The Official Story Questioned
In spite of evidence of murder and many anomalies in the circumstances, the media and US government were pushing the mass suicide narrative before the dust had even settled on the Jonestown massacre.
The official line was that Jim Jones brainwashed everyone into drinking poisoned Kool-Aid. People were so brainwashed they all drank it on command and lay down and died in ordered rows. End of story. This narrative was entrenched with the help of leading figures in the anti-cult movement, some of whom had backgrounds in government “mind control” research. They were widely quoted in the media to “explain” what had happened (more on that later).
Since the government deemed it unnecessary to conduct autopsies because the cause of death was “not an issue”; it apparently deemed it unnecessary to fully investigate the murders too.
But not everyone believed the official explanation. Not everyone believed that what happened was so simple. Soon, the US government was not just criticised for mishandling the recovery operation; it was alleged it actually had a hand in what transpired.
Congressman Ryan’s Assassination and the CIA
Before he was assassinated on a jungle airstrip in circumstances that triggered the Jonestown massacre, Congressman Leo Ryan had been a thorn in the side of the CIA. He leaked information on the CIA’s covert involvement in the Angola civil war. He was also co-sponsor of the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, which banned the CIA from undertaking covert operations without notifying Congress, and banned CIA paramilitary operations without Congressional approval.
Two months before the Jonestown tragedy, he had questioned the CIA about whether they were involved in mind control medical experiments on inmates at a Vacaville medical facility in California. Vacaville had housed Donald DeFreeze who went on to call himself “Cinque” and lead the criminal “revolutionary” group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. According to investigative reporter Jack Anderson who published the article, “CIA May Have Inspired Cinque,” DeFreeze claimed that as a prisoner he was the victim of mind control experiments, and had vowed to another inmate that he would use the same techniques on others when he was out. The CIA did in fact carry out MK-ULTRA medical experiments at Vacaville, where DeFreeze was held. Inmates were reportedly drugged, harassed and confined in isolation, to determine “at what point individuals would “break” and follow orders blindly”.
DeFreeze later kidnapped the wealthy heiress Patty Hearst, daughter of the renowned newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. After going through brutal physical and psychological torture, she eventually took on the revolutionary group’s cause and joined them in robbing a bank armed with a semi-automatic firearm. When charges were brought against her, her defence was that she was brainwashed. Congressman Ryan had written to the President calling for Patty Hearst’s clemency. He apparently felt the US government’s covert mind control programs were in some way responsible for her bizarre descent into criminality.
After Congressman Ryan’s assassination in Guyana, his Amendment curtailing CIA covert operations was defeated. Foul play was suspected.
Jonestown and MK-ULTRA
In 1980, Congressman Ryan’s chief-of-staff Joseph Holsinger – who did not accompany the congressman to Guyana but helped to arrange his visit – declared he had uncovered that Jonestown was a covert CIA “mind-control experiment” and that Ryan’s visit threatened to pierce the veil and expose it. He was convinced Ryan and the entire Jonestown encampment were eliminated by the CIA for this reason and testified to Congress that the CIA was behind what happened.
Vast quantities of psychiatric “mind control” drugs were indeed found at Jonestown, reportedly enough to drug more than 200,000 people. Drugs found included Thorazine, sodium pentothal, chloral hydrate, Demerol, and Valium. Thorazine, a powerful tranquiliser, was reportedly used on MK-ULTRA victims. Sodium pentothal is used in interrogations as a “truth serum” and chloral hydrate is a hypnotic which was also used on MK-ULTRA victims.
US Army medic Jeff Brailey reported that as he was attempting to board a helicopter departing the Jonestown recovery operation, he was approached by an anxious unidentified man carrying a box of documents. The man, who Brailey believed was a CIA operative, asked Brailey if his gun was loaded. When he answered in the affirmative, the agent sought to leave the documents with Brailey and told him to shoot anyone who tried to take the box because the documents inside were “very sensitive” and “we can’t let them get into the wrong hands.” What sort of documents would require such drastic and lethal protection? Their contents remain unknown.
Under MK-ULTRA, the CIA had been running clandestine human medical experiments in public hospitals, universities and prisons, but they had told Congress this had ceased in 1973 (the same year they destroyed most of the MK-ULTRA files in a concerted cover-up). Holsinger, however, had received a university report titled “The Penal Colony” claiming the experiments had continued, and secretly shifted to “religious cults”.
