survivors of the incident at the airport the other day. Now, I am wondering how the Department and the Congressman's staff managed to reconcile in the briefings that were held before he went down there what appeared to be an inconsistency of the status of the people who were living in that compound; your consular officers saying that everything was all right down there and Ryan's people coming up with, I would assume, a substantial number of indications to the contrary?
A: All that our consular officers could physically do, recognizing that we did not have a consular post in the community or anything like that, is to sit down with a person and talk with them and give them every opportunity in private to raise any complaints with the situation of that nature, that they couldn't leave if they wanted to leave, that they would want to raise. They did not do so. Now, whether, in fact, even some of these people who may subsequently have left the camp felt that there was some constraint on them, which they didn't bring up with the consular officer, I could not speak to. The role of the consular officer, - remember these are American citizens, both in the camp and complaining - is limited certainly in terms he is not engaged in investigation. He was engaged in talking with them face to face and giving them an opportunity to raise problems that they felt they might have had.
We do know, of course, that there are a number of people who did leave the camp.
Q: I was asking about do you know if the set of people that wanted to leave with Ryan, if any of those people had been previously contacted during these consular visits?
A: This is of the six to ten who were leaving with him. We do not at this moment even have a complete set of names for those people. So, until we get that we cannot address that.
Q: Just to clarify that, Was the Department approached either State or Justice, by such a law enforcement officer requesting extradition of Mr. Jones?
A: Well, this Department and the other Departments of the Government are very big places. If we were approached formally, the State Department would certainly have proceeded formally with it.
I cannot say for all the people in this building and other buildings that nobody ever had a conversation about it.
Q: John, you can understand that there is a tremendous amount of interest at this point in precisely what happened at Jonestown, and you have indibated that a number of people from Jonestown are now in Georgetown, where presumably they have been debriefed by local police, and where presumably some of your people have been in touch. Would you give us as much as you can what you know?
A: I will say that we are in the process of this. In the course of the morning, there have been such contacts as you have mentioned. The people who have had these contacts are writing this up, and we do not physically have it here. I have not felt that this was something I should go into in depth over the phone. It is better to get that in writing. So, we will have those reports coming in to us, and at this point I cannot say anymore than that.
We do have reports from Guyanese authorities that a suicide pact of some sort was implemented, that some people fled the camp area, the compound, the area called Jonestown, as that process was underway.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, let me just follow up, if I may, because yesterday there was some information which came out of this Department to the effect that a message was sent from Jonestown to the headquarters of the sect in Georgetown requesting an additional aircraft, because, so the message said, some extra people wanted to leave. Is that accurate, first of all? And, secondly, how does that fit in with what obviously happened thereafter?
A: That is essentially adequate, as I understand it. The Embassy, of course, was responsible for providing transport, arraning transport, for the Congressional Delegation, as is normal for Congressional Delegations.
The Embassy does not, and did not, at that time, have any communications, and has never had any communication wit Jonestown. There are no telephones. There are no communications.
My understanding is that the people at Jonestown have communicated by essentially short-wave amateur radio, including communicating with their office in Georgetown. At about noon, Georgetown time, on Saturday, The Embassy was called by the Georgetown office of the Peoples Temple which said that their people in Jonestown had called and there were some people from Jonestown that wished to leave with the Congressional party, that this was a number of, as I recall, six to ten people were given, and therefore there was a request that the Embassy provide additional transport in order to bring those people out at the same time as the Congressional party.
There was no indication of anything having to do with motivation of this, but that is the report that the Embassy did receive, and has been repeated to me by Embassy officials.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, yesterday morning at the first briefing, the State Department had said really nothing in reply to a question. The spokesman said, "We didn't warn the Congressman." Yesterday afternoon, the State Department said it had given him logistical warnings. This morning you mention he was informed of armements, armed guards, and other problems.
I am wondering if all of this comes down to that he really was being told without the actual words being used that State would rather he not go in there, that it was unsafe, that it was dangerous, that he might lose his life.
A: Let me try to put this in perspective in the following way. We have had over the last, more than a year, a great many conversations by State Department people with the Congressman and particularly with various members of his staff. He was, of course, interested in the situation there. It was a matter important to his office, to him, and to his constituency.
We were very aware in the State Department that just as (line repeated in original) our desk officers were seeing individuals who had left the colony that the Congressman and his staff were seeing these same individuals. In fact, we would often refer an individual that would come to one of their offices first to come to the office. So we were aware from this longer series of discussions that the Congressman had essentially the same body of knowledge about this situation as we had. In fact, there are many of us which assume that if anything, he might have, in some aspects, have known more than we did, because he had reports from his constituency, from his office, and so forth.
So it was not as though - and I think this is perhaps the misimpression that has gotten around - that when the Congressman came to see us, we began to brief him, as though this was a new situation which he had no familiarity with it. Obviously he had immense familiarity with it. He knew virtually almost as much about it as we did, so that to a considerable extent, what we concentrated on briefing him were those things we thought he would not have been familiar with; for example, what our consular officers who had been visiting the area had done, what they had encountered there, and so forth, such as the presence of armed guards in the camp, and the very difficult problems that we would face in handling a Congressional Delegation, of moving them up there, particularly if, in addition to the official members of the party there were other members of the party that wanted to go at the same time, and so forth.
It did not seem to the people giving this briefing that they needed to say in so many words that this was a dangerous undertaking. I think that that was, in some respects, clear to everyone involved in the issue. On the other hand, I suppose in some respects, it had been somewhat dangerous, in retrospect, at least, for our consular officers to be going in there once a month, and yet they have been doing that, and doing it successfully for some time.
So that is the general perspective of which one should look at this situation of what we told the Congressman and his staff beforehand.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, can you assume that the State Department in the field would know more than a Congressman hearing reports from his constituents?
A: As I said, we did brief the Congressman on what the Embassy had sent in. That was the particular view which we could add to the view that he was getting independently from people who had been there, and so forth.
I do not myself have any personal knowledge about any so-called suicide pact, and so forth. We do have, as you know, we operate under considerable restraints in terms of our own constitutional provisions on religious frdedom, and so forth. And I think all consular officers of the Foreign Service have to be circumspect in the sorts of questions in terms of religious ceremonies and so forth that they might ask, and information that we might ask of that nature.
So I think we did share with him the sort of information that we had in giving him as full a briefing on the situation as we could.
Q: I wonder if, picking up on being circumspect, do you suppose that possibly why your officials were able to get in and out safely, and possibly why your officials were not able to find anybody who was being held against his will was because possibly - and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I'd like you to speculate - they were so circumspect that they didn't ruffle anybody or dig too deeply?
A: --that the consular officer has a certain service to provide, issuing birth certificates, passports, the various sorts of things that he needs to do. This brings him in very direct personal contact with a wide range of people. The individual consular officers requested to see the individuals where they had received requests from family members; those individuals appeared, talked with them. The consular officers had previously read the letters from their involved family members of what they had said; they explored what was said in those letters; they talked back and forth. I think I would at least argue that our consular officers are, by and large, and certainly our ones in Guyana are very sensitive individuals. They would certainly not try to embarrass any American citizen sitting in front of him, but they, since they would then go back and themselves draft what in many cases was an agonizingly hard letter to draft, describing to the family member what they had found. I think they would watch for the nuance, they would watch for what was said in order to get a feeling for that situation.
Q: What is your explanation for why your people could go in and out with apparent ease and these people got gunned down of the runway?
A: Until we have a lot more facts, I think we would just be speculating on this situation. Obviously, something happened somehow at a critical time. If we look back over it, the Congressional Delegation was admitted to the camp, it was there for some time; the shooting occurred, not at the camp but at the airport. Obviously, this raises a large number of questions and we simply do not have the answers to those questions, and we have a lot of investigating to do, a lot of people to talk to. I suspect, as often in these cases, the stories will not be identical -- we will have to do some sorting out of the situation. There is, obviously, a difference between a substantial Congressional Delegation and the visit of an individual consular officer who is coming on, what is generally perceived to be important business in terms of establishing the rights of American citizens of the other people in the compound.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, I would like to follow up that question also. The question I would raise with you is whether a consular officer going in would be empowered to say, "I'm prepared to take you out with me if in fact you want to leave." Might that not be a significant difference between what a consular officer has to say and and what Congressman Ryan had to say?
A: What the consular officer could have done in that case, of course, never arose. However, we did not, as I have said, encounter any situation in which anyone indicated to a consular officer that he or she wished to leave the camp and was being detained, if he was.
Q: That's not the question I was raising. The question I was raising was whether a consular officer would volunteer the information that if someone wanted to leave, he, with the power of the U.S. Government behind him, was prepared to facilitate that.
A: I think that it would be implicit or explicit in what he said that should an individual indicate that he wished to leave, that he would work towards that end.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, you may have answered this: was any attempt made to elicit any information from the legal counsel who were representing the Peoples Temple about what conditions may have been like, there?
A: We have had some conversations with their legal counsel, both on individual problems such as custody problems and on the general situation.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, I'm finding it difficult to understand. If this group was causing enough concern to warrant once-a-month visits by your consular officers, when they would issue birth certificates and whatnot, and since it is so unusual for a religious group to transplant itself in large numbers to a foreign country, why you don't have a real count on who these people were. Did you have any discussion with the Guyanese Government as to how many were there, why they were there, and why the Guyanese let them stay there?
A: Let me say this, that in relation to the count it is the normal procedure that American embassies everywhere in the world ask that Americans resident in the country register with them, giving their addresses, phone numbers and so forth, so that they are registered with the Embassy. This request has been made repeatedly, both of individual Americans and of the group leadership at the Peoples Temple, but very few in fact registered.
Now, in terms of your visit of once a month, the primary controlling factor here was not an element of concern, it was a matter of trying to provide consular services to a substantial number of Americans in a very isolated region. We were not going there because we were concerned about them in some sense, we were going there to provide the consular services of issuing birth certificates, death certificates, passports, all of these rorts of things that we do for Americans overseas, and because it was inherently inconvenient for them to come to the Embassy, which is what we would normally require of people in this situation. They would be expected to come to the Embassy for these services. There were, as you know, a great many young people in that camp. There were frequent births, and so forth, and that was what controlled the approximately once-a-month visits.
Q: John, when the Department received complaints or inquiries from relatives of people in Jonestown, to follow up, who exercised the principal policy and administrative control in terms of referring these to the Embassy? Would this be ARA or was it the Bureau of Consular Affairs?
A: I suppose it would depend on who got the letter first. They would come in in some cases to Consular Affairs; they would come in in some cases to ARA. The desk officer and the people working on that in Consular Affairs would consult. In some cases, if it were sort of non-specific, general requests for information that would be required, it would be provided by the appropriate bureau; in other cases, it would be referred to the Embassy. In the sort of cases where we have raised where the letter made the accusation that an individual was being held there in some respects against his will, then the consular officer on his next visit would try to talk with that person, and as I said, had been successful in doing so, and would them himself prepare the response, either directly or back through channels here depending on what was appropriate.
Q: What I was getting at was, in the days just prior to the last visit to Guyana, the visit that Congressman Ryan made to Guyana, was any consultation done with Mr. Lane or Mr. Garry about the probability or the possibility of such an event as took place on Saturday?
A: I doubt if someone raised that rort of an event. There were some contacts, I think, between some State Department people and between the Congressman's office and these people. I am not fully informed at this point on that, so I cannot answer that question very definitively.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TRANSCRIPT OF THE SPECIAL BRIEFING
ON THE GUYANA SITUATION
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1978
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BUSHNELL: I guess I should first bring you up to date on what we have learned and what has been happening in Guyana since we last met yesterday afternoon.
Last evening following his return to Georgetown from spending the day up country in Jonestown working with the Guyanese police and security forces, Vic Dikeos, who is normally our Deputy Chief of Mission in Panama but who is temporarily in Guyana as the Acting DCM since our DCM there was wounded on Saturday --
Q: Could you spell it?
A: D-I-K-O-S, I believe.
-- "gave me a briefing by phone of what he had observed, and I might pass the key elements of that on to you.
At the time that he left just at dark from Jonestown last night they had counted 405 bodies. I know that there are some reports in the press that have slightly different numbers. I think that is not a particularly firm count. Through the course of the afternoon they were still finding additional bodies, and presumably the figure will increase as they are able to explore the area more thoroughly.
We don't have any indication and I don't want to suggest that there will be a major increase, but that is still a situation which is not fully resolved.
Of these bodies roughly a quarter, about 100, were children.
The overwhelming majority has no external signs of trauma and the presumption and the reports were that these people died of poison. A small number, including the leader, Bishop Jones, there were bullet shot wounds and that was the apparent cause of death.
They had not, I should stress, performed autopsies or arrived at any definitive sort of conclusion on that element. That is work that is continuing at this time.
In addition, during the course of the day yesterday fourteen residents of Jonestown came in from the jungle, People who had fled into the jungle Saturday when these events Saturday afternoon happened. They came back into Jonestown either completely on their own volition and their own motivation or because the Guyanese police had reached them somewhere in the surrounding area and had helped them back in.
Of the fourteen, four were children, two of the children were wounded and were evacuated last night to Georgetown. The preliminary indication is that the wounds are not serious.
The survivors who came back in, together with some residents of the area and the police, have managed thus far to give at least a preliminary identification to about half of the deceased on the ground there in Jonestown.
We are continuing to move in as rapidly as we can our support for the Guyanese police in their efforts on all the aspects of this situation. However, it will be tomorrow morning before we have in the full amounts of equipment, particularly helicopters that we hope to provide. So we are still rather light on the ground.
At dirst daylight this morning a light plane arrived from Panama that will be used to shuttle our people from Georgetown up-country. Through the course of the morning three or four additional aircraft have arrived with a crane to assemble helicopters with two helicopters on board. It will take us a few hours to get them operational.
During the next 24 hours additional helicopters will be flown in disassembled. We now have airborne over the Caribbean three HH-53 helicopters. These are the great big Chinook helicopters. They have airborne refueling capacity, and they will be arriving at first light tomorrow morning.
It is a twenty-hour flight from Florida Elgin Air Force Base, which they have departed from, to Georgetown.
Until we get particularly these heavy helicopters on the ground, the actual transport ability in Guyana is very severely limited. There are only a few light planes available for moving people up-country or potentially for bringing bodies out of the area. So there has not yet been any attempt to move bodies, and I will come to that situation in a minute.
