WASHINGTON (CN) – The FBI does not have to release its research about the 1978 Jonestown cult massacre to a couple who manage an extensive website about the tragedy, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler agreed Friday that the bureau was justified in its decision to withhold 48,738 pages of records from Rebecca Moore, a religious studies professor from San Diego State University, and her journalist husband, Fielding McGehee III. The couple runs a SDSU-sponsored website “dedicated to collecting, preserving, and publishing primary source information about Peoples Temple.”
Nine hundred and eighteen people died on Nov. 18, 1978, in the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, the Guyana-based utopian community informally known as Jonestown for the Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones.
Just before the cult committed mass suicide, one member assassinated California Congressman Leo Ryan at an airstrip in Port Kaituma, near Jonestown. Moore’s two sisters and nephew were among those who died at Jonestown.
Moore and McGehee submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI in 1998, looking for “a copy of all lists of the people who died in Jonestown, Guyana on November 18, 1978.” They received 48,738 pages on the cult, but the FBI withheld certain information including a list of victims.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed the resulting lawsuit filed by McGehee and Moore, agreeing that the FBI demonstrated its search for records was adequate.
The judge agreed that exemptions protect information withheld by the FBI, such as information on grand jury investigations, the CIA, confidential sources, law-enforcement techniques.
But the FBI must issue another Vaughn Index, a requirement of Freedom of Information Act requests that indexes redacted and withheld information.
“Although these documents do provide a great deal of detail, many are missing critical information,” Kessler wrote. “In particular, the Deleted Page Information Sheets contain absolutely no information as to the author, date, contents, or recipients of the missing pages.”
The FBI has six months to issue a new index.