The researcher John Judge noted that the membership of Jonestown, made up of mostly minorities, correlated with designated “target populations” for CIA and military intelligence behaviour modification experimentation. After experiments in prisons and hospitals were put under scrutiny in the early 70’s, there were plans to establish a remote and secluded medical “behaviour modification” research centre on a missile base in the mid 70’s. It was around this time that the Peoples Temple relocated to Guyana.
Legal proceedings were brought against the CIA by Ryan’s family, based on Holsinger’s charges. According to Freedom magazine, the Ryan family’s lawsuit against the CIA was summarily dismissed for reasons that have “never been fully disclosed”:
The Ryans’ claim against the government, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California on July 31, 1980, asked $1,481 for Rep. Ryan’s funeral expenses, general damages of $3 million, plus costs.
The lawsuit charged, “Prior to his November  fact-finding mission to Guyana, decedent [Leo Ryan] had many times unsuccessfully attempted to learn from the United States Department of State of the true circumstances and events occurring at the Jonestown colony in Guyana.
“The United States Department of State knew prior to November 14, 1978, of vital information concerning said Jonestown colony and withheld this information from decedent despite his many requests for such information.
“Said information included knowledge by the Department of State of … the existence of a large supply of mind control narcotics at the Jonestown colony which were being used in mind control experiments, initiated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency upon citizens of the Jonestown colony.”
Also charged in the lawsuit: “The Jonestown colony was infiltrated with agent(s) of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. … [S]aid agents were working with the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency to use the Jonestown colony as a mass mind control experiment as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s MK ULTRA program.”
The lawsuit identified by name two Americans in Guyana as CIA agents — Philip Blakey, an aide to Jones, and Richard Dwyer, deputy chief of the U.S. embassy in Guyana – and noted that massive quantities of mind control drugs were found at Jonestown after the mass killings, a fact also reported by news media.”
Reportedly, the family did not have sufficient funds to continue in their legal attempts to bring the CIA to account.
Both Blakey and Dwyer, who are mentioned in the lawsuit, survived the Jonestown tragedy. Blakey came from a wealthy family and had donated $60,000 to the Jonestown property and arranged the lease with the Guyanese government. There are unconfirmed reports that he was “a mercenary for the CIA-backed UNITA rebels in Angola” where the CIA had been covertly involved in a civil war (which Congressman Ryan helped to expose). Blakey was married to Debbie Layton and was brother-in-law to Larry Layton; both Debbie and Larry were Temple members also from a wealthy family. Larry Layton was the only assassin identified in the airstrip shooting prior to the massacre at Jonestown, who was restrained after opening fire aboard the smaller plane. His father, Dr Laurence Layton, was “Chief of Chemical and Biological Warfare Research at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, for many years, and later worked as Director of Missile and Satellite Development at the Navy Propellant Division, Indian Head, Maryland.” Dr Layton donated over a quarter of a million dollars to Jim Jones.
Richard Dwyer was the embassy official who accompanied Leo Ryan to Jonestown. According to investigative reporter Jack Anderson, Dwyer had been identified as a CIA operative a decade earlier in the East German publication “Who’s who in the CIA”. It is common practice around the world for governments to plant intelligence operatives in embassies under diplomatic cover. When he was asked if he was a CIA operative, Dwyer answered “no comment”. Given his lack of confirmation either way, his CIA status remains unclear, although another likely possibility is that he was a state department intelligence operative.
Ryan’s aide Joseph Holsinger reported that he had been tipped off by a White House official in the Congressional liaison office about Ryan’s murder. The official provided an accurate report of the number of dead at the airstrip (before it became public) and said the information came from “a CIA report from the scene”. Holsinger believed the CIA agent providing that report was Dwyer.
Dwyer survived the airstrip shooting and apparently tended the wounded, but other survivors mentioned they did not remember seeing much of him after the shooting. Back at Jonestown, as Jim Jones called everyone together and told them the Congressman was dead, and the community now had to commit suicide, he stated: “Get Dwyer out of here before something happens to him”. When someone asked for clarification, Jones reiterated “I said Dwyer”. There was no other Dwyer in the Jonestown community. Was Jim Jones mistaken, or had Dwyer returned to Jonestown during the massacre as has been alleged? If so, why? People have speculated either way, but the only thing that remains certain is that Jim Jones was convinced Dwyer was there. He referred to him directly four times in the final recording which has been dubbed the “death tape”.
