201 System title.png
CIA Logo Grey.png

Crafted decades ago by officials and historically used by the Central Intelligence Agency, the 201 filing system provided the means to track, locate, and retain substantial material on subjects of official interest. Individuals who understand the system's various guidelines can use official methods to more easily navigate the 201 System.

Light Grey Line Graphic.png
201 Sys subt.png

"The 201 system provides a method for identifying a person of specific interest to the Operations Directorate and for controlling and filing all pertinent information about that person...Only a relatively small  number of personalities indexed are of sufficient interest to justify opening a 201 dossier." Reasons for opening a 201 file included "...subjects of extensive reporting and CI (Counterintelligence) investigation, prospective agents and sources, members of groups and organizations of continuing target interest, or subjects on whom a volume of correspondence has accumulated.

The 201 Number: The "...unique number, i.e., 201-1234567, assigned to each individual in the system to serve as identifying file number for reporting on that individual. 

The 201 Dossier the official file containing the 201 opening form (Form 831) and all biographic reporting on and references to the individual, i.e.m personal history, current status, and prospects...When additional information is discovered on a 201 subject through a name trace or other process, i.e., review of predecessor documents, it must be consolidated into his personality dossier. See DOI 70-20 for consolidation procedures. 

The Master 201 Record: a machine record generated by the opening of a 201 file. This record produces the master 201 reference for the Main Index and stores the pertinent information which may later be retrieved for special listings.

Main Index Master 201 Reference: this reference printed in reply to an Index Search Request, is printed as illustrated below. When data is absent within the record, succeeding data items or lines will be moved up and the reference consolidated."

Above is an Example of designations used in The CIA’s Main Index and Master 201 Reference files

Above is an Example of designations used in The CIA’s Main Index and Master 201 Reference files

Subject Information
"Sequence Number and Name:  The number signifying the order of events in the file and the subject's name.
 Sex and Date of Birth: The biological sex and date the subject was born. 
 Citizenship: The subject's nation of legal residency.
 Place of Birth: The subject's nation of origin.
 Occupation: A subject's profession. 
 Occupation Code: A reference code to distinguish subject professions. 
 Text: Additional notable instances regarding the file's subject.

Document Reference Data Group
201 Number: A unique identifier attributed to each 201 file.
Name Type Indicator: A further reference point corresponding to the subject's name.
The OI Codes:  a two letter symbol used in conjunction with the 201 personality records in the 201 system to record the association of an individual with organizations or activities of operational interest. OI codes cover intelligence and security service affiliation, whether staff or agent, or known or suspect, as well as activities of DDO (Deputy Director of Operations interest."
Record Date: The year of the subject's original noted activities. 
References: The date of file creation and filing information.

ISG Control Information
Date of latest update of the record: The full date of the 201's file's most recent change.
STAR Index Record Number: The DDO's (Deputy Director of Operations) counterintelligence and operational index is called STAR, with over 8.7 million records including and unknown number of duplicate entries on the same name. It is basically a biographic index, though some corporate 'persons' are covered. It provides an index to the official files of the DDO, but not to the informal working files set up for convenience by individual officers.

The opening of 201 dossier is the prerogative of an operational component, in coordination with the Information Services Group (ISG). An opening creates a master 201 record. Changes to the master record and the occasional closing of a 201 dossier are controlled jointly by the desk and the ISG. 201 dossiers may be opened on persons who meet the carding criteria...Generally dossiers are opened on persons about whom counterintelligence information is being reported, and persons of operational interest to the Operation Directorate (DO), specifically those persons for whom provisional operational approvals and operational approvals were requested (see exception below). 201 files are not to be opened on staff employees, staff agents, and most categories of contract employees. Files on persons who are only of local interest to a filed station or Headquarters desk and on who no DDO records correspondence exists are not a part of DDO records system and are to be maintained by that unit. Some desks levy requirements on ISG for automatic 201 openings on certain categories of persons whose names appear in incoming dispatches. These are listed in Attachment 2."

