SAN FRANCISCO WEEKLY / CALDENDAR MAGAZINE / DECEMBER 1-15, 1988 The Unanswered Questions o

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SAN FRANCISCO WEEKLY / CALDENDAR MAGAZINE / DECEMBER 1-15, 1988 The Unanswered Questions of Jonestown, by Art Silverman - - - - - - - Outside of the war it was the greatest mass murder in American history. Nine hundred bodies lay rotting in the Guyanese jungle, most of them black. Many of them came from right here in the Bay Area. Nearly three hundred were children. All of the dead, along with three journalists and the first United States Congressman ever assassinated in the line of duty. - - - - - - - I purposely say mass murder and not suicide, for perhaps the greatest lie about Jonestown is that 913 people killed themselves on November 18, 1978 at the urging of Jim Jones. This despite the testimony of Dr. Leslie Mootoo, a forensic pathologist and the chief medical examiner of Guyana, who was the first doctor to arrive at the scene and conducted 70 autopsies. Dr. Mootoo clearly stated that at least 700 of the victims were murdered and not suicides. Many dozens and perhaps hundreds were forcibly injected with poison by hypodermic. Hundreds more were forced to drink the cyanide punch at gunpoint. The infants and small children -- first to be killed, as a means of breaking their parents' will to live -- surely cannot be considered suicides. And yet suicide is the single lasting image of Jonestown in the public consciousness. It's a funny thing. The Gallup Poll reports that 25 years after the murder of John Kennedy, fully 80 percent of the American public believes his assassination was the result of a conspiracy. Oswald himself was perhaps a conspirator or maybe just a patsy. But we don't buy the theory of Lee Harvey Oswald as lone madman. So why have we swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, the mythology that the greatest mass murder in American history was the work of a single madman? Ten years after Jonestown, the truth of November 1978 in Guyana is still as much a mystery as Dallas in November 1963. And implicates, perhaps, the very same elements within our own government. * * * Incredibly, there has never been a full and open investigation of the Ryan assassination or the Peoples Temple massacre. There were special Congressional hearings held in the aftermath, but these were so flawed as to be farcical. Subpoena power was not invoked to compel testimony. Staff of the US Embassy in Guyana, including several suspected CIA agents who played a central role in the affair, weren't even called in. Only a watered-down public report was issued, with 5,000 pages classified and withheld from release. The House Intelligence Committee, which conducted its own closed hearings on the role of US intelligence agencies at Jonestown, cited national security considerations and refused to issue any report at all. The only trial to result from Jonestown was criminal prosecution of temple functionary Larry Layton, who was tried once in Guyana and twice in the United States. The Guyanese acquited him of murder charges on the grounds that he had been brainwashed. The second trial -- here in San Francisco, on charges of conspiring to kill Congressman Ryan -- ended in a hung jury. But the third time was a charm: Layton, a bit player whom all agree had nothing to do with Ryan's murder, was nonetheless convicted on conspiracy charges and sent to prison as Jonestown's official scapegoat. End of case. End of all public inquiry. The judge in Layton's case, incidentally, summarily denied defense motions to obtain documents and testimony regarding State Department or CIA involvement with the Peoples Temple. A group of Jonestown survivors and relatives also filed a $50 million civil action against the Federal government alleging such involvement, but their case was thrown out almost immediately on procedural grounds and all subsequent appeals were turned down. There were also at least a dozen investigations of Jim Jones underway by various law enforcement agencies _before_ the events of November 1978 -- including his alleged involvement in drug smuggling, gun running in the Caribbean, kidnapping, arson, money laundering, customs violations, welfare fraud, illegal broadcast of coded messages, abuse of tax-exempt status, forging trust deeds and even murder. But Jim Jones apparently led a charmed life and somehow each of these inquiries was abandoned, stalled, botched, or compromised until it was too late. In several of these cases, classified investigative leads and informants were divulged to Jones himself. Numerous investigative files were actually found in Jones' cabin in Guyana; according to eyewitness accounts, quantities of other documents were burned by Jones just prior to the holocaust. Finally, there have been more than a dozen books written about the Peoples Temple, from quickie paperbacks, to the official Congressional report, to accounts by former temple members, family members and journalists. There were even Jonestown volumes published in Brazil and the Soviet Union. [The most highly recommended of the Jonestown books for the interested reader are Tim Reiterman's _Raven_ and John Peer Nugent's _White Night_.] Some of these books have asked the very questions that were suppressed or ignored in every official investigation. But books cannot provide answers. Only a fullblown legal inquiry, with the power to compel testimony under penalty of perjury, could hope to get to the bottom of these murky waters. And every avenue to that kind of investigation has been thwarted. * * * After ten years, in other words, Jonestown is still an unsolved riddle. What remains is a long list of unanswered questions: -> Why wasn't Leo Ryan warned by the State Department about the dangers that were well known and documented? How did they "lose" 900 documents alleging extreme danger at Jonestown before Ryan's pre-trip briefing? Did intelligence agencies intervene with the State Department to limit inquiries and discussions on Jones? Why was the