Because of the shortage of transportation and the weight of the radio equipment which we had hoped to move to Jonestown yesterday, that was not moved in order to give priority to moving up-country people that were particularly Guyanese police officials who were needed in Jonesville. As soon as we get our helicopters operating, and perhaps even before, we will have that moved up, which will improve our communications.
We have a Consular Officer who has stayed in Jonestown overnight. We have additional Consular Officers who have moved up there this morning and who will be working with the Guyanese in the identification, in the inventorying and controlling the personal effects of the individuals and other normal consular functions.
The Guyanese security officials have continued to pursue their investigation of this matter. A small number of people have been detained. They have, of course, interviewed, as I am sure members of the press have judging by the coverage today, the survivors, both those in Georgetown and those on the scene in Jonestown.
Q: Has anyone been arrested by the Guyanese?
A: There are some people who have been detained. I believe in their system that the irst step until a court actually hands down a ormal charge they are not arrested and charged with a particular crime. But they have been detained for investigation in connection with both the series of incidents on the ground and with the incidents at Jonestown itself.
Q: Do you know the number?
A: Before I turn to questions, let me go on and deal with one additional situation here.
We have on the basis of the reports which we have received from our people on the ground -- we have an obviously rather appalling situation. Remembering that this is a tropical climate, we have bodies which have now been out in the open in the sun and the rain. There have continued to be very strong rain showers every day for over 72 hours. There are major problems with insects and the bodies are already becoming very hard to identify.
Because of this we have reviewed this situation and have authorized our Ambassador in connection with the Guyanese authorities that if the Guyanese authorities recommend on the basis of the health conditions in Jonestown -- and I would say that it looks as though they may be doing that -- they may, in fact, as of this moment already have done it -- that they may begin to inter these bodies locally.
Prior to burial every effort is and will be made to positively identify all the dead and to arrange for a proper, decent burial and grave site with individual markers.
As I said, about half the victims have so far been identified.
This would not have been, if we had had our choice, the route that I think we would have followed, but at this point the course of events and the fact that we have very limited transportation forces us into it.
Moreover, the fact that some people, including children, have been coming out of the jungle suggests the possibility at least that we may have survivors who have gone through a very harrowing experience, who are very much afraid, and are still in the jungle; and we feel that we need to give the first priority with the available transportation to the search and rescue operation for these people who we would hope would still be alive, both in terms of using heavy-lift capacity to move additional Guyanese people into the area and to support them and in terms of using the light choppers, some of which will be equipped with loud speakers and so forth for the actual search and rescue operation.
So that, on the one hand, we have decided that the course of events forces us to give that priority and the health situation leaves us no choice but to go along with a decision of the Guyanese authorities to begin interring these people in the site.
We will make every effort to identify them. We do have airborne at this moment a DOD, Department of Defense team, called a Graves Identification Unit, people who are experienced with identification and the handling of bodies, who will be moved into Jonestown as quickly as possible to assist the Guyanese with this task.
I think that essentially completes the update of the situation, and I can turn to questions.
Q: Can we have a list of the casualties that have been identified, of the people that have been identified?
A: We will as we get this information. Our Consular people in the task force have this available. We will not provide under the Privacy Act these lists to the press. Those who have friends and relatives have been calling in, will continue to call in. We will make every effort to notify next of kin, but it is not appropriate for us to put this out certainly until we have been able to notify the next of kin very widely and there are some problems in locating some next of kin in some cases.
But we are notifying as we get the information both the families of survivors and of deceased, as we get that information.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, could you tell me whether it is apparent yet whether Mr. Jones' bullet wounds were self-inflicted or not?
A: I think before I say anything on that I should allow the medical examiners to make their examination. Some people who have been in the area have suggested that it is. But until there is actually an official determination on that, I would only say that the indications from the people on the ground certainly suggest that that is a possibility; that it is not ruled out.
Q: What the other question I had is how quickly will the gravediggers be there or the grave people? When are they expected to arrive?
A: The first members of that team will be arriving in Georgetown late this afternoon or early this evening and will be moved as soon as we can up to Jonestown. The remainder will be in over the course of the night.
Q: What information do you have from the Guyanese police about the possibility of murders occurring in the bush, those who escaped being shot?
A: At this point we have no information from the Guyanese police. They have not, to my knowledge anyway, identified any bodies in the bush who are shot. That is not to say that they have completed their work on this. What we will find as that continues is uncertain.
But at this point we do not have a report from them that would indicate that there are people who have been shot in the bush.
Q: A two-part question:
Since there are reports that Guyana received sixty letters of recommendations that they admit the Reverend Jim Jones to Guyana, these letters coming from a number of prominent Democrats, including the First Lady and the Vice President, will the Carter Administration apologize to Guyana for recommending this homicidal maniac, or do you people feel no responsibility in this regard?
A: I must say that there seems to have been or there was an immense amount of mail of all sorts on all sides of the issue of the Peoples Temple in Guyana.
When the Peoples Temple went to Guyana they were asked, as I think we would find normal under the laws of most countries, under the laws of Guyana, to provide indications of their history, what they were about. They provided a large number of letters of recommendation, which I gather are a part of the official record available to the public in Guyana, as a basis for making their settlement in that country.
I don't think it is appropriate from the State Department podium to make any particular comment on any of the specific letters, some of which I gather members of the press have now seen in the public records of Guyana.
Q: Could I follow that up, sir, by citing contrary to reports in Washington's daily newspapers, that Jones was first exposed in 1971. Here are three page-one stories in the San Francisco Examiner of September of 1972 which expose Jones as having been investigated by State authorities in Indiana, having armed his followers with 357 Magnums, having claimed to resurrect the dead, 43 cases, and having been identified in print and orally as divine.
My question is: If Mrs. Carter and Mr. Mondale were ignorant of this, does the Carter Administration believe that the California Democrats, such as Mosconi and Congressman Burton, were also innocent of this information?
A: I have no way to answer that question, as you know, and don't want to get into a discussion of that aspect. I think it is the normal procedure when Governments go overseas -- when groups such as the Peoples Temple go overseas, they present their case to the local government. That is a matter largely between them and the local government, not between government-to-government basis.
Q: When they have the Vice President of the United States endorsing them? You think that is a personal matter, sir, and no responsibility
In other words, you don't feel, as a member of the Carter Administration, any responsibility for having endorsed this man?
A: For having endorsed this many in which way?
The Vice President of the United States, Walter Mondale, wrote a letter of endorsement. So did Mrs. Jimmy Carter. That is fairly high up in the Carter Administration. They endorsed this guy, despite the fact that he had been exposed in San Francisco and in Minneapolis.
A: Well, I think this is a question you would have to raise with them.
Q: I will.
A: I think it is clear from what you are saying that these letters were not written while they are in their present positions. These are letters that were written at some time in the past.
A: I would say that from the State Department that we have had a very large amount of mail on both sides of the issue, as we have discussed in previous Press Conferences here. We have had a lot of mail that has been critical of the Peoples Temple. We have had an even larger amount of mail which has had very good things to say about the Peoples Temple and, in fact, has said explicitly that many of the allegations being made were not true.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, on this subject of correspondence, have you been able to find out yet what reply the State Department made to the May 10 letter from a number of parents or to the April 19 letters?
A: I have now read the letter that you referred to yesterday in which it was asked that we communicate certain concerns of a number of parents to the Prime Minister of Guyana. I have confirmed that we did communicate those concerns, in fact, by passing a copy of that letter to the Government of Guyana.
I have not yet -- actually I have asked my people to find out, and they have not yet found the actual response saying that we had done that. I assume that that request was made of us. The request was carried out. And a letter was sent saying so, although I have not found a copy of that in the files yet.
Q: A follow-up please.
You haven't found the response any of those State Department officials made to those parents though; is that correct?
A: The request which we received was to pass to the Government of Guyana a memo, as I recall it, a document from a number of concerned parents. We did what was requested in that. We passed that to the Government of Guyana.
It was also asked in the letter that when we had done so that we let them know. I believe that that was done, but I have not yet found a copy of the letter or letters in which it is said that we have done that.
Q: Did we pass it without comment, sir, without American State Department comment?
A: I believe that when we passed this letter we explained what it was, how it came to our attention, and indicated what generally was the nature of the people that had signed that letter.
Q: One clarification.
You have about 200 bodies identified. You will begin burying them and those graves will be identified. This is at the settlement site.
Will those victims later be disinterred and returned to the United States at no cost to the next of kin?
A: Well, of course, we are still in the initial stages of this and I think we will have to sort some of these things out later. It would be my general understanding that the law of Guyana would permit after a certain period disinterment of these people; that there is no facility, no financing available for the U.S. Government for that. It would have to be at private expense.
Q: Do you have an estimate of the number of people who may have fled who survived who were out there in the jungle?
A: We do not have any estimate of that. We did find -- the Guyanese police found a group of something between 800 and 900 passports in a trunk in Jonesville, presumably since the policy in the settlements seem to be to turn in the passports for central holding. These presumably represented passports of people who were there, at least there at one time.
A number of these passports are quite old. They are the old style passports that haven't been issued for a while. So I am not sure until we have done more work and looked through them. There may be duplication in these passports. There may be passports there of people that left the colony a long time ago.
So that, we do not have any number of how many were there and, therefore, how many are unaccounted for.
The fact that a number of people ran into the jungle, some of these people, a small number, have now come back, suggest that there still may be some at least people in the jungle and that is why we feel that the highest priority, because of the very rugged conditions which they are suffering under, is to use our resources and the Guyanese police resources in order to try to reach these people and bring them out.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, do you have a figure on the total number of visits by Consular Officers since this began, since the Department's attention was called to this feeling on the part of their relatives here?
Can you tell us how many such visits by Consular Officers took place? And do you have any explanation for the fact that apparently they never discovered anyone who wanted to leave?
A: Let me go into that a little bit.
As I said yesterday, we have made four Consular visits in 1978. There were some additional visits made in '77.
Q: Four in 1977?
A: Four in 1978. I gave the months of that in the briefing yesterday afternoon.
I did now talk to the officer who made some of these visits and given the interest in this, I think I might explain a little bit more about what he has told me because I think it is germain to the questions that some of you are asking.
I asked him what were the physical circumstances of these private interviews. He tells me that he conducted these private interviews in an open field at a distance from any buildings and with unimpeded vision in all directions. Just the Consular Officer and the individual.
I asked him were these interviews conducted at the request of the Consular Officer or that of the person interviewed. He said that in every case they were conducted at the request of the Consular Officer based on the request from friends and relatives, such as through the letters which have been mentioned here.
I asked did the interviewee, the person being interviewed, complain of or support allegations of physical, mental or sexual abuse by the Reverend Jones or other members of the Peoples Temple. In all cases the answer was "no".
I asked did any of those interviewed indicate a desire to escape from or otherwise leave Jonestown. The answer is "no". All denied that they were being held against their will or abused in any way.
I told him that I had said to you yesterday that it really wasn't proper for a Consular Officer to put his arm around somebody and escort them of the property. He said, well, he had come fairly close to that because he had said to many of these people, particularly where friends and relatives had said they were being held against their will, that if they wanted to leave he was prepared to take them then from that field, proceed to his car at the edge of the wheat field in which there was a Guyanese official and leave. None indicated any interest in taking him up on that offer.
This is over some 40 to 50 interviews of this nature conducted over the past year.
Q: You said 75.
A: There were 75 interviews conducted. Forty to fifty were conducted in this mode in the field. Others were conducted in the facility.
Q: Did he make any comment as to the mental state of those people, whether they looked drugged or whether they looked undernourished, or whether they looked afraid?
A: He indicated that the general regime -- that there was a lot of menial work, hard work to be done in a tropical climate which the members of this group participated in, but he did not sense that this, that what they were doing was beyond the abilities of the people that were involved in it. I did not ask him specifically if they looked fearful or afraid. I think the general conditions under which he conducted this interview would have tended to offset fear to the maximum extent that we possibly could have done so. In the back of the room -- give them a chance.
Q: I just wanted to get back to the point I raised yesterday because we continue to get information through diplomatic sources in Georgetown that this group is involved in marijuana smuggling. It is our information, again from sources very well placed, that this was part of a larger operation to push Guyana towards actually cultivating marijuana as a cash crop to help them in their debt situation. I'm wondering if since yesterday you have anything further on that?
A: I don't have any further information. Our people who have been in the area have not identified any fields of marijuana. I think that we'll have more information once we have more people who travel more widely in the area. But we, at this point, do not have any information indicating that.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, why did they take up this mode of going out to the field to interview people? Was it first that they did it in the compound, and for some reason the Consular Officer felt they had to do it out in the field?
A: My understanding of this is that some of the letters, at least, received by the State Department or by the Embassy itself indicated that the nature of the pressure on the people was such that they would not, that they would be afraid to be frank with the consular officer, and that therefore, he should do what he could in order to give them a chance to be frank and a chance to leave, and that is the reason he adopted, with the full agreement of the authorities in Jonestown, this mode of operation.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, I believe I heard you refer to the central figure here as "Bishop" Jones. I wrote it down; I think it's in the transcript. In this connection, I talked yesterday with the headquarters of the Deciples od Christ, Christian Church, in Indianapolis. They have 1.3 million members and is a member of the National Council of Churches. They confirmed that the Reverend Jim Jones is still a clergyman of this large denomi-nation and has not be unfrocked and so forth, and they have no bishops.
I was wondering, has he been consecrated in another denomination or do you have information that makes him a bishop or was that just your terminology or what? Why is he a bishop?
A: Various people have referred to him as Bishop Jones, and I guess that I referred to him at some time as that. I tried to refer to him basically as Reverend Jones. I think that is probably the more correct. I don't have any particular evidence that he is a bishop.
Q: All right. Thank you.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, when the letter was sent to the Guyanese Government from the parents of the Peoples Temple follower who wanted to get their relative out of there, did this government make any recommendations as to how the Guyanese authorities might pursue the matter?
A: I don't believe that this government, that the U.S. Government made any recommendations, no. I think that there was an exchange of information between our consular officer and between various Guyanese officials of the area and who visited the area in terms of the situation. And as I have said, there was no evidence that has ever been identified by any official American there thatthere was any violation or any apparent violation of any law of Guyana along the lines of the accusations in this letter.
Q: Going back to your meeting with the consular officer, did he tell you whether he ever met with Jones and did he ever report back to the Embassy that there was something which wasn't quite right with this colony, or did he ever make any comment about it at all?
