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….










About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

11 responses »

  1. Zach Robertson says:

    Hi Larry, awesome post; thanks for sharing. I think this is how Morales put together 11/22. Is this the document you were referring to:


    Outstanding stuff, keep up the great work.


    • Man you are right on the money Zach, thanks for saving me from venturing into the file cabinets.

      I’m going to spend some time thinking about this document and the differences in the individuals. There is good reason for most of them to have 201 “persons of interest to the CIA” files. That would apply to Oswald, Duran and Hargraves.

      But the concept of a soft file implies that some case officer or higher level officer was specifically interested in them. Using Stockwell’s example it actually seems to imply more than that – that somebody was actually doing something with or around them and creating a file which could be shared with other people – without putting it on the record.

      I have to say that in the Oswald – Duran case that could well imply a CI or anti-FPCC mission directly targeting the Cubans in Mexico City, something becoming more and more well documented. Of course the real issue here is how did the soft files get listed, who knew about them and where are they now (well that’s probably obvious).

      If we knew what office was holding the soft file it would be a major step forward.

      And then there’s Hargraves?

      — Larry

  2. Winston Smith says:

    Another great post Larry, thanks! This info was new to me and a real eye=opener. This business of soft files is never mentioned in the usual histories of the Agency. Well, not that I’ve ever read. If I remember rightly, this was mentioned in John Newman’s ‘The Cia & Oswald’, where I think he mentioned the possibility that Angleton might have been running something like this. That I can well believe, knowing his devious nature, Do you think that Phillips might have also been involved in Oswald’s soft file? I’m also wondering if this is where some of the Joannides files on Oswald etc might have ended up? Thanks

    • Thanks Winston, although its only my speculation at the moment based on work Bill Simpich is doing and will be speaking on at the Lancer conference, I think it very possible that there may have been two operational files in play on Oswald in fall 63. Both would
      have fallen under SAS, which means under Fitzgerald at a senior level. One would have related to activities related to AM/SANTA and might have been “soft” since that was a joint FBI/CIA project and the CIA would have been holding its own use of Oswald for associated activities to itself. If you recall there are memos stating that Hoover knew exactly why
      Oswald had gone to the Soviet embassy in MC, so some info may have been shared but not all.

      Beyond that, I think it very likely that Phillips was holding a key soft file on Oswald, as part of a CI operation against the Cubans in MC; that operation would have been tightly compartmentalized as were all CI actions but it would explain the fact that some people in CIA at headquarters would have been aware of a SAS/CI operation going on around Oswald and kept their mouth shut about it….it might also suggest that portions of Oswald’s file had been pulled and were being held separately within SAS.

      So we might well have two things going on over some 90 days, compartmentalized even within SAS. I expect that the Joannides files might give away the FPCC project and that those may well have been “official” and even inter-Agency. One indication of
      that is that the highly successful AMSANTA project suddenly goes dark as of fall 63, no further attempts to pursue it nor reports relating to it, even a cancellation report. And of course, any soft file held on Oswald in regard to a Cuban embassy/consulate operation – well I doubt it survived much beyond 72 hours after November 22. If Hosty was told to flush a simple note from Oswald, you can imagine what would happen to the soft file. I suppose we might check to see if there is any report about the plumbing
      suddenly going bad at the Mexico City station…

      — all just speculation at this point, moving right along though, Larry

  3. Zach Robertson says:

    Hi Larry,

    Great stuff. The other names there that catch my eye Re the possibilities of soft files are Seymour, Soutre, HTLINGUAL, and Koch. Hargraves is obviously is a key player in this mix; being run by someone.

    The Duran – Oswald stuff is interesting; but which Oswald are we talking about? I think more assets/agents used the ‘Oswald’ name as an operational device than officers used ‘Maurice Bishop.’ This is where it gets real murky.

    I think there might be some soft files still around, possibly in private hands, but most have likely been destroyed after their Ops ended. A guy like Morales, who had the reputation of getting the job done, is a great candidate for initiating numerous soft files to get around Shackley’s red tape factory, JMWAVE.


    • Zach, I’m digging into something that might give us a clue as to how the soft files might have made the list – more on that later this weekend. It might also explain a couple of the other names you commented on.

      In the meantime, as far as the name Oswald, since we are talking about actual CIA files (even if soft), if the name Oswald showed up it would suggest that it was a true name, not an alias or pseudo (which makes sense in a soft file where pseudos would
      not necessarily be used for protection). Its also likely the holder of the soft file would have access to the 201 file. Bishop appears to have been an “alias” used by Phillips and possibly others but not an authorized pseudo and certainly not a crypt (pseudos are backstopped with real world addresses and occupations and should have a security trail…you
      find them for Morales and Hunt’s psedos among others). So – I think if we see the true name Oswald I imagine it would be the real Lee Oswald.

      And yes, I imagine there were a number of soft files at JMWAVE – I’m betting the investigation Shackley ordered of the JFK assassination (which he lied about not doing), using the AMOTS in the inquiry, went into a soft file…and then, well you know…sigh.

      • Zach Robertson says:

        Hi Larry,

        Thanks for the great insight as always. I’d love to see if Seymour’s soft file ever had him using the name “Lee Oswald” in an operational nature. I like where you are going here.