first sworn statement describing the insanity of Jonestown locked in a safe at the US Embassy in Guyana, and its author warned to keep quiet? -> What was the relationship between Jones and the CIA contingent in Guyana? Was that "friendly" country the primary staging area for CIA Caribbean operations? Was the then US Ambassador to Guyana, John Burke, a CIA official? (He was later appointed to a top CIA post in Washington by President Reagan). Is it plausible that he and his colleagues really knew nothing of what was going on in the Jones encampment? -> Was Richard Dwyer, then Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy, a career CIA officer since 1959 as has been published? It was Dwyer whom Jones refers to on the famous "death tape" as being on the scene at the mass killings, a charge he has denied. What about Consular Officer Richard McCoy, who locked away the first sworn statement about violence and suicide drills in his office safe, and allegedly warned its author not to talk. -> Were several other consular officers CIA agents? What about the pilots who flew in and out of Jonestown, or one of Jones' chief aides who survived the carnage and hasn't been seen since? -> What was the relationship between Jones, the CIA, and the corrupt Guyanese dictator, Forbes Burnham, who was installed in power in 1964 with CIA assistance? Is it true that Jones' security teams worked as heavies against Burnham's domestic opponents? Was Jonestown, with its two oceangoing ships and immunity from Guyanese customs, being used to smuggle drugs and weapons with Burnham's complicity, a la Noriega? -> Who is Philip Blakey, the Englishman who wrote the check for the original $600,000 down payment on the Jonestown lease to the Burnham government (and was later reported in Angola recruiting mercenaries for the CIA-backed UNITA rebels)? -> How did Peoples Temple amass more than $15 million, most of it in foreign banks? Why was $2 million transferred out of the Temple's main Swiss account just before the massacre? Where did it go? -> Who shot Jim Jones, the only victim of gunfire at Jonestown? Is it true that he expected to live, and that one of the Temple's boats was en route to pick him up but never arrived? -> Why did the body count suddenly double after five days? How did five hundred bodies lay hidden under four hundred all that time, when the top layer had been turned over and tagged the first day? Why was the press kept out for nearly a week, except for one brief and carefully staged visit? -> Is it true that no medical records were found at Jonestown, despite a sophisticated clinic and laboratory? That there was video recording equipment but no videotapes? How did Jones acquire 11,000 doses of thorazine, a dangerous and tightly controlled drug used to control mental patients? What other drugs were in the Jonestown pharmacopoeia? * * * We may never know the answers to these questions. But there are clues to be found and they point in a frightening and familiar direction. At least, it seems clear that elements of our own government, particularly the CIA, knew a great deal about Jim Jones and his heinous activities, but did nothing to either thwart him or to warn Congressman Ryan of the dangers he was walking into by personally travelling to Jonestown on a factfinding trip. The notion that the FBI, CIA, NSA, and other intelligence agencies could have been ignorant about Jones -- as they officially professed and were officially believed -- is incredible on its face. At its peak, the Peoples Temple was arguable the largest, richest, and most tightly organized group of self-proclaimed "revolutionaries" in the entire country. Jones' operation was in effect a large militant left-wing multinational conglomerate headquartered in San Francisco. He had more than $12 million in cash accounts in the US, Canada, England, Switzerland, Panama, Venezuela and Jamaica, with couriers shuttling suitcases of cash back and forth. The original Peoples Temple church in Ukiah had become a paramilitary camp, complete with guard tower and armed sentries. The "parishioners" inside were being instructed in Marxism, military tactics and survival skills. The temples in San Francisco and Los Angeles boasted a combined membership of several thousand mostly black members, with a mostly white leadership cadre. At church services one was likely to find Angela Davis, or Dennis Banks of the American Indian Movement, or visiting delegations from Cuba or China. Pastor Jones, in front of a choir singing revolutionary hymns, stood behind dark glasses, often stoned out of his mind on amphetamines and other drugs. He would preach for hours on the evils of capitalism, solidarity with the people of Vietnam, support for liberation struggles in the Third World, and rail against racism in the United States. He also spread his messages through the Temple's own radio programs and their printing plant, which published the _Peoples Forum_, one of the largest circulation newspapers in the entire Bay Area. * * * And last but not least there was Jonestown -- Jim Jones' crowning glory -- an actual communist society being built in South America, with construction labor provided by inner city American blacks, some of them ex-cons on parole to the reverend. In short, Jim Jones in the early 1970s was a self-proclaimed Marxist fanatic, a white revolutionary who commanded a huge black following, the head of an illegal multimillion dollar empire, who was building a network of connections with legitimate politicians while at the same time caching weapons, experimenting with brainwashing techniques, and building an international presence in alliance with Forbes Burnham, an important CIA asset in South America. Could he have been a figure of anything less than intense interest to the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency, all of whom were then engaged in massive infiltration and spying on everyone from the YMCA, to Mothers for Peace, to the tiniest socialist club on any college campus? The answer is obvious. Despite all