A: He certainly met with Reverend Jones. I assume that when the Reverend Jones was there -- I don't know that he met with every one of the four cases of the visits this year, but if the Reverend Jones was there, I assume he met with him. He was the acknowledged leader of that group.
As I said yesterday, the Guyanese tradition -- and I think our tradition -- allows a considerable flexibility to religious organizations, and everybody looks at this, essentially, as a religious organization, and I think we were all relucant to question the befiefs and practices of other religious organizations, some of which very few of us understand. But that is not considered to be an appropriate line of inquiry for State Department officers so long as they are within the bounds of the laws of our country and of other countries.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, it was suggested in some of the press accounts this morning that the large number of firearms the encampment had, the armed guards had, may have been in violation of Guyanese law. Can you confirm that, first? And, second, do you have any information whether they smuggled firearms in or do you have any information as to how they got all those firearms in there?
A: I don't have any firm information on this. It was, of course, not obvious to our people visiting Jonestown that they had large numbers of firearms. There are laws in Guyana governing firearms. On the other hand, this is a pretty rugged area, and I think it is quite ordinary and certainly permitted for people to have weapons.
Q: Including automatic weapons?
A: I do not know what the situation is on automatic weapons, but certainly shot guns and weapons like that are widely held and permitted. At least, those weapons were common as well. It has only been since people have gotten into the camp that they have identified perhaps the availability of, the presence there of automatic weapons, and even at that, I don't have any details on, although I have seen some reports indicating that there were automatic weapons there.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, can you tell me why yesterday you didn't ask the consular officer who made the visits in 1978 for his personal impressions of the 40 or 50 interviews he made in the field, given that you had complaints from relatives, and yet the inter-views revealed no complaints whatever -- why you felt it wasn't pertinent?
A: I did ask him for his personal impressions, and he noted such things as that the colony had made a lot of progress, that they had built buildings, they had expanded, they seemed to be going ahead, that there seemed to be a lot of spirit in the colony. I think that those sorts of personal impressions he made and he communicated in the official communications to Washington.
Q: I mean the personal -- the people he interviewed. I don't mean his impressions of Jonestown; I mean the people that he interviewed. I presume that he had a logical reason for interviewing the people that he did.
A: Yes. As I said, he interviewed those people where, either we in the State Department or the Embassy had received letters with accusations that they were being abused or held against their will in some sort of situation which would be against the law, and that he tried to find out in direct, private contact with these people whether they confirmed that this was true, and in no case did any of them confirm that any of the accusations were true.
Q: Did he say whether they appeared to be under the influence of --
Q: Of what assistance was Mr. Lane to you, or Mr. Gerry, and also was there any special literature or anything of this sort found within the compound?
A: I am not aware at this time of any literature. The consular officers in Georgetown did talk with Mr. Lane and Mr. Gerry. What they told him is covered, I think, by the Privacy Act. I gather those individuals have talked with the press, and I think that you'll have to get their views from them. It's not my responsibility to pass on what they have given us in privileged communication.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, is there any reason why we can't have the identity of the consular officers who carried this out, or were all the visits carried out by one consular officer?
A: I believe that we have had three consular officers who have made visits at one time or another because of change of personnel and the fact that we have more than one consular officer there. I don't see any reason why we cannot give you that. Most of the consular visits in the first part of this year, the first half of this year, were made by Richard McCoy.
Is that the standard spelling? Does anyone know?
VOICE: M-c C-o-y.
A: I think so. I do not know myself offhand who made the visit on 7 November. I would have to find that. It is one of the consular officers still assigned there.
Q: That was the last one, 7 --
Q: Was Mr. McCoy the one you talked to on the telephone, then?
A: Mr. McCoy is the person that I talked to in person yesterday.
Q: John, in view of your emphasis on the religious nature of this group, are you aware of the story in the New York Times yesterday which quoted Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jim Jones, as saying her husband didn't really believe in religion, but he recognized that this could be used as a substitute to get people out of their superstition and other indications such as Jones' affinity for Cuba, his trip to Cuba, his promotion efforts to get officials in Washington to help Cuba; that this was, basically, not so much a religious movement but rather a political activity on his part under the guise of religion? Do you have any information on that?
A: We do not have any information that he engaged in any activities which we would not put in a largely religious character except those that are proper. Just because a person is religious doesn't mean they cannot have political beliefs and activities as well.
Q: But are you aware of Mrs. Jones' statement that he didn't believe in religion?
A: I am not personally aware of that statement.
Q: You didn't read the Times article on it?
Q: When your consular officers and the people in the State Department here, one, read the letter from the parents and then read the affidavit that was sent I believe in June of last year from the woman who had left the settlement -- she made an affidavit in San Francisco that was sent here -- was your conclusion based on those visits that there was just nothing to any of this? I mean, what was the posture of the State Department after investigating these things and looking at these things? Did they just feel that these people were wrong?
A: That is, basically, the conclusion that we came to. As I said, the officers who visited were never able, from their own observations and investigation, to substantiate the kind of allegations that had been made and were impressed by the physical progress of the community in a short time. Nevertheless, they continued to be uneasy and concerned about the atmoshere they encountered, and by the recurrence of allegations about wrong-doing in the community.
To give you more information on this, we have talked also, the consular officer talked with people who had left the community, after they had left the community. Let me go over those couple of cases that we had. In one case, there was a person who left the community and went to the Guyanese police at Matthews Ridge, which is about 20 miles from the community. The consular officer there went to Matthews Ridget to interview this person together with the Guyanese police officer.
Initially, the individual complained to Guyanese authorities that he had been forced to do hard labor. When interviewed subsequently by the U.S. and Guyanese authorities, however, he denied this and said he only wanted the Peoples Temple to repatriate him to California. The consular officer passed the request to the peoples Temple; the Peoples Temple agreed to repatriate the individual to the United States; the Guyanese immigration service officials confirmed that he departed shortly thereafter.
There was another person who left the sect, one person who had been resident in Georgetown. As you know, they had an office in Georgetown -- still do, I guess, as well as the up-country one; she told the Embassy she wished to return to the United States, but the Peoples Temple was holding her passport. The Embassy issued her a new passport and assisted her in making arrangements to leave. An Embassy officer who happened to be traveling on the same flight accompanied her out of the country. So even with people who were already leaving, we did not get any confirmation of the sort of allegations that we were getting in the mail.
And you also recall that we were getting a lot of saying these allegations were not true.
Q: On this second one that you just referred to -- I don't know if you read the Post this morning, but it re-publishes an affidavit from a woman in which she makes a large number of very specific allegations of abuse and also I believe thanks Richard McCoy for his assistance, but she did not repeat any of these allegations to him --
A: She did not.
Q: --at the time?
A: At the time.
Q: Just to clarify one thing: did you ever ask McCoy whether he ever specifically asked these people whether they were being terrorized in any way?
A: What he said is that when he was out in the field with these people, he would ask them about whatever the accusation was that we had received on the individual. I mean the accusations have varied. We have received a lot of mail. Some argue that they are not being allowed to leave or that they are being abused in one way or another. He would ask them, I dare say, that there had been a report or a letter or someone was complaing that this person was abused in that way, what-ever way it was, and in every case they said it was not true.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, did McCoy ever file any reports to Washington other than the specifics of these interviews? Any overall impressions giving an assessment of how he viewed the settlement, positively or negatively?
A: I am not aware of any general assessment of that. I think he did send reports back on his visits. Whether that would be a general assessment or not, I don't know just how you would characterize it.
Q: In view of the fact that Congressman Ryan's delegation is reported to have had a rather favorable first impression of the Jonestown settlement, is it considered likely, probable, or possible here that the oppressive conditions, let me say, could have been hidden from your consular officers?
A: I would have to say that in view of the subsequent events which have now happened, it is obvious that they did not know of everything that was going on in that community. I would say that consular officers around the world certainly do not know everything that is going on in most communities around the world. All that we can do is to make the best efforts of trying to find if there are violations of the rights of Americans and laws that are being violated. The Consular Service of the United States is not inherently an investigative organization.
Q: Might I follow that?
A: One more here.
Q: There are reports also that some people were being held there in what was described as deplorable living conditions in one specific hut or building. Do you have any information about that at all?
A: This was a new colony out in the jungle. The living conditions were rugged and severe. I think there is no question about that. From the visits of the consular officers, he did not find anything inconsistent with that.
Q: I mean since the atrocities have occurred.
A: Our limited communication has not made it possible for us to go into that sort of detail what the facilities were.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, one last question: Yesterday in the briefing, the transcript yesterday, has reference to one of the letters you got from parents, I believe it was, that referred to information about a reported suicide pact; and you said, "Well, I didn't notice that." I would ask, first of all, have you notice it in rereading it? And secondly, why does the State Department refer to this as the "Guyana incident?" Doesn't it seem to be more than incidental?
MR. CARTER: The transcript also reveals the word "murder;" it reveals a number of other things. That word was used once, and we referred to it rather graphically in that transcript. There is a great deal more than that.
Q: Right. What about the suicide pact, Hodding?
MR. CARTER: I think there were, in fact, suggestions in some letters that such a thing was there. Let me say one other thing about the letters because I asked just to get a record on this. We received, roughly, 1200 letters on the subject of the Peoples Temple. Of that number, somewhere around 60 to 70 percent were favorable -- 60 to 70 percent. Now let me tell you more about the way our letters come in because --
Q: How much?
A: Sixty to seventy percent. I want to tell you something about letters on subjects like this. I think some of you sitting out here know how the are done. We get a lot of campaign mail, mimeographed, all saying the same thing, all suggesting things that have been inspired by somebody else. A great deal of the letters that came in the category of supportive were in that variety. A number of the letters, the largest single mass of letters that we got, which were speaking in ways which were antagonistic, suggesting these terrible things were happening, concerned one particular family situation involving a child -- and I don't know how far I really can go on this one -- which, in fact, went forward with some legal action taken by the family in the attempt to have the child returned. Some of that mail was also campaign mail on behalf of that family. There were legal steps taken.
Not all of the supportive letters were campaign mail; that is, they were the ones written from people saying, "Why is it you won't release all the good things about this wonderful place that is being persecuted?" Similarly, there were letters that came out in the minority suggesting the bad things.
Q: Hodding, if I could follow up --
Q: So how does that compare with the mail you get on the Middle East or any other major subject?
MR. CARTER: I will tell you that.
MISS HAUFE: From January through August of this year -- primarily, March through June.
MR. CARTER: How do you compare that, say, to campaign or other mail on a subject such as the Middle East, those 1200 letters?
MISS HAUFE: It was a little heavier than the mail on the Middle East during that period.
MR. CARTER: In that period.
MISS HAUFE: Yes.
Q: Was there any subject which received more correspondence in that time period?
MISS HAUFE: I don't believe so.
MR. CARTER: Sue, you might want to check that.
MISS HAUFE: I will check that.
MR. CARTER: Because it seems to me I can recall getting, for instance 280 letters in a week about human rights conditions in Nicaragua. Whether that is sustained or not, you know, I think we would have to --January through August was the period.
Q: Hodding, it was well known on the Pacific Coast that Jones, by ordering his troops, his flock, could produce up to 500 letters a night. When I went to the Peoples Temple in 1972 I got 125 letters in three days and they were delivered by officers of Mendocino County. How can you, therefore put any credence in these favorable letters to Jones, seeing that they were engineered by Jones himself?
A: Les, I understand there are a number of politicians that are very responsive to campaign mail on subjects ranging from the Panama Canal treaties which are engineered and very well orchestrated, right on through, and are form letters which are produced by very well-financed operations which are in business just for that. That is a fairly normal --
Q: But nobody died. There aren't 400 bodies as a result of the Panama Canal treaties.
A: It is a fairly normal procedure in America today utilized by a number of people, and I think you know a lot of them very well.
(The Guyana briefing concluded at approximately 12:45)
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TRANSCRIPT OF SPECIAL NEWS BRIEFING
BY JOHN BUSHNELL
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1978
MR. BUSHNELL: Thank you, Hodding.
Maybe we can be faster than we have been in previous days. I will go over first the situation on the ground, then I'll cover the present plans for handling the remains, and then take questions on any of the aspects.
We have, since the last briefing 24 hours ago, been proceeding very rapidly with the build-up of our equipment and expertise in the country. We have had a plane arriving in Georgetown about every two hours over the last 24 hours. That is continuing. Three Jolly Green Giants, the big H-53 helicopters, will be arriving in another hour or hour-and-a-half. They are flying in with aerial refueling. Fresh crews have been flown in so they will be immediately able to place those helicopters in operation on their arrival.
The 28-man U.S. Graves Registration Team arrived overnight in Georgetown and was flown into Jonestown the very first thing this morning. They have been working with the full cooperation of the Guyanese Government in preparing the dead for return to the United States.
The efforts to establish a base of operation at Matthews Ridge are already well advanced. Fuel is being flown up to operate helicopters from there; and that base will, within another couple of hours, be fully established. So the whole effort is finally geared up and being able to have an affect on the ground.
The shipment of bodies from Jonestown to Georgetown, about 120 miles away, will be by helicopter; and we expect that this will begin late this afternoon when those heavy helicopters get in. The bodies will then be taken from the Guyanese capital to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for processing.
We have available C-141 aircraft to bring these bodies to the United States. It is not completely clear at this time when the first plane load of bodies will leave Georgetown. If everything goes very well -- meaning that the Graves Registration Team has made enough progress that 80 to 100 bodies are ready when the big helicopters get in, that they can pick those up smoothly, move them down to Georgetown, where they are being placed in what are called "body bags," rubberized bags at Jonestown -- They will be flown to Georgetown in those body bags, and the whole body bag will be placed in a rigid-transfer case. These transfer cases we are fling in from all over the United States, and they will then be loadedinto the aircraft. It is possible that the first aircraft would get off by sometime between 6:00 and 8:00 o'clock tonight, EST. I don't want to make any commitments on that because, obviously, a lot of things can go wrong; but something in that order would be the earliest that we can get the first planeload moving.
We would then follow tomorrow morning with a very intensive and active operation in order to bring all the bodies out now just as quickly as we possibly can. The question on time there will depend on how much work and how time-consuming it is on the bodies which have not been identified at Jonestown. About half the bodies have not yet been identified, as far as we know; and there will be a division of work between what will be done on the ground and what will be done in Dover -- we do not know exactly what that division will be -- and that will control whether we are able to get all the bodies out in the course of tomorrow or if the operation will have to extend into or through Friday.