A House intelligence committee claimed there was no evidence of CIA involvement in Jonestown, but Holsinger remained convinced. His assertions about Jonestown being a covert CIA medical experiment are expanded upon in the book, “Was Jonestown a CIA Medical Experiment?: A Review of the Evidence” by Michael Meiers.
Jim Jones and the CIA
Jim Jones has an intriguing past that has given rise to suspicions about his possible connections to the CIA.
Jim Jones made his preaching debut in Richmond, where he gave sermons on the sidewalk from a young age. The Chief of Police in the town was Dan Mitrione, who would later work for the FBI, then go on to become a CIA operative in South America, under State Department cover. In this capacity he was stationed in Brazil in 1960.
When Dan Mitione was sent to South America, the CIA opened a file on Jim Jones.
In 1961, the supposedly ultra-left-wing Jim Jones (who travelled to Cuba the year before) visited Guayana, and gave sermons preaching about the dangers of American missionaries and evangelists spreading communism. This happened to occur at a time when the CIA were seeking to undermine the socialist government that had been elected there. To say that this sermon was inconsistent with Jim Jones’ pro-socialist public persona is an understatement – the Peoples Temple apparently had plans to defect to the Soviet Union – but this was not the first time Jones flagrantly contradicted his own supposed political stance. In the 1960s he was also a fundraiser for the conservative Richard Nixon, while at the same time apparently being a Soviet sympathiser.
After his anti-communist preaching in Guyana, Jones vanished. Then six months later, in April 1962, he turned up living in Brazil in Belo Horizonte, where Dan Mitrione was also living. Although publicly Jones has made critical remarks about Dan Mitrione, calling him a “vicious racist”, Jones was reported to have associated closely with Dan Mitrione’s family in Belo Horizonte. His work in that city was mysterious: he would disappear with a briefcase in the morning and return late at night. He lived in a wealthy area, while apparently being a poor religious missionary. People wondered where he was getting the money from.
To one person he claimed to be retired captain in the U.S. Navy, apparently receiving a pension. Other neighbours reported Jones had claimed he worked for the Brazilian dry-cleaning and laundry company Eureka, but the company denies it employed him. Eureka employees have suggested that Jones lied about his employment there as a cover for CIA work.
Other people in Belo Horizonte also suspected Jones was a CIA agent. A man who visited the Jones’s household regularly believed he was a spy, noting how a US consular car was often parked out the front, sometimes delivering groceries to the house. If the US government was bringing him food, was it also paying his salary? The man who observed these unusual deliveries was an informant for a local police detective who was convinced Jim Jones was a CIA agent and was seeking to confirm it. The detective died before he could conclude his investigation.
In December 1962, Jim Jones prepared to move to Rio de Janeiro. In March 1963, Dan Mitrione moved there also, nearby to Jim Jones. While in Rio that year, Jones was reported to have been working for the finance company Invesco as a salesman on commission for three months, but did not sell anything during the duration of his employment, according to the company’s former assistant manager. Investigative reporter Jim Hougan noted that commission-only sales jobs are “favorite covers for CIA agents in foreign countries… because the agent is not required to produce any cover-related work-product for his civilian boss (i.e., he doesn’t need to sell anything at all)—because he’s working strictly “on commission.” At the same time, salesmen working on commission are expected to travel, and to cultivate a broad spectrum of acquaintances.”
In 1969, Dan Mitrione moved to Uruguay, where, according to former CIA and local police officials, he trained local police in “violent techniques of torture and repression” to be used against a local left-wing guerrilla group, the Tupamaros. Allegations include that Mitrione taught them how to torture and interrogate through the use of electric shocks, and that homeless people were used as subjects for demonstration purposes and tortured to death in a soundproofed cellar of his home.
Dan Mitrione was later kidnapped and executed by the Tupamaros in 1970, and the events became the subject of the film State of Siege in which Mitrione’s name was changed.
Immediately after Mitrione’s death, the CIA closed and purged its 201-page file on Jim Jones. This has given rise to suspicions that Jim Jones was a US intelligence asset and Dan Mitrione was his handler.
Another strange anomaly is that Jim Jones had two active passports at the same time, as if there were two Jim Jones’ – one of them an imposter.
A psychiatric assessment of Jim Jones, found amongst his medical records, reportedly identified him as a “sociopath”. If he was a known sociopath, and he was, as has been alleged, also an asset of US intelligence, one wonders for what purposes he was used.