201 dossier requirements instructed a file to opened in the following instances: "Subjects of provisional operational approval and operational approval requests. However, a file need not be opened when a POA is requested for persons being trained for a foreign liaison service and who are of operational interest for training purposes only...bonafide diplomats of other than denied area countries, in close association with staff personnel...Subjects of a Personal Record Questionnaire Part I...Persons on whom a Main Index search reveals information in five or more documents...Subjects of Interagency (sic) Source Register memoranda from LSN/ISR (opened only by IP/RMS)

Headquarters desks may open a 201 file by filling out and submitting a 201 Personality File Action Request (Form 831) to the Records Maintenance Section (IP/RMS). Form 831 is also used to create or amend the master 201 record and 201 machine listings and to register the assignment of a cryptonym to a 201 personality...A field station may request the opening of a 201 file by writing 201 in the Headquarters file or cross-reference box on the dispatch form and/or after the subject's name in the body of the dispatch. A telepouch request for a 201 opening is made by indicating 201- in the file number line. A cable request is made by placing 201- after the term 'File' on the last line of the transmission. IP/AN will open 201 files as requested by dispatch or telepouch but it is the responsibility of the desk to respond to cable requests. Field stations are notified of 201 openings through receipt of the field master 201 record.
Information about a 201 personality should be filed or cross-referenced into his dossier. When additional information is discovered on a 201 subject through a name trace or other process, i.e., review of predecessor documents, it must be consolidated into his personality dossier. 

Material which is filed in the dossier includes but is not limited to:
a. 201 Personality File Action Request (Form 831).
b. Biographic information including photographs, fingerprints, and handwriting samples. 
c. Personal Record Questionnaire Parts I and II.
d. Operational and other security approvals.
e. Name check replies, requests, clearances, and approvals. 
f. Acknowledgement of pseudonym.
g. 201 personality assessments and evaluations.
h. Copy of contract and termination papers.
i. Secrecy agreement.
j. Agent Duty Status Report.
k. Training and evaluation.
l. SGSWIRL report.
m. Newspaper clippings.
n. Any information which helps provide a better understanding of the subject and our interest in him; this may include operational reporting.

The 201 personality dossier contains, in document date order, papers which have been made a part of the Central Records System as well as those which have not." Presumably some in the Agency maintained files that were never part of its Central Records System. Documents included ranged "from newspaper or magazine articles on the subject to finance and other administrative papers." 

Purging 201 Files
"Purging a 201 dossier is the responsibility of the desk officer. It requires discrimination in recognizing operationally useful material, rather than the simple distinction between official and unofficial papers; it will therefore tale place under the supervision of a Records Officer. Purging should be done periodically. A 201 dossier being forwarded to Central Files retention should be purged." Information that was purged from 201 dossiers included but was not limited to:

Any duplicate of prior existing documents, name trace forms except in certain situations, all abstract slips, and document restriction notices. Additionally purged material includes "disseminated version of positive intelligence information" if an unrestricted version is within the existing 201 file. Agency employees were to purge routing slips, routing and record sheets, and dispatch cover sheets unless it contained remarks or official notations, and deferred documents.  Record copy documents too would be purged if a 201 file's other records contained the most substantive information and the Records Officer authorized its destruction. 

201 File Maintenance
"All material in a 201 dossier will be filed in document date order. In the case of document attachments which have been classified into a 201 dossier and separated from the basic document by the assignment of a slash number, the attachment will be filed by the date of the basic document...A 201 dossier previously opened on a person who becomes a staff employee and which contains Record Copy documents will be restricted...The dossier should be closed if there are no Record Copy documents in it.

A 201 opened in pseudonym should be consolidated into the true name 201 if one exists or converted to the true name. Field and duplicate (shadow) 201 files are no longer of active interest and should be incorporated in the official 201 after the duplicate material has been purged by the desk officer and the remaining information classified to that 201 by the Analysis Section (IP/AN)."