Where we have been notified by the Guyanese authorities of the next of kin, which is about half of the bodies -- where we have been notified of identification of bodies, about half the bodies -- we are notifying next-of-kin, and are continuing to do that. That will continue to go on. We are getting a large number of calls, and I might say that we are increasing the number of consular officers that we have working upstairs. We know that the public has, at some very busy time periods, had difficulty reaching our lines and so we are setting up additional lines. For those who are interested, I will repeat the numbers to be used to reach our consular officers here. It is area code 202-632-6610 and area code 202-632-3172. Those are the two numbers for use in reaching the consular officers.
We do not intend, until firm identification has been made by our own people, to post any lists; but we will pass on the information that the Guyanese Government has made and is making available to us. To anticipate some of the questions, I would say that the cost of this operation, of recovering the bodies, of flying them out to Dover, of processing them at Dover, will be met by the U.S. Government. When the bodies are turned over to representatives of next-of-kin at Dover, they will then become the responsibility of the next-of-kin.
Perhaps I'm a little bit disjointed here; but I might add, on calling in, we would welcome more calls than we are getting of close family members of people who were in Jonestown. By next-of-kin and close family members I mean parents, siblings, spouses, children. For number of people we do not have next-of-kin identification. I don't want to invite lots of calls just from friends who may have known people, at least at this time. We may, in the course of next week as we try to reach families of the more difficult cases, be welcoming that. But given the holiday weekend, our staffs are somewhat limited; and although we are trying to maintain a team of six to a dozen people working around the clock, there are still limits to what we can do. But for the immediate family, if they have not called in and they think they have someone in Jonestown, we would appreciate a call.
I think that pretty well brings you up to date on that situation. In terms of the investigation, the Guyanese are continuing. My information is that in the last few minutes, Mr. Layton has been arrested and charged with murder. Other people are being detained as possible suspects, and may be charged in the course of today or tomorrow. The investigation is continuing in Georgetown.
Members of the Peoples Temple organization who are in Guyana have been asked by the Government at this time not to leave as they are continuing to interview them; but we do anticipate that those who have not had any involvement in this situation will be permitted to leave sometime over the next few days, if they wish to do so.
Very few additional survivors showed up yesterday in either Jonestown or elsewhere. The search of the jungle is intensifying. With the heavier helicopters, we will be able to move in more Guyanese people. The light helicopters are continuing to explore the area, but thus far we have not found significant numbers of additional survivors in the area.
Q: What is the total number?
A: We now have, according to our records -- and this may be off a few because of the difficulty of keeping track of various groups -- about 72 people. This consists of essentially three groups. The largest group is a group which were in Georgetown at the Peoples Temple office in Georgetown or connected with it last Saturday. They were away from the up-country camp either because they normally work away from it,or they were away from it on some special business of that day -- a few people who were away from the camp because they were running a boat down the river or were other occupied away from the area of the camp.
We have a second group which consists of people who were at the airport at the time of the incident with Congressman Ryan, and who have since been identified, who did not return after that incident to the camp. And then we have some people who were at Jonestown at the time when the apparent mass suicide took place -- that is a relatively small number -- who fled from that.
Combining all those people -- and in some cases we're not very clear in which category to put individuals -- we have about 72 people identified at this time.
Q: What prompted Guyana to change its mind about burial in-place?
A: As I said yesterday, it was our estimate from our pathologist here that that would be the only alternative, given the health situation on the ground; and we had authorized our Ambassador to proceed with that alternative if that was the view of the Guyanese Government. The Guyanese Government, after consulting with their health and police officials who were on site, felt that they did not yet have a health hazard, and given the early arrival of the potential to remove these bodies, they asked us to please proceed in that way. That did not run against our desires, necessarily. The reason we were moving to the internment option was because of the growing health hazard, not because we didn't wish to bring the bodies back. So their assessment on the ground led them to that decision, and we are proceeding in that way.
The initial reports from our own people in the Graves Identification Team do not conflict with their own health officials assessment of the situation.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, people at Defense have said that the delay caused by the change of approach, that their equipment was on the ground waiting, that they didn't know whether to put identification people on or search teams on, and that this was a decision here that cost them very valuable time in both the rescue operation and in getting people out.
A: The biggest requirement that we have had in Georgetown, either for search and rescue or for getting people out, has of course been the helicopters, not the other technicians. Unfortunately, there was a delay in the Graves Identification Team yesterday -- we had hoped to get it down earlier. My understanding is that the aircraft which was going to carry them out of Fort Bragg was delayed by technical problems for about six hours. I don't believe there has been any time when we haven't wanted those technical people. There has been a certain amount of confusion, because we haven't had experienced people on the ground fully aware of the technicalities of these operations, as to exactly what sort of people were needed. The view from the State Department has been, when in doubt send both.
Q: Just to follow up, you lead us to believe yesterday that you were relucantly going along with the Guyanese Government request for internment there because of the health hazards there. Why was the State Department so willing to go along with that request when it then became apparent that it was not necessary? Why not pursue the more preferable option of having those bodies properly identified and then returned?
A: I'm not sure that I follow your question. But yesterday we were heavily driven, I think, by the assessment of our own pathologists in the United States who were estimating the condition of the bodies, given the terrain and the passage of time. Apparently there were Guyanese people also talking by radio and making an estimate in Georgetown. Some of that agreed, but when their experts on the ground assessed the situation that actually existed at Jonestown, they concluded that there was time available before the health hazard became too severe to take the bodies out. On the basis of that determination, that led them to request that we take the bodies out; and of course we agreed with it since the only reason that would lead us to another conclusion would have been an unmanageable health hazard and since they are the best judges, being physically present on the ground.
I think the information I had when I was here yesterday came, in a large extent, not from people who were on the ground looking at the bodies, but from people who were estimating what their condition would be.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, the Justice Department is in progress on an investigation of the violations of Federal law involving the assassination of a Congressman. Yesterday Guyanese authorities declined to admit ten FBI agens who were prepared to go down there. Are the Guyanese authorities cooperating with the one FBI agent on the spot in their current investigation? Are they passing on to him the results of their interrogation or allowing him to participate in that interrogation?
A: This morning the Legal Attache from Caracas met with the Guyanese officials, met with the Guyanese police chief, investigating chief, in Georgetown. The last report I had was that he was still meeting with them, that he was cooperating in this investigation. We have made clear to the Guyanese that, as in other areas, we are prepared to provide additional assistance, technical assistance, investigative assistance to help them in Guyana; that we are prepared to follow up with necessary interviews and investigations in the United States; that the full cooperation of the FBI will be available in this case.
Until the Legal Attache who is working with them and the Guyanese officials themselves assess precisely what sort of help is needed, what sort of expertise, the Guyanese have felt that it was premature to send down a general investigative team. It is their investigation, the investigation in Guyana. They are a sovereign country, and we are not trying in any way to take it over.
I think, from the conversations that I have had and that our Ambassador has had, that there will be additional specific requests for assistance from the FBI in aspects of this investigation. The investigation is, of course, making progress as indicated by the fact that there has already been the first arrest and charge, and that we are expecting others to proceed fairly promptly.
Q: If I could follow up my own question, the thrust of your reply is that the FBI is prepared to cooperate with Guyanese authority. What I asked was: Are Guyanese authorities prepared to cooperate with the FBI in their investigation?
A: I think the answer is clearly yes in the fact that they are working right now with the FBI man. So not only are they prepared to cooperate, they are cooperating.
Q: What is the specific murder charge? Who is Layton charged with killing?
A: It is my impression -- I don't want to be absolutely definitive on this -- but I believe he is charged with killing people at the airport. Since I have not seen the charge, I do not know which specific persons he may be charged with killing.
Q: If I may follow that up, what is the State Department feeling on whether extradition ought to be initiated so that Mr. Layton would be tried in this country?
A: We will have to look at all the legal aspects of that question. Clearly he has committed a crime -- he is accused of committing a crime -- in Guyana. Some of the crimes he may have committed, particularly the murder of the Congressman if he is accused of that, conceivably are also crimes in the United States because of the protection of certain people.
Until we have many more details and can consult with the Guyanese in this, I think it would be premature to be addressing that issue.
It is quite conceivable -- in fact, even likely, I think -- that he is being charged in addition with the murder of individuals which would not constitute a U.S. crime.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, would you have any informed speculation on the people who are still missing?
Do you believe, for example, that (a) they are mostly dead, (b) they are hiding in the jungle; or (c) that there aren't as many as we may have believed initially?
A: We obviously do not know the answer to that question. There is a good deal of work that needs to be done.We have not yet completed an analysis of the names on the passports, for example, to see if that would identify certain groups -- "age groups, sex groups, and so forth -- as being missing as against the passports found in Jonestown.
It looks quite clear to me that the large figure of 1100 that we used early on is certainly more than the number of people that were in Jonestown on Saturday.
We have checked back carefully -- the source of that figure. That figure was derived by the number of people who have applied to the Guyanese authorities since the beginning to migrate to Jonestown, decided to leave and therefore were not there at the time of the incident.
However, we cannot really deal with the question of whether there are large numbers. It seems, since we have not at this time and the Guyanese police who are now combing the jungle areas have not found any significant number of bodies or live people, that it is unlikely that there are large numbers who flew randomly into the jungle. We cannot rule out that there was a group which departed in an organized way to the jungle to some sort of alernative site. That might still exist, and we haven't yet located it. But it does not seem likely that there are several hundred people now in the jungle.
We are intensifying the search this afternoon. Tomorrow we will have a very large helicopter capacity directed to this search. We will be able to help the Guyanese put a lot more people into the area, and that will clarify this issue a good deal more.
Q: What do you mean by the Guyanese police not having a significant number of bodies in the area? Have they found any?
A: I believe they have found a few. I do not have a firm reading on that, and I am not sure. On the various reports that we get what the definition of where the camp ends and the jungle begins is fuzzy, so there are some bodies that have been found. Some people might say they are in the jungle; some people might say they are at the edge of the camp. That sort of situation makes it very hard for me on that question.
Q: I am asking whether these people would be included in the 409, which I believe is the last number I heard, or whether the number has increased?
A: No. They are included in the count of 405, which is still the last figure that we have. They are now going through a recounting process which will help us to firm up the figure.
Q: Have you ruled out the possibility that the hundreds apparently missing may have been killed before Saturday night and are in mass graves somewhere?
A: I cannot completely rule out that possibility. I would note one fact, which does not rule it out but which rules out certain aspects of it. There has been a story that particularly with older people, who either died or were killed, the Jonestown operation continued to collect the Social Security checks.
I can report that our Consular Officer in January of this year personally delivered the Social Security checks to all of the people in that area eligible for them, delivering them by hand on identification of their passports -- so that, at any rate at that time, we are sure that they were alive.
Now, that was January, and I cannot absolutely rule out what might have happened since that time.
Q: You mentioned about 800 to 900 passports being found and that there are 400 dead.
Are these repeated passports or old passports?
There are at least some 500 missing, at least in the numbers game.
A: Well, I suspect that the passports of a number of these survivors in the various categories may well be in this group as well.
Moreover, the quick observation that our people have given me of that is that quite a lot of the passports are the old large passports and there may have been new passports issued without the old one being removed from that group.
So until we have had time to go through the passports and see if there is duplication, we really cannot deal with that issue.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, can I follow up on earlier question here?
Have you learned anything from any of the people who were at Jonestown that would lead you to believe that there might be mass graves at any other site?
In other words, presumably you are questioning these people. There are quite a number of them that have survived. Have any of them indicated to you in any way that such an alternative grave site might exist?
A: We have somewhat of a time lag here in that, as you can imagine, our Embassy in Guyana is a very small post. Although we have sent in some people, there is a lot of interviewing going on which they simply have time to write-up and pass up to us.
All I can say is of the reports, the several reports, that I have read and I think also the direct conversations that I have had with them -- something this significant they would tend to pass on -- I have not heard of anything involving any mass sort of execution.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, it is clear from the press reports alone that this was more than just a religious cult. This was obviously a training ground for terrorist tip squads, as well as people who were involved in drugs and other -- I think that is absolutely clear from the press reports themselves, and I am sure the press reports are covering up a lot of other things. I have several questions in regard to that.
First of all, is Ambassador Quainton looking into the situation from that point of view? Is he involved in this in any way?
A: Ambassador Quainton'soffice has been kept informed of all of this situation. Up until this point his office has not concluded that it involved a situation of that nature. He has not come to the same conclusion that you have apparently.
Q: Are you investigating the group called "The East" that moved from Brooklyn, New York, at the same time under exactly similar conditions to Guyana also under pressure of the same individuals whose letters were referenced in the Timesand the institute for Policy Studies which was pressuring the Guyanese Government to open up the territoryto these various organizations?
Are you familiar with "The East"?
A: Let me say that we are not -- we, the United States Government -- are not investigating any particular groups in Guyana. The Guyanese have an investigation, the FBI has an investigation because of the murder and attacks on certain protected persons. But we are not conducting some widespread investigation of a situation in Guyana or various groups there. We are concentrating on a more limited basis, as are the Guyanese, on what is rather obviously a tremendous calamity and obvious crimes clearly presented.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, could you respond to the fact that Congressman Zablocki has written to the Secretary to request further information about what the Department knew, when it knew it, whether or not the Consular officers did enough, the whole aspect of an investigation into what preceded and possibly could have anticipated what happened down there?
A: Yes. I have seen the letter which Congressman Zablocki has sent to the Secretary. We have already started this morning to prepare the answer to the very extensive questions in that letter. It will provide the basis of the encyclopedia, I suspect, on that issue. It will take time to answer these questions. We hope to make the deadline, which is a fairly early deadline, that the Congressman has suggested we make. Certainly we will have at least an initial submission. There may be some pieces of it that will require a little bit more time. And we will provide all the information that has been requested in that letter.
I don't have, on this Task Force and appearing before you here, the feeling that we have anything to cover up, so we are quite prepared to make available all the information.
I myself have been very impressed, and I think the sort of information that I have been giving here, in terms of the work that our Consular Officers in Guyana have done, that we have devoted a great deal more time and attention and effort to this group of American citizens living overseas than to almost any other group of American citizens living overseas reflecting the concerns and the unusual circumstances of this case.
But this is a voluminous record in our file, and we would draw on that to answer all of the questions which the Committee has put to us.
