GAO details passport ruses
US agencies fail to detect fakes
WASHINGTON - Using phony documents and the identities of a dead man and a 5-year-old boy, a government investigator obtained US passports in a test of post-9/11 security.
Despite efforts to boost passport security since the 2001 terror attacks, the investigator fooled passport office and postal service employees on four applications.
The ruses are detailed in a report made public yesterday by the Government Accountability Office. In one instance, the investigator used the Social Security number of a man who died in 1965, a fake New York birth certificate, and fake Florida driver's license. He received a passport four days later.
In another attempt, the investigator used a 5-year-old boy's information but identified himself as 53 years old on the passport application. He received that passport seven days later.
In another test, the investigator used fake documents to get a genuine Washington, D.C. identification card. He then used the card to apply for a passport and received it the same day.
In a fourth test, the investigator used a fake New York birth certificate and a fake West Virginia driver's license. He got the passport eight days later.
Criminals and terrorists place a high value on illegally obtained travel documents, US 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 investigators.
The State Department has known about this vulnerability for years. On Feb. 29, the deputy assistant secretary of passport services at the State Department issued a memo to Passport Services directors across the country stating that the agency is reviewing its processes for issuing passports because of the approval errors.
In the memo, Brenda Sprague said that in 2009 passport services would focus on the quality, not the quantity, of its passport issuance decisions. Typically, passport services officials are evaluated on how many passports they issue.
Instead, Sprague said, the specialists should focus on improving the integrity of the process, including "a renewed emphasis on recognizing authentic documents and fraud indicators on applications."