Officials were instructed to return inactive 201 files to the Agency's Central Files. "Any document with a predecessor organization cover sheet or an OPC (Officer of Policy Coordination) cover sheet from the Archives and Disposition Section (IP/ARD) must be returned to IP/ARD for processing to the 201...Desk memoranda (with or without a document source number) containing substantive or derogatory information on the subject of the 201 should be sent to IP/AN to be classified officially into the 201 file...Black-taped dossiers or dossiers with black-taped documents handled as restricted dossiers. 

A 201 dossier may be kept on permanent charge at the desk during any period of active interest. If the dossier is transferred to another desk, the desk officer who is transferring the dossier must notify Central Files of the transfer. Central Files will then send the Notice of Transfer of Document or File Accountability (Form 2977) to the new action desk officer. The new action desk officer must then fill out a 201 Personality File Action Request (Form 813) to change the action desk designation to insure that the 201 personality will be included in the Headquarters and field machine listings for his component.

CIA 2977 "Notice of TRANSFER OF DOCUMENT OR FILE ACCOUNTABILITY" used to assign custodianship of Files

CIA 2977 "Notice of TRANSFER OF DOCUMENT OR FILE ACCOUNTABILITY" used to assign custodianship of Files

Access to a sensitive 201 dossier may be restricted by holding the file at the desk or placing it on restriction in Central Files...The dossier may be restricted by holding it on permanent charge from Central Files. (Note: To maintain the restriction of a dossier being returned to Central Files for retention, a File Restriction Notice (Form 2021) must accompany the dossier.)...The dossier may be restricted and held in Central Files by submitting a File Restriction Notice...Access to a restricted dossier located in Central files is limited to the personnel of the restricting desk or persons authorized by that desk. Any request for the charge of a restricted or any document within a restricted dossier held in Central Files will be forwarded with the entire dossier and a multiple routed cover sheet to the restricting desk. This desk may then forward to the requester or deny the request and return the dossier to Central Files. The desk will notify the requester of a denial...Anyone requesting a restricted dossier, permanently or temporarily charged to a desk, will be referred to that desk by Central Files. 

CIA Form 2021 "file Restriction Notice" A security and suppression method allowing Employees to Set up Internal LIMITATIONS on File access and the form could be used to remove these restrictions placed on relevant documents

CIA Form 2021 "file Restriction Notice" A security and suppression method allowing Employees to Set up Internal LIMITATIONS on File access and the form could be used to remove these restrictions placed on relevant documents

The Automated Index Section (IP/AIS) will provide the identity of the subject of a 201 number unless the 201 file is restricted, in which case the requester will be referred to the restricting desk. IP/AIS will also provide the 201 number assigned to a name, unless the 201 file is restricted, or state that there is no 201 number assigned. Requests should supply identifying information whenever available for each name submitted. 

A 201 file may be authorized for cancellation by a Records Officer, after appropriate coordination. The file be forwarded to IP/RMS (Records Maintenance Section) which will destroy the folder and the cards leading to it and will remove the name and number from machine lists. Any Record Copy document contained in the folder will be reclassified to another appropriate file or sent to the Destruction Unit (IP/DU) as directed by the Records Officer. 

Machine listings provide field stations and Headquarters desks with names and 201 numbers in the requester's particular geographic or functional area of interest. If a component wishes to exclude a sensitive 201 personality from its alphabetic, numeric, and cryptonym listings, this may be done when opening the 201 or later by a 201 amendment....201 listings are categorized as standard or nonstandard and as scheduled or special...Issued semi-annually to Headquarters and the field; based on a component's interest in the 'Action Desk,' 'Country of Location,' and 'Interest Desk'...The standard listings available are...Alphabetical by surname...Alphabetical by given name....Alphabetical by cryptonym leading to a 201 number...Numerical, leading to a surname...Numerical, leading to a cryptonym. All standard listings are cumulative; previous editions must be destroyed upon receipt of current editions. Theses listings are by their very nature extremely sensitive compilation of information and must be given every possible safeguard. 

