One of the best places to gain insight into how agencies such as the CIA actually work in real life is to take a close look at their documents. Of course it would be naive to think that certain things are put on paper or that national security restrictions are going to allow you to see everything. However the CIA is still a government agency and has to conduct day to day business as any other institution or large business does – which means regulations, directives, memorandum and reports. It also means personnel files which you won’t see under normal circumstances and certain areas of operational files which cross over that line, including expense reports, travel authorizations etc. Of course from time to time things do get filed in strange places, pulled when they really should not be and intermixed with reports and communications. Rules are great but things happen, its similar to the use of crypts which became so extensive over time that people had to make notes on documents to keep track of who or what was being talked about – then those pages got filed and sometimes get released.
When there are Congressional or other major investigations, lots of documents get flushed out that the CIA and other agencies would prefer didn’t, and end up in collections such as the JFK records collection, which covers area far beyond what you might assume – the same is true for the HSCA collection. Most of those documents end up at the National Archives, as do a certain level of documents from Agencies, those that are not destroyed under document retention guidelines. There doe have to be some rules for records destitution, the continent would sink if all the pieces of paper generated by every agency had to be retained forever.
To assist in determining what is and what is not at NARA in regard to the JFK records, NARA fielded a search tool some years ago. It didn’t cover everything there but it did allow you to search by some fairly high level criteria such as name and see some of what was in the collection, get a document number (RIF) and some basic header information on each document. Then you could try to get the actual document from NARA or if you were lucky go search another source like the Mary Ferrell Foundation using the RIF and come up with the document online.
The good news is that process is now significantly improved thorough the work of Rex Bradford at the Foundation. Rex, had developed a new search tool which in conjunction with a sweep of the NARA search data by Ramon Herrera allows you to search NARA, find a document and then immediately to to it if its available at the MFF database of over a million pages. It also allows you to do much more sophisticated searches than the original NARA tool. This is a really significant advance in document access and you can read all about it at:
In addition, that page will provide you with some further insights into what actually is at NARA and what is going to appear during the much anticipated 2017 JFK records release. This took should be very valuable in terms of what is upcoming, and even gives you some specifics on exactly what documents are anticipated to be released. Hopefully you will check it out and give it a try; its the sort of thing that takes data mining to a whole new level.