denials, there can be no doubt that the Peoples Temple had been targeted, investigated, and thoroughly infiltrated by informants from US intelligence agencies at least since the late 1960s. Every detail had to be known: the criminal activities, the brainwashing, Jones' escalating madness, the armed guards, the weekly suicide drills, all of it. * * * So why wasn't anything done to stop Jones? And why wasn't Leo Ryan warned to stay away? There are several possible scenarios. First, it must be remembered that Congressman Ryan was no friend of the CIA. He was, along with his colleagues Harold Hughes and Senator Frank Church, among the most passionate foes of renegade CIA activity: the plots to murder foreign leaders; the secret experiments in sensory deprivation, gang warfare and sexual pathology; the covert testing of mind-altering drugs on prisoners and college students; the plots to install and topple foreign governments; and all the other abuses that came out in a torrent of criticism against the intelligence agencies in the mid 1970s. Ryan actually wrote the law -- the Hughes-Ryan Act, bitterly opposed by the CIA -- that now (at least in theory) requires them to report all covert activities to Congressional oversight committees. That, indeed, may have been part of the problem. The FBI and CIA were caught in a bureaucratic Catch 22. On the one hand they had an obligation to brief a member of Congress who was about to travel into a potentially dangerous foreign situation. But, for instance, for the FBI to disclose detailed knowledge of Jones and the Peoples Temple would be admitting to a hostile liberal Congressman that they were still conducting illegal surveillance of American citizens, and a "church" to boot. For the CIA it was even worse. The covert relationship with Forbes Burnham had never been reported to Ryan's subcommittee as required by his own law. And if Jones was being used by the agency in some way there would have been hell to pay! Jimmy Carter was President and Stansfield Turner, his CIA chief, was already after the dirty tricks boys in the agency. Careers would have ended. There might even have been prosecutions. How much easier it would have seemed to say nothing, to misplace a few documents, to avoid telling what you couldn't legally know. Why suggest that Ryan would need a military escort to get in and out of Jonestown safely? Maybe things would turn out fine anyway. Or maybe it was time to pull the plug on something that was getting out of hand down there. And if Leo Ryan had to be sacrificed, well, to some of these people that would be considered a worthy goal in itself. * * * But pull the plug on what? The ultimate unanswered question of Jonestown is whether Jones himself, knowingly or unwittingly, was one of the 1500 illegal experimental projects conducted or contracted out by the CIA as part of their infamous MK-ULTRA program. We simply do not know. We may never know. But it surely isn't out of the question. We do know that criminal elements within the CIA have always been obsessed with the most esoteric applications of behavior control, brainwashing techniques, torture, biological warfare and mass manipulation through media or psychoactive drugs. It is well documented that they poured tens of millions of dollars into experiments and research projects in the US and all over the world -- from 1953 at least until they were caught in 1974 -- sometimes even without the knowledge of the beneficiaries. Only a few dozen of these projects were disclosed in the Congressional hearings on MK-ULTRA. Is it such a stretch of the imagination that these people would take under their wing a Jim Jones? Here was a man who was taking black people to an armed camp in the jungle, giving them drugs, depriving them of sleep and food, blaring messages of doom over loudspeakers 24 hours a day, and trying to talk them into "revolutionary suicide." Jim Jones was exactly their kind of guy. Why stop him, when you might learn valuable information? With all the heat on in Washington, it was no longer possible to experiment on prisoners or mental patients. What could be better than a jungle camp in the middle of nowhere, with a captive audience of social undesirables, a madman messiah, and modern, well-equipped medical facilities? There are even vague threads suggesting the possibility that Jones could have been taken under someone's wing even before his move to California, let alone Guyana. Jim Jones opened his first Peoples Temple in Indianapolis in the late fifties. He left for nearly a year in 1961-62 and lived in prosperous and somewhat mysterious circumstances in Belo Horizonte, a small city on the Brazilian coast. [A reporter from the San Jose _Mercury News_, who travelled to Belo Horizonte after the Jonestown killings, reported that several of Jones' neighbors from 1961 said a staff car from the US Embassy visited him there weekly.] On his return to Indiana, Jones announced the Temple's move to Northern California. It may very well be just a coincidence, but another man made the same pilgrimage from Indianapolis to South America at about the same time. He was Dan Mitrione, the Indianapolis police chief at the time of Jones' first Peoples Temple. Mitrione later became infamous as the US torture instructor -- working for the CIA under the cover of the Agency for International Development -- who was kidnapped, interrogated and finally murdered by the Tumpamaro guerrillas in Uruguay. Mitrione's story was told in Costa-Gavras' film _State of Siege_. Did Jones and Mitrione know each other? Here we move into the twilight zone of conspiracy theories and speculations. A number of years ago I called Mitrione's son Dan Jr., himself an FBI agent, and asked that very question. No, he said quite emphatically. And that was the end of it until March 1985, when Dan Mitrione Jr. was in the papers himself. He had just pleaded guilty to federal charges of possessing 90 pounds of cocaine and was about to be sentenced to prison.

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