Q: Can I follow on that, please? Can you say at this time whether you still feel that the State Department was responsive enough to the relatives at those earlier points?
A: I am sure that there were various times when it would have been nice in a humane sense to have done more for the relatives that were concerned, in retrospect clearly legitimately concerned. And on that balance we would always like to serve the American people better. Given our own limitations of budget and personnel and so forth, there are limits to what we can do.
It would have been nice to do more.
On the other side of that equation, let me say that we have done much more for this group of concerned Americans in terms of spending time and effort and State Department funds and so dorth than dor almost any other group that I can think of. So, in that sense, relatively speaking we have done an awful lot. In an absolute sense there are certainly individual aspects which it would have been nice to do more.
Q: John, you said the file was voluminous on this. I assume that there is a lot of correspondence, there are MEMCONs from the Embassy and so on, which I presume would be of an unclassified nature.
Would these be available for inspection or would they be available under the Freedom of Information Act, so that we could actually see the reports in the files of the Department about what came out on this group out of Guyana? And specifically was there any correspondence to the Department from Reverend Jim Jones himself?
A: Your first question, certainly this is available in the Freedom of Information Act. We look at the availability in the Freedom of Information Act as we would anything else; and I assume that, given the attention to this, we will have a good deal of Freedom of Information work.
I do not myseld -- but I have not spent the many hours in these files that some of our other people have -- recall any communications from the Reverend Jones himself. But I certainly would not want to say that there are not communications in that from him. There may well be.
Q: Thank you.
(At 12:45 p.m. the special briefing concluded)
Back to index - Press Briefing - November 24, 1978
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TRANSCRIPT OF THE SPECIAL BRIEFING
ON THE GUYANA SITUATION
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 1978
MR. CARTER: This is a one subject briefing. The briefer is again Deputy Assistant Secretary Bushnell. The subject is Guyana and the associated information that goes with that particular tragedy.
MR. BUSHNELL: I thought that Wednesday might be the last time I would be here, but I think there has been enough developments since to warrant going over them and putting them in perspective for you.
The first thing that I might do is to review our latest statistics which I have just gotten from our Ambassador in Guyana within the last hour.
As with any numbers, I think it would be dangerous to concentrate on these as being right down to the last one or two, but it at least gives a general frame.
As of about an hour ago 485 bodies had been moved from Jonestown to either a staging area where they would be lowered into helicopters or further. Some bodies, of course, have already -- quite a number -- have already arrived at Dover. But from, in some point of movement, 485. Twenty additional bodies have been bagged and they have just made this morning a rather careful hand count of 270 additional bodies. That gives a total of 775. That does not include the five bodies that we have already identified; four who died in Georgetown itself of the Peoples Temple members, one Peoples Temple member who died in the incident at the airport, and, of course, it does not include the members of the CODEL.
They do not believe that that is a fully complete number. There are a relatively small number, or they think there may be a relatively small number, of additional bodies in the Jonestown area not included in that count.
But that is where we stand at the moment as far as the numbers are concerned; approaching 800. Until these bodies are moved and processed we will not have a final definitive count. That may not even be until sometime tomorrow afternoon.
This does not mean that we have found an area removed and separate from Jonestown where there were a large number of bodies. These bodies have been found in the Jonestown area.
I would recall that the original estimate that we had last Monday and Tuesday of about 400, or 410 was the figure some people were using, was a rough preliminary estimate made by the Guyanese police forces when they initially came into the area. It was not obviously a careful head-by-head count.
The circumstances in the area -- and I think I can only describe them as being virtually unimagineable, particularly as of this week in the tropics has progressed - has not made it a very pleasant task working there. The personnel all use gas masks and other protective gear. Counting the bodies has not been a high priority for the people on the ground. Going ahead with the identification and the bagging in order to bring them out has been the high priority.
So, it has only been as we have come down towards the end of this, moving the number of bodies out, that we have begun to come to more of a count.
Quite a number of the bodies of infants have been found under the bodies of adults and were obviously not counted in the first round. The present estimate is that among the dead are 180 children, at least 180 children under fifeteen.
Our general effort, as I think you are aware from other sources, to move the bodies by helicopter down to Georgetown and then by the C-141s to Dover, is progressing. It is moving as rapidly as we can. It will continue through tomorrow, probably into Saturday, before we get all of these bodies lifted off from Jonestown and Georgetown and into Dover. It may even run into Sunday before the last planes arrive.
Let me turn to one other aspect of this story, which I think giving you some specifics which are not quite so gruesome will be useful. That has been the question that has arisen in a number of areas: Were we doing enough to search for potential survivors who might have left the camp and been in the jungle surrounding the camp?
I would say, and as I said from this platform before and has been clear throughout with all elements of the U.S. Government working on this, is that the highest priority has been given to the caring of the living and the seeking of survivors who might be alive. We have done that throughout this operation and continue to do that today.
Because we have seen until we have gotten these latest counts that there seem to be quite a number of people who were missing, high priority has been given to seeking of survivors in the jungle areas. As you know, on Monday and Tuesday a few people, a small number, were found. U.S. aircraft have been directed to reconnoiter the area from the air and, in fact, these searches and shuttle flights continue.
Yesterday aircraft were devoted to going up and down the rivers. Today four helicopters are flying search patterns announcing by bullhorns that help is available. However, because of the conditions the main search effort has been carried out on the ground by those who know the countryside.
This was the responsibility of the Government of Guyana. Since Tuesday the Guyanese defense force has been using a battalion-size force, 300 to 400 people, to conduct ground searches along jungle trails in the region. All trails out of Jonestown -- a limited number -- have been searched and the inhabitants along them have been interviewed. Starting Wednesday they have been using guides from the local Indian tribes in the area.
On Thursday a reconnaissance helicopter with a joint U.S. and Guyanese crew spent the entire day combing the region, touching downat clearings at Indian settlements and talking with the people to see if there was any evidence of any survivors in the area.
In this effort we believe the region has been thoroughly covered. We believe that in talking to the Indians and the search that has been made we would have turned up any clues if there were survivors in the area. No trace of any additional survivors has appeared.
Moreover, of the few survivors that returned to Jonestown did not themselves, in talking with them, indicate that there were others in the jungle.
Nonetheless, we think that we should leave no stone unturned, and we are continuing the intensive search effort with the Guyanese with the main responsibility being theirs.
I should point out this is an area of jungle canopy, such as many of you have seen in Vietnam where it is literally impossible to see even things as big as tanks and trucks in the jungle canopy from the air. So finding individuals would be extremely hard. The helicopter search is obviously not the best way to go about this.
Our main contribution to the search has been to provide needed equipment to the Guyanese police and military engaged in this which they lacked. I can indicate what some of this equipment was. For example, we have provided sixteen portable radios, walkie-talkies, three-FM base stations, two single side band radios, a number of sleeping bags, blankets, some thousands of sea rations, five outboard motors, five power generators, a large number of flashlights, ponchos and canteens, the sorts of things that these people have needed to maintain deployment in this area working on this project over the last week.
As we have gotten the latest figures, it does not suggest that there is any large number of survivors out there, but even if there are only a few we want to make every effort to identify them and do what we can to rescue them.
This effort will continue until we are quite sure that there are not any further survivors. In part that will come about as we are able to process some of the documentation that we have recovered from the Peoples Temple and can get some better listing of names and more precise information of how many people were in the Temple in the Jonestown settlement on last Saturday.
With that I will stop this introduction and take questions.
Q: Your figure of 775, you said it does not include how many people who died in Georgetown and the others? How many is it; five in total?
A: There were five bodies which we took out of Georgetown who did not die in Jamestown. This constituted four people in one family who died in Georgetown itself last Saturday and one person from the Temple who died with the CODEL.
Q: And how many survivors have there been either that have shown up in Georgetown or somewhere else? Because you mentioned 72 this week.
A: There is now something between seventy and eighty people. This includes, as I said, several categories. Some who were at the office of the Peoples Temple in Georgetown last Saturday. They were not in Jonestown. Some who went to the airport -- to Port Kaituma -- with the CODEL and never went back to Jonestown. Some who escaped from Jonestown, which is a relatively small number, at the time of the events there last Saturday.
But the sum total of that is in the vicinity of 75 to 80. I am not sure of a precise figure on that.
Q: In addition to this logistical support that you mention our giving the Guyanese defense forces, are we paying the Government of Guyana anything or providing any sort of subsidy for them to carry out the search or to do anything else in connection with this incident?
A: No, we are not. They are meeting their own expenses beyond the sorts of things that we are providing to them, and they have made no request for financing. They have made requests for specific items which they needed.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, to clarify where these additional bodies were counted. They were all presumably around the shed where the other bodies were or were any in the jungle? Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
A: I don't have full details on this. They were all in the settlement. That does not necessarily mean they were around the pavilion. I think some reports I have seen suggest some were found in the hospital, some may have been found in other buildings in other parts of the settlement.
I suppose it is not completely clear where the definition of the settlement and the jungle begins, but essentially they were not found at a distance from the Jonestown settlement. They were found in the immediate region, but not necessarily all around the pavilion, although obviously that is where the largest number was.
Q: Did they seem to have died from poisoning or were there additional gunshot cases?
A: Until all the bodies are processed we cannot be definitive on that. But thus far we have found only a hand full that have gunshot wounds.
Q: Are these new bodies?
A: Of the bodies that have been processed. We cannot separate new from old. Essentially our teams have gone in there and have begun processing the bodies one at a time. They haven't selected any new versus old. They processed them as they come to them.
Q: By all indications and these new figures, it would indicate that there are few, if any, survivors at all. How many would you estimate based on how many people there were at Jonestown?
A: We have at the moment recovered at about 870 passports. That may include, of course, some duplications, old passports, new passports, until we process them.
We have had several people count the numbers of beds in the Jonestown community and the count is about 600 single beds.
We have a petition which was signed showing solidarity with the Reverend Jones, which was signed in early November, which has between 600 and 700 names signed on it.
If we take these sorts of indications I think the suggestion is that there is not a large number of people unaccounted for. That is not necessarily to say that there are no people unaccounted for, although that is conceivable that we have none unaccounted for. But we certainly have now a number of bodies which seems to be in the vicinity of what other indications and sources would suggest were the number of people who were in Jonestown last Saturday.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, that petition you referred to, is that the one that protested the eminent visit of Congressman Ryan or the projected visit of Congressman Ryan?
A: I have not read the text of that, so I cannot say whether it protested it or not. It is a petition, I gather, that was executed to show support for Reverend Jones and I gather was done in anticipation of the visit of the CODEL.
Q: Is that available here, the text of that?
A: I do not believe that the text is available here. I think that our Embassy in Georgetown has a copy of it. But I am not sure it is available here. I haven't myself seen it.
Q: Do you have any figure for the cost of the whole operation, including transport to Dover, sending down the airplanes, the whole thing?
A: I don't have any figure on that. In fact, to come up with any reliable figure will take a lot of time to get all the accounting done.
Furthermore, I think there are some very major conceptual problems in how one looks at the cost. Most of the manpower involved here -- in fact, all of it on the U.S. Government side -- are people that are already employed, already being paid, either in the military or in the Foreign Service or in the FBI or whatever it might be that are working on this problem. Should one include their salaries for this time or should one not? That is a conceptual problem which would make a significant difference in the cost.
Similarly, very little new equipment has been bought for this operation. We are using airplanes, helicopters, even a mortuary, all of which were in the inventory, in effect, and are being used for this purpose. How should one consider in doing cost depreciation on this, if at all?
There are clearly costs, such as the purchase of gasoline, the payment of additional per diem, which have a special relationship to this mission.
But even beyond this there is the question of training that a number of people who have rather difficult responsibilities are getting through with, training which would if there were a training exercise have been costly.
So, to come up with figures on this is very hard.
My indication is that, the last thing that the people told me as head of the task force, in terms of the cost now being accumulated we are between two and three million. There will be additional costs obviously coming in. We still have more flights to run in terms of bringing out additional bodies and in terms of returning the equipment that is down there. Just where this figure will come out eventually and on what concept it should be done, I think are questions that will require a lot of sorting out.
Q: Can you clarify, though, where you get the $2 million or $3 million figure? Is that the gasoline and per diem figure as distinct, then, from the salaries you were trying not to count?
A: That is correct. Those are the costs that are identified in the current DOD system as being associated with this operation.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, you speak of large numbers of children buried underneath their parents or other adults. What other reasons would you have for this rather dramatic rise in the figures that you're talking about, or is that the sole reason?
A: I don't think that's the sole reason. I think that, as I said at least when I first gave out the 400 figure, that was a figure quickly done by the Guyanese people who moved into the area initially in the dark and in the rain; the rain continued and this was a very difficult situation. It is not clear on what precise basis they came up with that figure. It was not ever presented as a careful count, and given the situation and the basic unpleasantness of the situation there, I don't think that it is too surprising that the number was off. Obviously, it was off by a considerable amount.
Also, I do not have a feel yet as to how many bodies have been found in other buildings and so forth which they might not have been aware of at the time they gave their first estimate. Both the Guyanese forces and our own people have been rather careful the last couple of days, as it was obvious that there were more bodies, that until they had had time to do something somewhat more systematic not to simply give out another estimate which might also have been totally wrong. Even today, as I said, we are not sure that we have counted all the bodies. Until more are processed and they can really comb the area, and make sure that they have processed all the bodies there, we will not have a final figure.
Q: So, you're suggesting the number has been rising steadily over the past couple days?
A: Let me put it this way: It seems that all the bodies that were there on Saturday was the population of bodies. As work has proceeded and has become apparent to people working that as they had processed 300 there were more than 100 left. Precisely how many were left would require counting, and they thought they had more important things to do in order to keep up with their schedules and meet the ability to move the bodies out of there than to go around and count.
Q: Was the first count the one that came up with the 409 figure on Monday or Tuesday, was that done on the ground or from the air?
A: It is my information that that was an estimate made by the people on the ground.
Q: Given the new count, Mr. Bushnell, and the rate at which these bodies are being processed and flown to Dover, when would you think the operation would be completed?
