Let’s get one thing clear: The two secret CIA documents published today by Wikileaks will not make you a clandestine officer.
Both reports are aimed at teaching CIA agents traveling undercover to avoid unnecessary scrutiny at airports. The first, “Surviving Secondary,” dated September 2011, explains how not to be singled out for secondary screening by passport officers, and how to handle it if you are, while the second, “Schengen Overview,” from January 2012, summarizes the information systems used by the 26 European countries that have open borders with each other as part of the Schengen agreement.
“Schengen Overview” is of minimal use to spies of other countries, terrorists, or even business travelers trying to shave a few minutes off their waiting time, because it’s aimed specifically at American passport-holders traveling under an assumed identity, and at explaining how much risk they run of getting their cover blown by each of the Schengen information systems. (The answer is, in most cases, “not much,” because they pay little attention to Americans and are set up mainly to catch illegal immigrants, drug smugglers, and criminals from other countries).
“Surviving Secondary,” despite the draconian-looking SECRET/ORCON/NOFORN plastered across each page, similarly looks pretty anodyne on first glance. Here, for instance, is a list, dating from 2004, of things that might make a passport officer suspicious:
Other startling revelations include the news that Budapest airport uses closed-circuit TV, Bahrain has undercover officers in the arrivals lounge, and Bulgarian border police are in the habit of watching passengers for signs of nervousness.
Something you might not find so easily elsewhere is a list of specific signs that could trigger suspicion in specific countries. Greek border police are likely to take a second look at anyone with an Egyptian, Iranian, or Iraqi passport. Japan might suspect arrivals from Amsterdam or Bangkok of drug trafficking. Venezuela fingers arriving Cubans as possible illegal immigrants; Chile has the same prejudice about Chinese males aged 16 to 28. And if you’re a Kurd going through Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan and you have a Turkish or Iranian accent, expect a long wait. Then again, if you’re a Kurd with a Turkish or Iranian accent, you probably already have a pretty good idea of who’s liable to give you trouble.
Finally, the section on how to handle a secondary screening, should you be selected, is disappointingly cursory. “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,'” the report says, before going on to suggest that you make sure all your belongings are consistent with your cover story, avoid sweating and biting your lip, and don’t volunteer too much detail.
Nonetheless, obvious as it may seem, the CIA’s checklist for not getting caught could form the basis of a decent introductory briefing for young would-be terrorists unversed in the ways of the world, and certain small tidbits might just help a border-crossing criminal minimize the risk of unwelcome attention. So what is Wikileaks’ justification for publishing the reports? According to Julian Assange, the organization’s head, “These manuals show that under the Obama administration the CIA is still intent on infiltrating European Union borders and conducting clandestine operations in EU member states.”
Well, how astonishing.