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Porous passport process still letting fakes through

Sat., March 14, 2009

WASHINGTON – Using phony documents and the identities of a dead man and a 5-year-old boy, a government investigator obtained U.S. passports in a test of post-9/11 security.

Despite efforts to boost passport security since the 2001 terror attacks, the investigator fooled passport and postal service employees four out of four times, according to a new report made public Friday.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, details the ruses:

•One investigator used the Social Security number of a man who died in 1965, a fake New York birth certificate and a fake Florida driver’s license. He received a passport four days later.

•A second attempt had the investigator using a 5-year-old boy’s information but identifying himself as 53 years old on the passport application. He received that passport seven days later.

•In another test, an investigator used fake documents to get a genuine Washington, D.C., identification card, which he then used to apply for a passport. He received it the same day.

•A fourth investigator used a fake New York birth certificate and a fake West Virginia driver’s license and got the passport eight days later.

Criminals and terrorists place a high value on illegally obtained travel documents, U.S. intelligence officials have said. Currently, poorly faked passports are sold on the black market for $300, while top-notch fakes go for about $5,000, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations.

The State Department has known about this vulnerability for years. On Feb. 26, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of passport services issued a memo to Passport Services directors across the country stating that the agency is reviewing its processes for issuing passports because of “recent events regarding several passport applications that were approved and issued in error.”

State Department spokesman Richard Aker said the agency regrets that it issued these four passports. “The truth is that this was human error,” Aker said.

He said the State Department plans to have facial recognition screening for all applicants in six months.


 

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