        Is this an example of a ‘blind file,’ addressed to really no one; Fiorini/Sturgis here:

        It would be nice if you could actually read it, haha. Looking forward to what you can make out of that 201 List.


      • Fascinating Zach, here’s my guess on the Stugis “soft” file. Looking at the documents it appears that the actual content is a series of typed cards, plus other items related to Sturgis. Some like his dossier would have been official but the rest most likely pertain to exchanges with him, information he provided, remarks about him etc. Now we know that Barker actually rolled up info from Sturgis into routine case officer type reports covering many subjects of interests. The reports were summaries of info from Sturgis and other informants. So in this case I’m guessing the soft file was just that, a file folder that contained things relating to Sturgis, a working file. Nothing that you would enter into the CIA document system or assign a number. That would occur when his info got rolled into an official, numbered report.

        Which suggests that some “soft files” may simply be work files….but work files existing outside the official document system. Makes perfect sense and not unlike most any manager would have in his desk (I’ve had lots of such soft files on projects and people…uh, not CIA of course…grin). What Stockwell is describing is something a bit different, where a manager is writing reports and memos that are themselves circulated but outside the system. But which are kept as work files in the possession of tose on the project team.

        So, when we find a soft file listed, which type is it. Perhaps its a working file on somebody like Hargraves, who is being monitored at JMWAVE, no doubt about that. Or perhaps it refers to an operations file on a project being run in a compartmentalized fashion outside the system – for some reason. If we could see actual documents from such a file it would be easy to figure it out but of course…. Or if we just had something like you found, showing the source of the soft file.

        Which still leaves us with the basic question, how does a soft file show up on a list. The one you found makes some sense as somebody could just request all the desk files at JMWAVE or perhaps desk files for major people of interest – like Sturgis.
        But how did the HSCA learn about a soft file on Oswald or on Duran, and where the heck did they originate? Did somebody just
        go up to COS Mexico City and say, hey, we want all the desk files on Oswald and Duran? Maybe…but if they did I’m betting
        you can’t find them on MFF. I’d be happy if you prove me wrong on that though!

        — certainly a great brain teaser though, I just need a better one to deal with it, Larry

  4. Zach Robertson says:

    Hi Larry,

    I’d be willing to bet Sturgis had a real ‘soft file’ that pertained to what you and Stockwell described. This looks like a collection of loose documents and not much more.

    I’ve looked for some documents like that and there are some listed on HTLINGUAL and Oswald, but I haven’t actually seen them. My guess is that it was a mistake in releasing the scant info on ‘soft files.’ There is nothing there to get, but enough information about it to see how the CIA really works.

    I’d guess that no real soft files are in the archives just notes on them and loose documents. There is an HSCA interview with Ray Rocca where he describes soft files as ‘throwaways’ but I can’t find it now. The search engine at MFF is giving me problems.

    Interesting about the Duran-Oswald stuff. One thought — If the man who Ruby shot wasn’t in Mexico City during the fall of ’63, then who is really in that soft file under the Oswald operational name?


  5. Winston Smith says:

    Thanks for the info Larry. I find what you said makes perfect sense and ha, I agree with you on the Mexico City plumbing! I am intrigued by this AM/SANTA you mention – what was this? I have not heard of it before – unfortunately when I tried an internet search for the term, the first thing that came up was a link to ‘I am Santa Claus’ by Bob Rovers on youtube and other related songs! I feel there must be something very important in the Joannides files for the CIA to continue to hold on to them. Going off topic slightly, is there any evidence that Phillips and Joannides worked together? Im guessing they must have if Joannides was connected to the DRE? Wasn’t he supposed to have been the case officer or something? In which case Im surprised that the files we do have on Phillips under his Choaden alias don’t mention him – or maybe are in a soft file somewhere. Is there any evidence that Joannides had an alias that we know of?

    • Winston, I go into considerable detail in the new paperback version of SWHT on what we do know about AMSANTA at this point – the project should be a really top priority for new JFK research but ….

      Anyway, AMSANTA was a very sophisticated intel collection program, conducted jointly by the FBI and CIA. It used FPCC members (one that we know of but potentially others) who were able to take advantage of the FPCC recognition to gain approval to go into Cuba – via Mexico City. Once in Cuba, they would get a royal tour and accumulate tons of
      information to bring back to the US (photos were even allowed). One AMSANTA dangle was put into Cuba and debriefed extensively, everybody was massively enthusiastic about the results – then the whole project disappears.

      And just about that time, Lee Oswald is in MC at the Cuban consulate, using his FPCC connection to try and get a visa to enter Cuba. Pretty interesting circumstance. It’s also interesting that the one known FPCC dangle was provided by the FBI and used by the CIA.

      On your other question, yest both CIA officers worked with the DRE and I imagine both did know each other. However my guess would be that what happened is that because of his DRE contact in NO, he shows up in reports there – you can pretty well bet that if Phillips had appropriated Oswald for any type of CI mission against the Cubans in Mexico
      City that it would be compartmentalized from virtually everyone. It would be a SAS/CI project. And I really would not expect Joannides to be aware of it – I do suspect he was aware of Oswald and might have made inquires about him. If he did he might have gotten the same limited info that HQ sent to Mexico City when they asked..

      — Larry

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