Cover page for CIA manual published by WikiLeaks

The CIA is an integral part of the United States’ global security state, which collectively has contributed to the proliferation in airport security screening measures since the September 11th attacks. Yet, this may not exactly serve the agents who have to travel under cover.

A secret CIA manual published by WikiLeaks and titled, “Surviving Secondary,” details how airports around the world pose a threat to covert operatives traveling through any of the world’s airports. It provides some rather incredible examples of security measures, which the CIA believes its operatives must be aware of in order to avoid having their cover blown during “secondary screening” when a traveler is pulled aside for additional scrutiny.

It was the second release of CIA material in a series that WikiLeaks started on Thursday. (And another manual on the European Union system for border control was published as well.)

The “Surviving Secondary” manual was put together for “officials who hold appropriate clearances at Executive Branch departments/agencies of the US government,” according to the secret intelligence document. It suggests “recipients must obtain originator approval prior to written or verbal communication of any portion of this product to state, local, tribal, and private entities and for all other uses not pre-approved by the originator.”

According to this manual, “Even when the traveler does everything right, the best protection during secondary screening is to be well-prepared with a cover story, according to an experienced CIA traveler.”

“In one incident during transit of a European airport in the early morning, security officials selected a CIA officer for secondary screening,” the manual recounts. “Although the officials gave no reason, overly casual dress inconsistent with being a diplomatic-passport holder may have prompted the referral. When officials swiped the officer’s bag for traces of explosives, it tested positive, despite the officer’s extensive precautions. In response to questioning, the CIA officer gave the cover story that he had been [given] in counterterrorism training in Washington, DC.”

“Although language difficulties led the local security officials to conclude that the traveler was being evasive and had trained in a terrorist camp, the CIA officer consistently maintained his cover story. Eventually, the security officials allowed him to rebook his flight and continue on his way.”

The “Surviving Secondary” manual also suggests, “Hostile and probably even allied services seek to identify US and other foreign intelligence officers,” and, “The combination of procedures available in secondary, a stressful experience for any traveler, may pose a significant strain on an operational traveler’s ability to maintain cover.”

Anyone in secondary inspection would “likely have no right of access to their embassy or to other outside assistance.”

“Consistent, Well-Rehearsed, and Plausible Cover is Important”

It advises that “smart phones, iPods, and MP3 players, can pose a vulnerability to alias travel because of their requirement for subscriptions. If border control officials can establish a link between the device and the traveler’s true name,this could present a difficulty for someone traveling in alias,” which is a classic concern of those critical of the global security state.

“Consistent, well-rehearsed, and plausible cover is important for avoiding secondary selection and critical for surviving it,” the manual advises. “A frequent operational CIA traveler to Asia and Europe advises that the most effective prevention of secondary is to have simple and plausible answers to the two most frequently asked questions, ‘Why are you here,’ and ‘Where are you staying.'”

Operatives are to travel with “everything that officials can use to examine their bona fides—including passports, travel history, baggage, personal electronics, pocket litter, hotel reservations, web presence” and determine it is all consistent with their covers.

To that end, it warns that Internet access allows airport security officials to examine travelers’ social and business network accounts to confirm that their Web presence corresponds with their persona. For example, Foursquare and LinkedIn are business equivalents to the Facebook social network.”

“Security officials might also expect a sales or marketing traveler to have a Twitter account. The absence of such business-related Web accounts probably would raise a business traveler’s profile with officials.”

Contraband is not limited to drugs. “Travelers at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran, Iran,” according to the “Surviving Secondary” manual,” who are “found with videos or photographs of protests or other opposition activity,” are likely to be “directed to a secondary questioning room where they [will] undergo full searches of laptop computers and other electronics.”

At Bahrain International Airport, security officials will refer travelers with “unusual electronic equipment” to secondary screening.

Airport security officials at “ports of entry” also may access “immigration databases.” Brazilian Federal Police (DPF) officers conducting secondary screenings at Guarulhos Airport in Sao Paulo can access travelers’ travel histories.”

“Chilean Investigative Police (PICH) inspectors conducting secondary screenings conduct real-time searches of Interpol records by name, date of birth, or passport number.” And the “Estonian Border Guard Service (BGS) officers access the Internet to locate hotels, conferences, or companies identified by passengers to confirm or discredit their story.”

Watch Lists with Confirmed or Suspected Intelligence Officers

“Watch lists maintained by security services can also include names of confirmed or suspected intelligence officers, according to reporting from several clandestine sources and the US Embassy in Dushanbe.”

For example, Austria’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT) and Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) list Russian intelligence officers.” Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS) lists “Iranian and Venezuelan intelligence officers.” Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security (GKNB) lists intelligence officers belonging to unidentified Western countries.” (*Note: Given the high-level involvement of CIA in Colombia, it is highly likely that Colombia seeks out Iranian and Venezuelan agents particularly because it is what US intelligence officials desire.)

