Most researchers have come across the term before, although its a shame that nobody with actual CIA operating experience explained the term to HSCA investigators. I’ve been reading a great book by CIA officer John Stockwell on the Angola operations and he gives some extremely valuable insights into not only real world field operations (and reporting) but into what seems to have been pretty much SOP inside at least the Plans/Operations directorate.
Stockwell describes the fact that in staff and working group meetings his boss, the Africa Division Chief, the Chief would not allow a transcript to be made of any meeting nor would he allow anyone to actually write a report on such meetings. He would work late at night, writing his own summary of the meeting and then he would put any related and necessary communications out as “blind” documents without headings or addresses. This meant that none of the work group activities were documented in official CIA records; only such reports as he himself might choose to write for transmission up the chain of command. All of the working documents, the blind documents would go into “soft files” outside the CIA record keeping system, meaning that technically they did not exist and that legally, in case of internal CIA or Congressional or other legal requests, they did not have to be provided and could simply be destroyed.
The blind documents and summary reports were kept in a “soft file” in the Chief’s desk.
Now this was being done for an officially approved operation – IAFortune. It had been approved by the 40 Committee, the President, and funded with approval by designated Congressional committees and sub committees. No hanky panky going on at all, yet the Africa Division head was ensuring that nobody could legally request certain details of how field operations were being conducted (including the fact that CIA officers were being sent into the field against specific 40 Committee direction). Or if they did request them, he could of course write his own official report, that would become a numbered CIA document.
Now before this I had vaguely thought that soft files might just be sort of a vest pocket thing, documents pertaining to what an individual was doing – but then if its just you doing it, why documents at all?
So as it turns out “soft files” seem to relate to actual operations, involving multiple people but operations where things are going on that are being conducted deniable from even within the Agency itself – in the Angola case, the Africa Division manager was already sitting at HQ.
Imagine running this past the HSCA investigators, would they just not throw up their hands?
And while you are imaging that, keep in mind that at least one HSCA document lists a series of individuals that they have been informed (how is unclear) were the subject of “soft files”. Three individuals have always stood out to me – Lee Oswald, Sylvia Duran and Roy Hargraves. I’d like to look at the other names again now but that particular document is buried deep within my boxes and file cabinets. I’m pondering where it might be though….