A: We have a number of uncertainties in this situation. We will try to proceed, obviously, just as rapidly as we can. It is quite clear that we will not get the last bodies out of Jonestown until sometime very late tomorrow or Sunday. That will put them in Dover, of course, with a lag for loading In Georgetown on the seven-hour flight. If things go wrong, if the weather turns bad on us, it could slip further. If we get these torrential downpours, then the helicopters cannot fly.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, many of the relatives of these dead people have been complaining about the financial hardship they will have to endure once they claim the bodies and fly them back to San Francisco and make preparations for a funeral. Is there any contemplation given to the chance of loading these bodies onto a plane and flying it to Travis Air Force Base somewhere near San Francisco where most of these people, where their home town was located, so that it would ease the hardship on these relatives?
A: Let me define how we have at this point decided what it is reasonable for the U.S. Government to pay for and what should be paid in some other way. This has been, no matter which number one uses, a terrible calamity virtually unprecedented in recent times. It has happened in a remote area of a relatively poor country which itself did not have the capability to handle this sort of situation in terms of identifying bodies and processing them and working this problem out. Moreover, the people involved were almost all Americans. In fact, probably the only organization in the world that could have coped with this problem in a reasonable time is the U.S. military, so that we felt that it was only reasonable for the U.S. Government to use the resources that were available in terms of transportation, in terms of technical expertise and body processing, both in Guyana and then at the Dover facility in order to identify the maximum number of these people. We have proceeded to do that at the taxpayers' cost with government funds.
Once the remains have been identified and processed at Dover, they can then be handled by the normal commercial funeral director services in the United States. They are experienced at doing this. They have arrangements to receive them at Dover and to process them. From that point on, the instructions will be, of course, different depending on the various beliefs and circumstances of next-of-kin. We felt that that was really the point at which we should turn it over. That is the situation in which the incident, as far as remains goes, ceases to be so unusual that only a major effort by the government with its special facilities could handle it, and it could then be handled in the normal way.
I should point out that the standard is for Americans dying overseas that the U.S. Government is not responsible for the disposal of the remains or for bringing them home -- this is left up to the families. So, on the one hand, I suppose, as is often the case, we will be in the middle between those people who think we shouldn't have met any expenses and those who think we should meet all the expenses until final interment. But it seems to us that a reasonable and logical break in that process was at the point after the processing in Dover where the established funeral director industry in this country can reasonably assume the responsibility.
Q: Many of these families were poor black families who were the parents of some of the people who died in there. In other words, you are saying you haven't set up any way so that even these families can get some type of special consideration if they absolutely can't afford to handle the --
A: The State Department has not really addressed that issue, and I don'tknow what the status would be in terms of that if these families are in a welfare situation, how in the various states, which I suppose are different, would handle the situation; but I think that is the area in which that would have to be looked at, and I suppose it would depend on the states and the various localities, and so forth.
Q: What do you plan to do with unclaimed bodies, if any?
A: To the extent that there are unidentified -- and we cannot rule that out; there will be some really horrendous identification problems, particularly of children -- unidentified bodies or unclaimed bodies that will be the responsibility of the government to give them a decent and dignified burial in the Dover area.
Q: You said a few moments ago that almost all the victims were Americans. Were there any non-Americans among them?
A: We have found four non-U.S. passports among the passports that we have looked at. We understand that there were some children who were born in Guyana who were living in the camp. We have not yet determined whether or not they have been adopted and assumed American citizenship or not. These numbers, as you see, are very small, but there does appear to have been a rather small number --
Q: What kind of passports?
A: I don't recall precisely what the four non-U.S. passports were.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, why were these bodies not flown directly to California? Why were they flown to a point 3,000 miles away from where most of the parents and relatives were from?
A: We faced the problem of moving these bodies as rapidly as we could from where they were in Guyana to the closest facility which could reasonably handle them which was Dover and which we can make with the C-141 in one hop. This was the facility which the Department of Defense felt was best set up, the most adequate to serve them. Therefore, given these logistical considerations, that is the facility that we decided to use. If you recognize that Guyana is quite far east, their time is two hours ahead of ours, and you recognize that, geographically, there is a lot of east-west distance between Guyana and California as well as, of course, the north-south distance, which is about the same whether you're going to Delaware or to California. Therefore, that was the logistical consideration that moved us to choose Dover, as well as the consideration, for reasons which aren't completely clear in detail to me, that this facility seemed to be the best Department of Defense facility to handle this task.
Q: Who paid for the shipment of the bodies of the newsmen back to California?
A: I believe that they were moved on the same plane as the Congressman, and whether that will be paid for out of Congressional appropriations out of the Executive Branch we'll work out. The movement of the remains of the Congressman home is, of course, done at government expense.
Q: Mr. Bushnell, the original reports from Jonestown said that American personnel thought that their top priority was looking for survivors. Was there any sort of change in mission? Were they originally told to go down and do one thing and then, in mid-stream, told to do something else, or was that just a misinterpretation?
A: I think that's a misinterpretation, and I suppose it depends on whom you are talking to. The Graves Identification Unit, thepeople whose job it is to process bodies, if you talk to them, their job -- meaning the job of that unit -- was, obviously, to go down and get the bodies out. They were not involved in the search and rescue sort of operation, so at any given moment, you could find people whose job, if they spoke for them or their unit, was to get the bodies out, and the tchnical expertise that was needed for that was sent down there.
What I was talking about was the priority in terms of the total U.S. Government effort was, first of all, to look for survivors and try to help them, and only the secondary priority was for moving the bodies.
Q: There is a story today in the Post quoting Mr. Mark Lane and suggesting that he knew more about Jonestown than he told the newsmen before they went in there. Is any idea being given of talking to him as part of the whole investigation of this incident?
A: I can confirm that consular officers from the Embassy talked to him when he was in Georgetown. What he said is covered by the Privacy Act -- what he said to us. What he said to you and others we'll all read.
Q: Hodding, has there been a marked increase in the number of calls and letters the State Department is receiving from relatives of people who are members of other cults expressing concern?
MR. CARTER: I'll have to take the question. I don't know the answer. I can find out, however, and just put it to the Public Correspondence Division.
Q: Another part of that question, is the State Department considering changing its policy so that it will become a little more aggressive in investigating these complaints, or is it going to stick with the position that it took on Jonestown, that this was basically a freedom-of-religion case?
MR. CARTER: I think as a matter of policy, I couldn't accept the premise of the question -- that in fact we did pursue the complaints.
Q: I'm saying "more aggressively"; nobody is saying that you didn't --
A: I guess even there, I have some difficulty. "More aggressively," meaning what, sending special teams out when you have this kind of thing?
Q: Making an effort to arrive unannounced, or whatever.
A: There are some problems inherent in a lot of this, including what the responsibilities and rights are of consular officers are in relation to American citizens abroad, or at home for that matter. I believe that, obviously, the United States is going to examine what happened here and look at it very closely. But I have to start with the premise that in fact the consular service, and the consular officers specifically in Georgetown who went to Jonestown, did investigate aggressively and made every effort that they could to find out what the situation was.
But let me, on your other question, if you don't mind, just give a check back on the News Room and to the Press Office this afternoon.
Q: Could I ask just one question about the cost of the transport of the bodies from Dover to California. If there any consideration being given to using what I believe is a sum of money found in Jonestown, for this purpose?
MR. BUSHNELL: There are very complicated estate and related questions that relate to that money. It is also not clear what role the Peoples Temple organization in California will play in this matter. However, some of the survivors of this group are members of the Peoples Temple, and conceivably, that could be an outcome. But that is really up to the individuals involved to decide, and will be dealt with by them.
Q: Has there been some discussion in Georgetown amongst the American Public Health advisers and the Guyanese of having to raze Jonestown and burn it to the ground because of the public health problem?
A: The general status of the health problem has been kept under continual review. They have not come to the conclusion that something like that was necessary at this time, and I think by the nature of that problem, it will not be able to be assessed until all the bodies are removed and there is a certain passage of time. Then that issue would have to be addressed, depending on the situation at that time.
Q: But it has been discussed?
A: To my knowledge, that has not been discussed among people here. I think they have had more urgent problems to be thinking about in the state that we are now in.
Q: Was there any expert pathologist who examined the body of Jim Jones specifically there, or will any special medical attention be placed on his body in Dover?
A: The Guyanese medical examiner, I think it is safe to say, focused particularly on his case in site. I cannot comment on what will be done at Dover. You would have to get that from the people there.
MR. CARTER: Since we are not having a briefing, I would just remind you that we do have a skelton staff in the Press Office. If there are other subjects that concern you, put them. On that specific question, I'll see whether I can't get the Public Correspondence Division to answer it.
Q: Thank you.
(the briefing was concluded at 12:50 p.m.)
Back to index - Press Briefing - November 27, 1978
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TRANSCRIPT OF DAILY BRIEFING
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 1978
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
* * * * * * * * * *
Q: Hodding, since I understand that there are reports that it is going to cost more than $3 million to bring back the bodies of the Peoples Temple and since the Reverend Jim Jones is ordained and continued to be recognized as a clergyman of the 1.3 million-member disciples of Christ, who have accepted his contributions for years, I was wondering if the Carter Administration believes that all American taxpayers should have to pay this $3 million rather than this being paid by this denomination whose minister was responsible for this mass killing.
A: Les, I think there are two things here.
The first thing is that I am not, in fact, up to date on a running total on the costs; and I don't want to dispute the costs. I wouldn't even suggest that it is high.
Q: But it is cost. There is no question.
A: But let me just say that I can't deal with the figure you have given me.
On the basic question of cost, I think that the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Mr. Bushnell, last week suggested that the Government had undertaken, for a number of reasons that he enumerated at the time, to send at Government expense the folks -- that is to say the bodies of the folks -- from Guyana to Dover and that at that point the cost of the individual bodies identified and what have you would then be assumed in the normal course of events by the individuals' families.
I have heard it suggested that that is a terribly expensive thing for the United States Government. I have seen a resolution from the Board of Supervisors out in San Francisco that we ought to assume the cost of the entire transportation of these bodies out to the West Coast or wherever.
To answer your question very directly, the answer is no.
Q: Well, Hodding to follow that up, if the Reverend Sung Yung Moon were to take 900 American Moonies on a canoe trip over Victoria Falls, for example, would the U.S. Treasury pay for this, the cost of returning these bodies to Dover, and will the Secretary consider billing the Disciples of Christ for what their minister caused?
A: I think the answer to the second thing is I know of no such consideration.
On the question of the first thing, let me say that this is such an extraordinary tragedy -- such, in fact, a mind-boggling tragedy -- that the assumptions that the United States Government makes are frankly not precedental but are one time involved in this, and that I would not suggest to you that there is anything to be said about -- you know, any speculative --
Q: Just one related question, if I could, Hodding, just one related.
Given the 1200 letters of concern about this Guyana colony and enough concern for a Congressman to go and investigate, could you tell us, did any of our intelligence services do any investigation of the Guyana colony and, if not, why not?
Andif they were asked to investigate and were unable to infiltrate one church, how can the American People have confidence that our own intelligence can handle the Soviet Union?
A: Les, there is no First Amendment dealing with our relations with th Soviet Union, to begin with -- I mean, insofar as the Government intrusion into organized religion.
The second thing is, insofar as intelligence activities or activities of Justice or any other such organization, I am not the place to ask the question. I think it has been dealt with.
Q: Hodding, related to that.
Do you know how many survivors are going to be brought back, to where, when?
A: Survivors. Okay.
On the question of the survivors, if a substantial group, which is not clear, of the survivors wish to leave together from Guyana, it is our plan that they would be flown to Charleston, South Carolina, by military aircraft sometime this week.
And I have to stress the conditional beacause it is not clear precisely who would want to or would not want to come in such a way or whether they would wish to come.
At this point, in any case, it is very doubtful that such an undertaking would take place before late tomorrow at the earliest -- that is to say, late Tuesday.
To repeat, it really is impossible for us to speculate how many people might be aboard such a flight in any case. Some of them may decide to leave by other means. Some may not wish to return to the United States. And some may be required to remain in Guyana for some longer period of time in connection with the Guyanese investigation of the tragedy.
I am afraid that really is exactly where we are right now. I talked to some people down in Charleston, and this comes from our team upstairs.
Q: Hodding, would that also be at Government expense?
A: I will have to take the question. I have no idea whatsoever, though I would doubt it. I just don't know.
I am taking the question, Dick.
Q: Hodding, will the U.S. Government now take a closer look -- I mean within the Constitution -- a closer look at U.S. groups, or churches, or cults, overseas?
A: Again,I think the constrictions and restrictions are fairly severe and fairly clear as to the extent of what we can do besides investigate complaints as we did in this instance through the Consular service and attempt to ascertain whether or not American citizens are being held against their will in situations abroad.
I think I may have said this last week. As far as what lessons may be learned from this tragedy, what different emphasis might be created in future handling and the sensitivity to possibilities -- which, quite frankly, I think no one in this room would deny were unthinkable before they happened as a reality -- I can't speculate as to what we may be considering because it is still early days.
Q: Hodding, is the United States satisfied with the explanation given for the drastic miscount of the bodies, and does the United States plan to investigate some kind of -- do some kind of investigation into why there was such a drastic miscount of the bodies?
A: I think that the reasons that have been given for that underestimate are acceptable and believable; and I can only say, speaking personally, that I do not find it at all surprising. But I think that that is the attitude also that we have.
Q: Hodding, what happens to the money that was recovered from that? Does that go back to the Peoples Temple in San Francisco?
A: I don't know. I think that is a legal question which I can't determine. You might try Justice on that and I will see what I can get on it.
Jeff, do you have any idea?
MR. DIETERICH: Yes.
I think that the money at this point found on the site in Jonestown is in the custody of the Government of Guyana. The first determination would depend upon legal determinations in Guyana, the Guyanese court system.
A: Next question. Go ahead.
Q: Hodding, to follow this up, did I understand you to say that to investigate or infiltrate the Peoples Temple would have been a Government intrusion into organized religion forbidden by the First Amendment?
A: I think there ios a feeling that there are constitutional restrictions on investigations of organized religions and religious cults.
Q: Cardinal Crowl of Philadelphia, as you will recall, has charged that the Government is regularly intruding into his parochial schools with agents and demands for files, and not only that but the Department of Justice forced eight prominent clergymen across the country to register as foriegn agents because they entertained African clergymen.
Now, I don't understand why if you intrude that way, when there are reports of beatings and all manner of things going down there you felt that you couldn't investigate, Hodding.
A: We did investigate.
Q: How did you investigate? You sent a guy out there to say, "Is everything all right," out in the middle of a field?
A: That is right. It was --
Q: That is the only investigation you conducted, is that correct?
