Did The TSA Compromise An Intelligence Program?


What the heck is WOMAP? The unredacted version of the Transportation Security Administration's supervisor security manual includes references for a heretofore unrevealed Central Intelligence Agency program called WOMAP -- The Worldwide Operational Meet and Assist Program.

According to the TSA's regulations, "foreign dignitaries" escorted by CIA officers are exempt from screening so long as the CIA submits their name, date of birth, itinerary and other information in advance. In general, the CIA officers who accompany these dignitaries are members of the Agency's Office of Protective Services, which provides security for the agency, its assets and its people. There's a separate procedure for screening foreign dignitaries approved by the Department of State. So it would seem as if the WOMAP program serves another purpose. Helpfully, the TSA manual provides some clues.

Persons who receive WOMAP status must be provided to the TSA's Office of Security and classified at the For Official Use Only Level. It "may be provided at the classified" level too. Importantly, the WOMAP information is so sensitive that  "[t]he title or position of the dignitary will be used by the Office of Intelligence to determine eligibility for screening courtesies, but will not be forwarded to the TSOC and respective FSDs." That is -- too secret for even the airport federal security directors, who have Top Secret clearance, to know.

Why does the CIA need to be escorting people through America's airports? For at least two reasons. One, the agency runs a National Resettlement Operations Center to provide intelligence assets who have "defected" to the United States with new cover identities. Exfiltrating such assets from other countries often involves the use of commercial aircraft -- hence the need for some sort of program that allows CIA case officers and officials -- using the cover of sworn officers from the CIA's internal police service -- to move sensitive subjects quickly -- and without screening. The CIA has "resettled" dozens of assets from the Middle East in recent years. Also, the CIA regularly greets intelligence officers from friendly foreign countries who arrive to train with their counterparts in the United States; their cover needs to be protected. Purely into the realm of speculation: the CIA might need to "render" a human asset through an American airport. Or -- the CIA might have to covertly sneak one of its own assets into a different area of the country, or territory, without having that person's identity be entered into a computer database.

The CIA declined to comment on the TSA leak. The WOMAP program has not been formally acknowledged. The acronym does not appear in Lexis-Nexus or Google databases.

"This egg-on-face incident clearly isn't something that should have happened, but at this point--and we'll see what the TSA's internal review concludes--the Intelligence Community doesn't see significant lasting damage coming out of it," a U.S. intelligence official said. "There are ways of dealing with this kind of thing."

The TSA, for its part, has said that the manual has been revised at least six times since this version was current, and that the information contained within was not sensitive enough to pose a security threat.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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