WikiLeaks Publishes CIA Travel Tips: Nervous Travelers Beware

With the holiday travel season in full swing, millions of people around the country and the world are taking to the highways, railways and the skies to visit friends and family (or to escape them!) far and wide. Of course, the romantic notion of the old fashioned family Christmas pilgrimage was long ago replaced by the stresses and strains of modern travel: endless traffic, train and plane delays, and security protocols that border on the absurd. Fortunately for the frantic traveler, Wikileaks has just published two previously secret CIA documents detailing the spy agency’s advice to operatives on how to survive the airport security screening process.

The leaked documents have been put online as part of the anti-secrecy organization’s ongoing “CIA Series,” which is planned to continue into the new year, according to a press release. The two CIA documents published yesterday provide insight on how the spy organization trains agents to navigate the heightened airport security protocols that we have all come to know and love over the last 15 years. The first provides an overview on how to survive the "secondary screening" process in general, while the second provides pointers on how to pass airport security specifically when infiltrating the European Union.

Anyone who's ever traveled at all is familiar with the primary screening process. (If you're not, consider watching this George Carlin bit for a quick overview.) You wait in a series of lines, provide your boarding pass and ID to the relevant official, proceed through the new-fangled Rapiscan nude scanners and so on. A subset of passengers are then taken aside for secondary screening either because of flags raised during the primary screening process, or because they have been selected for random secondary screening.

However, the CIA writes: "Travelers can minimize the possibility of secondary by knowing how to prepare for and navigate the primary inspection and by avoiding to the extent possible the various triggers for secondary." Among these triggers, the document lists: possession of contraband (including weapons, drugs and electronics), irregularities with official identification documents, suspicious behavior (nervousness, anxiety), baggage (with contents that are inconsistent with the passenger's appearance, profession, ticket class, stated reason for travel and so on), country of origin, suspicious past travel patterns, and so on. The agency also notes the following factoids:
  • Inspectors focus on body language.
  • Travelers can legally be held in secondary screening for hours.
  • Officials may telephone travelers' contacts to verify their stories.
  • Officials can access national and international databases on the internet.
  • Officials can collect additional biographic data and biometrics.
  • Officials can examine belongings.
  • Officials can copy or confiscate a traveler's personal electronics.
Read the rest for some interesting anecdotes from airports around the world. The report concludes with some common sense advice: "Consistent, well-rehearsed, and plausible cover is important for avoiding secondary selection and critical for surviving it. 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.” Travelers should  also ensure before traveling that everything that offials can use to examine their bona fides—passports, travel history, baggage,  personal electronics, pocket litter, hotel reservations, Web presence—is consistent with" your official reason for travel.

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