A: Insofar as in the field, in Guyana, is concerned, the answer is to the best of my knowledge yes.
Staying on Guyana for a moment, let me see the hands of people who want to talk about Guyana.
Q: Hodding, is the State Department aware of the contents of this reported suicide note from the Reverend Jones? And, if so, is there anything you can say about it or why the contents are not being released?
A: I think that, while the entire set of circumstances involing crimes in Guyana is under investigation, our ability to comment on various documents -- and I have seen a number that have surfaced that allegedly said this or that or the other -- is going to be severely curtailed. We are not going to be commenting while the investigation is under way both into the murders of the Congressman and the party and the deaths or whatever -- suicide, murders, whatever they may be. Until that investigation is complete, we are not going to be able to comment on various documents which may figure in the investigation.
Q: Has the Department seen this note, though? Is it aware of what is in the note?
A: Jeff, do you know the answer to that one?
Mr. Dieterich: My understanding is that the note was forwarded from Dover through the Department of State, and then that package was delivered unopened to the Department of Justice.
A: To proceed.
Mr. Dieterich: Yes.
Q: Hodding, is the State Department investigating a possible political tie between Burnham and Jones and some of the people who campaigned for Burnham, and they both have certain idealogical things in common?
A: I think the answer to that is no. The answer would be that again the activities, political activities, of American citizens abroad in that respect would be a matter for the government or the people of that country to decide whether they violated the laws of the country or not. It is not a specific function of State to look into that question, including any number of other American citizens' activities in other countries which may have a political cast.
Q: Hodding, does that apply as well to Jones' now reported or purported activities with regard to the Soviet Embassy down there?
A: Again, I have seen that report. I am really not going to be able to comment on that beyond just saying that I have noted it.
Again, the desire of American citizens to travel, to go almost antwhere abroad, is an unrestricted right which does set us off from an awful lot of countries.
Q: Can you comment either on whether the State Department or intelligence knew about that or whether there is going to be an investigation into that?
A: No. I really can't comment on it. Again, if there were an investigation, I couldn't comment on it. So that the question -- you might again apply that one to an investigatory agency. I can't deal with that.
Q: Hodding, did you establish, however, whether Soviet officials visited Jonestown or not?
A: I have noinformation on that.
Q: Could you tell me what the State Department is trying to do to speed up the process with which this country is receiving the political prisoners Castro is releasing?
A: Wait a minute. I have to stay with Guyana. Don't worry. You are going to be there.
Q: A couple of quick points.
In 1974 the Department of State negotiated an agreement with Burnham that his Government would allow the cults to settle there.
Now, the first day we had a briefing here Mr. Bushnell indicated that it was mainly the Guyanese Government that wanted the cults. Our information is different, and I was wondering if you could find out --I mean it was obviously before your tenure here; it was under Kissinger -- but could you find out who negotiated with the Burnham Government and anything that you could make public about that?
A: Laura, I am not aware of such an agreement to make it easier for groups to meet. I think that long preceded Jones' interest there.
Q: No. 1974.
A: '74, yes.
I will see what I can find.
I am just looking over to my source for specificity here.
Q: Well, our sources on that are close to the Government of Guyana.
A: I will just have to see what I can get.
Q: Excuse me. I just have another quick question.
I would like to know who made the decision that the adviser on terrorism to the Secretary of State would not be involved in any investigation of this?
A: I am sorry. I would not give out such a decision -- I mean, as to the decision-making process of who does or doesn't participatein working groups or task forces or anything of the sort. You would have to assume that the final authority and responsibility lie where final authority and responsibility lie.
Q: Hodding, just to make sure I understand you correctly, what you have said is that despite these 1200 letters and the Congressman's concern enough to go down there, the only investigation ever done by the U.S. Government under the Carter Administration was this Consular person who investigated people in the field?
Are you saying that, or did I misunderstand?
A: What I said was the only investigation done in Guyana by an American agency that I am aware of was done by Consular Affairs.
Q: What about reports that the CIA had been in there five times?
A: I simply am neither aware of it nor could I comment on it. But that would, in fact, be outside their charter, as I understand it. They are not chartered to look into the affairs of American citizens abroad, under the new charter.
But at any rate you might want to check with them.
Is this still on the same subject?
A: No. In that case, I have a question starting here and then a bunch of other ones.
* * * * * * * * * *
Let me say one other thing. I was just given a note by somebody who was in the Working Group. Any inquiries from next of kin concerning deceased at Dover should be directed to the Department's Working Group here. No information will be released from Dover.
The next of kin should call us on these lines: 632-3172 and 632-6610.
In addition, relatives are advised not to go to Dover, as there are no accomodations either on or off base to handle them.
Back to index - Press Briefing - Tuesday, November 28, 1978
Department of State
Transcript of Daily Briefing
Tuesday, November 28, 1978
(On the record unless otherwise noted)
MR. CARTER: Good afternoon.
I have no announcements. George Sherman, however, will be handling peace in our time at 1:00.
Q: Hodding, on the Guyana costs situation, as of last Friday, I think we were told it was about two to three million dollars, not counting military salaries. Have you got any updated figure?
A: No, I don't. I think the decision is going to be at this point, for some of the reasons that the Deputy Assistant Secretary mentioned, which was methodological, but also because it is a cumulative business. We're not going to have any preliminary figures. We will try to give you the final figure when the figure is available, that is accumulated.
Q: Do you know when the survivors are coming back?
A: No, I don't.
Q: Do you know what's going to happen to Jones' body at Dover?
A: I don't think I do. Let me say something sort of generally on the question of dispostion of remains, however, which may go to that and other questions. We are not going to be giving out information, out of this building, on that question. If relatives or other members who are responsible wish to do so, they can, and obviously will; but we will not be in that position.
Q: What about the unidentified or unclaimed ones that have no relatives or others?
A: The question of what is going to happen with the unidentified, the disposition, is one which is being considered. Obviously we are going to try to treat them with dignity, and the question of their disposition in the Dover area will be decided in consultation, obviously, with folk in that area as well.
Now, on the unclaimed but identified?
A: I think, again, as I understand it, the probable result will be that they will be interred, disposed of, in the Dover area also.
Q: At Government expense? Bushnell was asked about this the other day; and as I understood he said at Government expense, they would bury the unidentified in the Dover area.
A: I don't see any reason to change that answer.
Q: When I asked you how the survivors were coming back, you say you don't know. Do you know when they will be coming back?
A: Let me try to focus this one: on the individuals who may choose to go home their own way, no, the answer is I don't know. On the question that I believe Marvin asked me yesterday -- that is, a planeload possibility coming to Charleston -- I don't have anything to add to that. That is to say, there isn't any plane today; at this point, probably not tomorrow; and to repeat, we do plan to bring survivors to Charleston in a group, if a group so wishes, assuming that such a substantial number have the permission of the Guyanese Government to leave and wish to go to the United States by that means. But as of now, there isn't a planned trip to Charleston.
Q: Hodding, how many would have to express interest to fly on a U.S. Air Force plane?
A: I don't know.
Q: And what is going to happen to them when they get to Charleston? Will they be questioned by the FBI or --?
A: I don't know. I think all of those questions also bear, for instance, on what's happening in Guyana; that is, answers to them would bear on what happened to them in Guyana, and it would also have to do with who they are. I don't know the answer, and I'm not sure it's that clear, because at least one survivor, I know, has come back and proceeded on.
Q: Just one more question: Since they found about 870 passports, those people who are not taking advantage of the offer, how are they flying back to the U.S. if they are? Are they getting new passports from the Embassy or --?
A: They are obviously having to be cleared out somehow. I'll have to take that question as to whether they are getting their old passports back or whether they are getting something new issued. I'll take that question.
Q: Hodding, what was the reason you gave for not giving out any preliminary figures?
A: Simply because it is a matter of personal privacy which we do not believe the Government ought to intrude on.
Q: No. I meant on the costs.
A: Oh, on the cost.
Q: You gave some reason for not giving out any preliminary --
A: Simply because, one is that it has not been accumulated; two, I am not sure that the situation has changed since last week when Mr. Bushnell indicated that the question of sorting out how you do the actuarial work. I'm not sure that has been decided, that is, do you charge against this mission the expense of people who were otherwise on the payroll, whether this mission went forward or not? Do you charge against various aspects of it?
Q: Hodding, has there been any consideration given to charging some of these costs against the assets of the cult, and if not that, against these bags of money that keep turning up as people were apparently extorted by their leaders?
A: I had a variation on that, Barry, yesterday. I thought I took it, because I didn't have the answer then. I certainly don't, unfortunately, have that answer now. The basic question you want is --
Q: The basic question is: To what extent does the United States' humanitarian concerns mean that the taxpayer has to pay the cost of this enormous expense, and I suppose it is getting to be much greater than you anticipated?
A: I'm sure it is. It's substantial.
Q: Now, the Guyana Government has recovered all sorts of funds that have been turned over to the Government of Guyana, and I wondered if there has been any consideration of maybe diverting some of these funds to pay for some of these expenses.
A: I would say generally that that would be easier said than done, since the funds are held in another country and the disposition of them and the ownership of them and all the rest has not, I think, been totally determined, first. Second, insofar as finding some way to assess costs, I do not believe that that one has been addressed directly. I think that the feeling was that the necessity, for various reasons, from identification, investigation, and others, was that we had to get the bodies out to the place.
I will take, again, that question.
Q: Hodding, this may be a question that you will have to take, too, but I wonder if you could clarify for us the whole subject of the autopsy on Jones. Apparently, the Justice Department says the United States has no plans to call for an autopsy. On the other hand, officials in Delaware have indicated that before he could be cremated, they would have to have one. In view of the intense interest in this, doesn't it seem logical that they would want to know what was the cause of death, especially since he is the only one who had been shot?
A: Barry, on that one, I think you'll get a faster answer from Justice than me.
Q: We have an answer from Justice which says there are no plans for autopsy.
A: Yes, but that, frankly speaking, is a legal question. I mean the State Department's responsibility doesn't run to that end.
Q: Hodding, it's clear now that the Peoples Temple was a communist group. They were negotiating or considering moving to the USSR or Cuba, and I have two questions on this: One, did the Department have in its files any information on the political orientation of this group before this tragedy? And were any steps taken to alert Mrs. Carter, Vice-President Mondale, Members of Congress, and other high-level officials who had endorsed Jones and his group, about this orientation?
A: Well, I think that while the record will necessarily show your designation, I can't make that characterization myself as to what it was.
Q: You can't?
A: I cannot.
Q: You don't have any information yet that would identify them as such?
A: No. I cannot on evidence that I have, and certainly not on some letters and what other stuff that I've seen in the press make such a designation on the characterization.
Q: Excuse me. On that point --
A: On the characterization.
Q: Do you dispute --
A: No, as a matter of fact, I don't have to dispute it, Reed.
Q: On that point --
A: I'm just telling you I am not able to address that characterization.
Q: Are you disputing --
A: I'm not able to comment on that characterization.
Q: Are you aware of the fact that they were negotiating with the Soviet Union for a move to the Soviet Union?
A: I've seen reports to that end.
Q: You don't dispute that.
A: I've seen reports to that end. I am not --
Q: You are neither confirming nor denying it?
A: I cannot. On the question of the Carter thing, that does go back to '76, and the Mrs. Carter letter, the Campaign of '76. The others, there is some dispute as to whether they exist or not, that is whether such letters or endorsements were written.
Q: Do I take it your answer is that you had no information about the political orientation of this group and therefore, you made no effort to alert anybody to it?
A: I expect that there were a number of allegations made, as allegations are often made, by questioners as well as by letter-writers about various aspects of that particular organization, so I can't say. I'm simply not able to comment on that question as to whether or not there was information alledging that particular aspect of their behavior, i.e. that they were somehow communist.
Q: But Mr. McCoy who made numerous visits there never got any inclination or indication that they were a communist group?
A: No. As a matter of fact, I don't think that was ever one of the questions that was raised to us about that group.
Q: Independently, it wouldn't have occurred to him to look into that?
A: No. As a matter of fact, independently, that probably would have been a question that if it were raised by a government official, ordinarily about Americans individually or abroad, where it might be considered to be one that you don't raise.
Q: I see. You wouldn't raise it?
A: I didn't say you wouldn't.
Q: You'd avoid that issue.
A: I said it might ordinarily be one that you would think twice about, particularly in the absence of any allegation.
Q: I see. Now, a second question on that same point: Second question, have any of the survivors, since they had indicated an interest in going to the Soviet Union or Cuba before the tragedy, have any of the survivors requested that they go to one of those countries or another communist country rather than return to the United States?
A: I'm not aware of such a request. As a matter of fact, I think they are still trying to sort out most of them, what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.
Q: Did you take the question yet about who would be paying for the survivors, if they do come back singly or as a group?
A: Yes, I did. Did I get an answer?
VOICE: The survivors will refund the money to the government. They have signed papers saying that.
MR. CARTER: They have signed a paper which is a fairly standard form for indigents and others in that category who are abroad, that they are tasked with it.
A: That they are tasked with paying back the money and writing a pledge that they will.
Q: Hodding, the Department has now had a day to look over this Amnesty International report on human rights in China --
A: All right. I'll take it. Just a minute. Anything else on Guyana?
Q: Maybe you responded to this earlier, but do you know whether the State Department in any way or any aid in any way went to this group down there, State Department aid? There was some report in The New York Times or somewhere which suggested that U.S. aid in some way had been funneled?
A: To the best of my knowledge, Allen, there has been no U.S. aid funneled to that group, but Social Security checks to folks and that sort of thing.
Q: But that's not what I mean, no.
A: No. I even saw it suggested somewhere -- I don't know where -- that we bought the land or something.
Q: I just wanted to know whether that had been checked out. Has that been looked into at all?
A: Yes. I mean, we have no evidence of that.
Q: Hodding, is it an ordinary situation when an American citizen dies in another country, for that country to keep the money?
A: I think they would ordinarily investigate exactly to whom it belongs and make a disposition accordingly. I don't think, however, this is not --
Q: The foreign government would keep the money, normally, in that type of situation?
A: No. I don't think I know what "normal" is. This is a fairly abnormal situation.
Q: Hodding, is there anything further on the allegation that a half a million dollars was to be delivered to the Soviet Embassy, together with a letter, and that that letter is in the possession of the Guyana Government?