Here are some other processes the CIA is worried about:

• At Budapest’s Ferihegy Airport in Hungary, security officers use closed circuit television (CCTV) and one-way mirrors to monitor passengers for signs of nervousness.
• The Bahrain National Security Agency (BNSA) deploys undercover officers in the arrivals lounge of Bahrain Airport to actively look for travelers who appear to be nervous.
• Officers of the National Security Service (NSS) in Mauritius use video cameras to observe arriving passengers as they exit the aircraft and retrieve their baggage, zooming on individuals’ faces to study their expressions.
• During passenger arrival procedures at Burgas International Airport in Bulgaria, multiple border police officials, including at least one officer behind the passengers at passport control, monitor passengers for signs of nervousness or other suspicious behavior.

“If officials at Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan, notice someone who appears to be studying the customs inspection process, they assume that someone in that group of passengers must be attempting to smuggle drugs or other contraband and intensify their inspection efforts,” the manual claims.

For those operatives traveling to Syria to engage in operations against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, this cautionary tale appears in the manual:

A Syrian airport officer removed a US businessman from the immigration line at Aleppo International Airport and questioned the businessman in secondary for approximately one hour. The officer explained the need to obtain additional information as standard procedure for all US citizens. Although other officials examined the businessman’s passport and mobile telephone, the airport officer questioned the businessman on his Arabic-language proficiency, reason for traveling to Syria, identities of those with whom the businessman planned to meet, the businessman’s employment with an emphasis on whether he was an employee
or owner, where the US passport was issued, and whether someone was meeting the businessman at the airport. Syrian officials also demanded that the businessman telephone his Syrian point of contact and asked the contact the same questions.

“Fraudulent Use of Genuine Passports”

Certainly, one of the key concerns of an undercover CIA operative would be not letting airport security detect a fraudulent passport.

“The majority of counterfeit passports uncovered in Ireland are from Brazil, China, and Romania,” the document notes. Plus, airport security officials may be concerned about “fraudulent use of genuine passports.”

“Falsified travel documents intercepted at Santiago International Airport in Chile are usually genuine Bolivian, Colombian, and Peruvian passports but with counterfeit EU or US visas,” the “Secondary Screening” manual informs. “Illegal travelers may carry stolen passports and attempt to pass themselves off as the person in the photograph.”

“The Turkish National Intelligence Organization (TNIO) assesses that possession of multiple passports is indicative of an individual attempting to obscure their real reason for traveling to Turkey. Possession of three passports––Iranian, Israeli, and Italian––prompted the apprehension in Frankfurt in January 2008 of an Iranian citizen. Inspectors at Baghdad International Airport specifically look for appropriate customs and immigration stamps to ensure travelers are not using multiple passports.”

“Israel’s Security Personnel Focus on Frequent Travel to Islamic Countries”

Examples of security services that may consider multiple stops to be suspicious include the Chilean Investigative Police (PICH), which may consider trips which originate in “East Asia with multiple stops” to be suspicious. The Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) will apparently regard “frequent travel to Nigeria and Guinea-Bissau” as suspicious.

“Israel’s security personnel focus on frequent travel to Islamic countries,” according to the CIA manual. “Venezuela’s Office of National Identification and Foreign Status (ONIDEX) flags foreign travelers who travel to Venezuela five or more times a month for subsequent secondary interviews. Zambian immigration officers suspect that a pattern of short-stint trips between Zambia, Pakistan, and South Africa indicates possible drug smuggling.

“In an operation to screen for Hizballah members traveling from Venezuela, the Mexican Center for Investigation and
National Security (CISEN) planned to take into secondary screening Venezuelan passport holders without a mastery of Spanish.” (Again, how likely is it that this is what US intelligence officials have urged?)

“Security personnel at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, commonly refer military-aged males traveling alone with backpacks to secondary screening, regardless of their nationality or skin color.”

Egyptian Security Officials Consider “Individuals with Advanced Scientific Degrees” to be Suspicious 

In Egypt, security officials at Cairo airport will particularly select “US-Arabs” or “US-Egyptians.” They’ll scrutinize “Christian Arabs” or Jews, human rights or humanitarian workers and “individuals with advanced scientific degrees.”

According to the CIA manual, Ireland’s Garda will “image or copy electronic devices, including telephones, once individuals are taken into secondary screening.” Russian customs agents are also known to confiscate electronics without explanation, as they did to a “Department of Energy official.”

All of these tactics employed by airport security officials are parts of procedures the US has pushed countries around the world to adopt. The very problems these processes create for CIA traveling undercover are the very problems that plague security and often lead to violations of civil liberties.

The incidents cited to warn CIA personnel likely influence what cover stories are adopted and not adopted by agents.

While WikiLeaks may be accused of compromising the CIA’s ability to travel around undercover, the leaked manual does not exactly describe in specifics how to travel covertly and get past secondary screenings. It simply gives general advice based on known incidents in countries where CIA operations are probably ongoing so that personnel can get away with whatever activity they perpetrating in the shadows.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."