One page from A CIA 201 Listing that includes several Biographic references to various subjects with THEIR assigned 201 Numbers

One page from A CIA 201 Listing that includes several Biographic references to various subjects with THEIR assigned 201 Numbers

Non-Standard Listings
Based on one or more of the following selection criteria...Country of location...OI codes (organization and/or intelligence affiliation)...Year of birth (plus or minus a given number of years)...Occupation...These selection criteria may be used singly or in combinations. For example, a user could obtain a list of all 201 personalities who have been assigned the OI code of XX or codes XX, XY, or XZ. A 201 personality list could also be produced of all persons who were born in Germany between the years 1915 and 1920, with the occupation computer specialist, who are now citizens of the United States, located in Mexico, and who had been assigned the OI code AA. Note however that the listing would contain only those personalities with an OI code AA."

Common 201 File Issue
Questions about the abrupt ceasing of information in one particular 201 file prompted officials to explain "There is an associate OPS (Operations) file that contains the continuing information. The record system design was based upon the notion that operation activity would be recorded in files separate from the 201. Many officers over the years have included the operation information in the 201 to simplify thier record-keeping. When the next officer is assigned the case they may return to using the OPS file. It is common to find 201 files that have the same situation."

Personalities, 201, and IDN Numbers
"A relatively small proportion of the total number of personalities indexed by the CS (Clandestine Service) are of operational interest at any given point in time. These are normally subjects of extensive reporting and CI investigation, prospective agents and sources, and members of groups and organizations of continuing target interest. Each of these personalities is assigned either a 201 number or an IDN number. 

The 201 number serves a dual purpose. It brings the files on these personalities into the CS records system. A single number, e.g. 201-123456, is assigned to each person, and a dossier controlled by this number is established which contains, or has cross referenced to it, all of the reporting on this individual's personal history, current status and prospects. Once the 201 number is assigned, it is used in future reporting on the individual both as a file number and in place of other identifying data. Up-to-date machine listings are published periodically to help field stations and headquarters desks keep book on those 201 personalities falling in their particular geographic or functional area of interest."

"It has become apparent that the 201 machine listings should include the identities of persons of operational interest because of their connection with a target group or organization even though there may not be sufficient information or specific interest to warrant opening a file. For example: A considerable number of stations are concerned with the activities of Cuban exiles. Coverage of their movements, factions and objectives can be assisted by furnishing all participating stations and up-to-date listings containing information under the control of the Cuban desk on the dramatis personae. In addition to 201 personalities, such lists should contain the names and identifying data of persons who should be kept track of although they may only be of tangential interest or on whom there may be little or no data other than the given in the listing itself."

"To accommodate this type of requirement in the 201 system, identifiable personalities concerning who enough information is not yet available to require the opening of a file may be assigned numbers of the following type but in the same series:

IDN graphic.png

These are relabeled '201' if a file is opened. IDN numbers are carried with 201 numbers in appropriate general or special listings, where they are identified by the letter 'I' in the 'Type of Name' column. IDN numbers are not CS numbers. All 201 Code Numbers are assigned by RID at Headquarters, either upon receipt of Form 831, or of a filed dispatch. If a dispatch is written about a personality not yet in the system, a 201 number for it may be requested simply not yet in the system, a 201 number for it may be requested simply by writing under headquarters file number in the dispatch form as follows:                                                               

Dispatch Symbol.png

IDN numbers are assigned by RID at headquarters upon the request of stations or desks which are developing special identification programs within the 201 system. The field receives current notification of new 201 openings and IDN numbers through the Filed Index Card Service. Stations or branches concerned with personalities not of general CS concern. Files on these may be kept in any desired order. Should such personalities become of general CS interest they must be brought into the 201 system."

Light Grey Line Graphic.png