A: I think almost all of these things, going back to what I said yesterday, allegations of various sorts which have surfaced, letters, reports, various officials saying things, they are all in the status of a matter which is being investigated, and that I am not going to be able to comment on it until the investigation is through. And in any case, insofar as any aspects which have to do with legal questions, that is, illegal activities or the like, are going to have to be answered by the appropriate legal authorities and not State.
Q: But you haven't been able to find out whether the Guyana authorities have that letter or -- ?
A: No. What I'm saying is that at this point, I'm not going to be able to comment on most aspects of the investigation of this matter. I can comment a great deal about what it is that we are trying to do with the victims and that sort of thing; but in terms of what is being investigated, I'm not going to be able to comment.
Back to index - Press Briefing - November 29, 1978
Department of State
Transcript of Daily Briefing
Wednesday, November 29, 1978
(On the record unless otherwise noted)
* * * * * * * * * *
A: All right.
Q: 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.
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 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 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 underway. There are legal questions involved; and I am not really going to be giving observations on that point at this time.
Q: 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.
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 the 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 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?
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?
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 Charleston 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 in 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 Government agencies, is the State Department looking at the angle that perhaps 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 this evening, why are those people arriving on a commercial flight, and why might theothers 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 understanging 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 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.
December 1, 1978 - (26k)
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TRANSCRIPT OF DAILY BRIEFING
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 1978
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. CARTER: Good afternoon.
* * * * * * * * * *
Q: A question on Guyana, please, Hodding.
There is a Times report today saying that papers of Jones suggest a much closer relationship with the U.S. Embassy than has been officially acknowledged. Can you take that one, please?
A: Yes. I would like to point out, first, that the story is based on memoranda written by Peoples Temple representatives in Georgetown to Mr. Jones in Jonestown. From the evidence we have available now, it appears clear that these people had considerable personal stake in pleasing Mr. Jones. That suggests to us that the memos were based upon selective, incomplete versions of normal and totally justified business conversations between Mr. McCoy and Peoples Temple representatives in Georgetown.
Do you have some specifics you want to ask me about?
Q: What else have you got?
A: Let me go a little further, because I don't need to be drawn out on this one. We feel fairly strong about it.
The story raises issues which have obviously been of concern to us, to the Department. The Department has carefully investigated the personal conduct and professional performance of Mr. McCoy, and our investigation will go forward as we continue with our review of the entire Jonestown tragedy.
But our entire investigations to date lead us to the conviction that Mr. McCoy performed his duties as our Chief Consular Officer in Georgetown in a manner completely consonant with the highest standards of professional competence and ethical behavior.
I will have this available for you, but I will repeat it.
Our investigations to date lead us to the conviction that Mr. McCoy performed in a manner completely consonant with the highest standards of professional competence and ethical behavior.
The role of consular officials is necessarily proscribed by U.S. law, Department regulations, and the Constitutional guarantees of the rights of American citizens residing abroad.
We are convinced that Mr. McCoy did everything possible within these limitations.
Insofar as the propriety of the relationship between Mr. McCoy and the Peoples Temple is concerned, given the circumstances of a large American community isolated and apart from our Embassy in Georgetown, it was necessary for Mr. McCoy to maintain a working relationship with the Peoples Temple representatives in Georgetown.
It in fact became increasingly difficult to maintain such a relationship because of Mr. McCoy's own suspicions of the Peoples Temple, and because of their increasing hostility toward Mr. McCoy.
This was partially because Mr. McCoy had frequent contacts with Guyanese police officials concerning the Peoples Temple. The Peoples Temple leaders were apparently aware of these contacts.
Insofar as some specific allegations are concerned, for instance, did he undertake to agree to find out who was spreading rumors in the Embassy that Mr. Jones was an atheist, in fact, that is incorrect. The conversation reported in the Peoples Temple memo apparently refers to a conversation in which Mr. McCoy himself was accused of being the source of such rumors.
Insofar as the Stoen case, the custody case, was concerned, what the Embassy said in that respect, and it has been repeated by higher officials, the Embassy is involved in providing consular services to American citizens in the litigation which came before the Guyanese courts.
However, it was and is the Department's position that the Embassy cannot take a position favoring one side or another in a case in which all the disputants are American citizens.
Insofar as the allegation that in fact Mr. McCoy informed Jonestown of a list of all of the people he wished to see when he made visits there, that is untrue. It was a reasonable procedure which he followed to let the officials there know of a number of the people he wanted to see.
At no time was a complete list given.
The names of certain people in especially problematic cases, that is, ones in which there were particular problems raised by accusations of some kind of duress, were deliberately withheld prior to Mr. McCoy's first two visits to Jonestown.
In the case of his final visit, only those names of people wishing to report a birth were furnished to Jonestown. Four other names were withheld. I think that is what I have on that.
Q: Hodding, can you take a question which I don't believe has been answered, although posed here last week. When the Guyana court in effect dropped the Stoen custody case, was the American Embassy informed of the death threats against the Guyana judge? And did the Embassy report that to the State Department?
A: I think the judge said publicly at the time that the conduct of not the lawyers, but some of the participants in the trial, had led him to the decision to drop the case.
Q: The judge has said since publicly that he was threatened with assassination , he and his family, by members of the Jonestown community.
A: I am aware of that, too. I am saying at the time, I thought you asked me --
Q: And the lawyer for Mrs. Stoen has also alleged that at the time the Embassy was aware of the threat of mass suicide, is that true or not?
A: I don't know if I can answer that. No, I can't answer it. Let me take that question.
Q: In any event, the Embassy did not report to the State Department that there was any death threat againgst the judge.
A: That one I will have to take. I will take that question.
Q: Hodding, can you explain why it has taken you people so long to comment on this? I understand that when the AP first came up with this story that you were informed of it and asked to comment on it yesterday, and as recently as 11:00 this morning, a senior deputy of yours indicated that you had no answer and, quote, were just going to have to take the heat, unquote, on this one.
A: No. I wish deputies wouldn't comment -- no, that is being facetious.
The real question was whether or not at this point, what was being requested as I understand it, was provided Mr. McCoy. That decision has not been taken.
Q: Well, you had an opportunity to comment on the story, the Department did, and it has taken you -- you know, after the story has been run in the newspapers, you finally get around to it.
I am just curious why you people are so so to come up with this kind of a thing.
A: I will go ON BACKGROUND. There is always a question in charges involving individuals, whether in fact you attempt to deal with it generally and not specifically, on the grounds that you may be providing a precedent in which every time either a nut, a legitimate newsman or anybody else raises accusations against an individual who is pursuing his duty as he understands it best, you will promptly make that person available to answer those charges. There is always a debate that goes on each time that specific accusations are made by Congressman or journalists or pamphleteers, or anybody else, whether or not you are going to expose them, and thereby set the precedent that any fool can get a person hauled before a public inquiry on the basis of some kind of charge. Each time you have to work your way through it.
And, still talking ON BACKGROUND, this is one that is being worked through the process of trying to make that decision.
Q: Hodding, that is certainly a reasonable position, but it is not as if this thing came up out of the blue yesterday. You have known for quite a while that there is a controversial point here about the way the consular matters were handled down there.
A: We felt we were answering the general questions as they came in regard to how he conducted -- or how we conducted our consular business down there in regards to Jonestown. Clearly you were then given a new element, and there have been other new elements that have come in, and we have had to deal with them. END BACKGROUND.
Q: Hodding, I am not familiar with all of the literature of this debate, but is this the first time that you have said from here that anybody in the Embassy had real concerns about the Peoples Temple?
A: No. I think we have indicated, I thought, rather often that there were concerns, we followed through on the trips to Jonestown to ask the specific questions that were raised.
Q: I had the impression that from these trips the Embassy had the impression that things were going along pretty well.
A: I think that the Embassy had to report what it found, and the Consular Officer would report that he did not have any verification offered to him by anybody who was there, including those he had not notified that he was coming, and that insofar as the operation of the farm itself was concerned, it was what it purported to be. That is what he did find.
Q: Can you give me an update on identifying the dead people, identifying them with the passport?
A: Jeff, do you have a figure on that?
MR. DIETERICH: I don't have a recent figure. Dover has been putting out figures on a number of people that they have identified on a daily basis.
MR. CARTER: Did you want to try Dover?
Q: What is the process you go through with the passports, specifically the passports, if that is all you have?
A: Of course you have to go through other processes, as well as finding other phsyical identification which may be in some file somewhere, either on the coast or in other places where some identifications might be kept.
You recognize the state of many of the bodies, but they are more than just trying to match up people to passports.
Q: Is the state of it all to the point of it where we are to have to give up identifying?
A: I don't know, and I think you are just going to have to ask the unit that is doing that. That is out of our hands, right now.
Q: Hodding, as a matter of procedure, would Mr. McCoy be available to appear before a Congressional committee?
Q: Can't hear.
A: The question is: Would Mr. McCoy be available to appear before a Congressional committee? I do not know.
Q: You indicated that the investigation of Mr. McCoy's conduct is continuing.
A: I indicated that our investigation of all the events surrounding the Jonestown thing continues, and Mr. McCoy himself would be quite happy to see each and every avenue explored, and in fact obviously they will be. But I think last Friday Tom spoke to the question of how far we were along on that.
Q: Hodding, was there ever an answer to the question here as to why the State Department did not refer to Justice a request from Congressman Ryan to explore the grounds for extradition of Jones following an order from the Superior Court of California?
A: It was our Understanding from Justice -- wait, I think that was answered and posted, because when I came back I remember reading it.
Q: It was posted.
A: I understand from talking to Justice that in fact they said there was no legal grounds under which that could proceed, and there was hardly any point in attempting it, since there was no legal basis for it.
Q: What did Mr. McCoy tell the Guyana police? You said that McCoy had problems with the Peoples Temple because he was a source --
A: He had conversations.
Q: What did he tell them? What was he upset about?
A: Let me take the question, again, because I don't remember. I don't want to try to wing that one. I am taking your question.
Q: Hodding, a couple more on Guyana, please. Can you tell us anything about the disposition of Jones' body?
A: I think for the body questions now, and that sort of thing, I am going to have to refer you elsewhere as a source.
Q: To where?
A: I would either try Justice or I would try Dover.
Q: They say to go to State.
A: You mean, you are getting a circular response here.
A: Frankly, our responsibilities in this matter end at the water's edge, coming back rather than going out, and I don't think that I have any information on that.
Q: Let me ask you one or two others here, please. Do you have anything on the report about Jones having stashed away at least $10 million in different banks around the world?
A: Let me say that obviously we have seen those reports in the paper. I do not have any independent verification of it. That is clearly a matter for the on-going investigation of the entire matter which is to begin. It is not a State Department function.
Q: And this last one, if I could ask it, please, about the report that sealed arrest warrants had been issued to people by the FBI believed responsible for the killing of Ryan?
A: No, I would not have any comment on that.
Q: Hodding, can you amplify an answer posted last week? You said that Mr. McCoy gave lists of people intending to visit at Jonestown, the Peoples Temple. Why was that done?
A: As became pretty clear right often, the people at Jonestown had said repeatedly that they, of course, had a right to turn away anybody that they wanted to turn away. It was to try to facilitate visits by people who were going there that they were informed that they were coming. Otherwise, the normal reaction in any kind of community, and frankly at my front door, is that you don't give me advance notice and you come with intent I don't know, I don't let you in.
Q: Was he giving people lists because he feared that a visdit of some group or other to Jonestown might trigger a mass suicide?
A: I sincerely doubt that.
Q: Could you just take that question, to see whether he feared that?
A: Yes. You mean, what was in his mind.
Q: That an attempt to take the Stoen Child back, for example, might trigger a mass suicide.
A: Again, I doubt it; but yes, I will see whether he wants to reveal what was in his mind at the time.
Q: Hodding, a statement last Friday by Tom Reston said that there are few groups of Americans overseas to whom so much attention was paid by the Government over the last 18 months. Does that include looking into the role of the Peoples Temple in the domestic policies of Guyana?
A: I doubt it.
Q: Could you take the question, whether that was ever raised?
A: The question is being raised, Jeff -- and in some of these running briefings it may have been handled -- did we in fact look into the question of the political role of the Peoples Temple in the internal affairs of Guyana. I remember a general thesis was that that frankly was a question which would be of concern to the Guyanese Government, but that we in fact do not supervise American citizens insofar as their political activity abroad is concerned.
Q: One of the first stories said that the Peoples Temple members had campaigned, apparently, for --
A: I did go through a routine with that, or John Bushnell went through one on that. And what I said then is generally what the answer was.
MR. DIETERICH: The response to Juan's question about the statement devoting more attention to this group than to other groups referred to it in the consular sense, in terms of the use of consular services.
MR. CARTER: But in any case, your question remains. And I think the answer is no.
Q: Hodding, on another line, wouldn't the Embassy be reporting on unusual political developments within Guyana from the standpoint of --
Q: Wouldn't this be a legitimate function to be reporting on?
A: If it seems to be arising to that occasion, I would say so.
But before we build a framework for an entire story here: You are talking about allegations of political involvements which have trickled out at some length but did not have any particular coverage in the press of its own nation, in which there is an opposition press.
Q: If I may pursue this, can you tell us then whether or not, can you say that there was no reporting of a non-consular but a political nature from the Embassy in Guyana relating to relations between the Peoples Temple and members of the Guyanese Government?
A: I'll take the question. I have no idea.
Q: Hodding, do you know whether there has been any kind of a routine, instructions that have gone out to American embassies in countries where other cults are located, in terms of stepping up the reporting on these organizations? Is anyeffort being made by the State Department as a result of this to --
A: I would imagine that, in the absence of any protests, inquiries, or the like, the answer would be no; that is, that a general, overall blanket decision to start looking into religious --
Now let's use the word correctly. One man's cult is another man's main-stream religious belief. And therefore -- are we sending out an order to our embassies to start looking into religious organizations abroad in which Americans are participating? -- I think the answer is no.
Are we looking into allegations that are being raised about places? the answer is yes; that is, we will try to do investigatory on the well-being of American citizens there.
I heard someone say "filing break." I hope you won't, for several reasons: (1) because we've been on only one subject and there may be some other things you want to be on, and (2) because some of you have to file because George is coming on here.
Q: Did the State Department take any action to try to draft a psychological profile of the Peoples Temple settlement?
A: After the fact?
Q: No, before the fact.
A: Psychological profile? Did we try to do a psychological profile? No.
* * * * * * * * * *
(The briefing was concluded at 12:54 p.m.)
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