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State still vulnerable to passport fraud, GAO finds

The Government Accountability Office recently submitted seven obviously fraudulent passport applications to the State Department to test whether any would be spotted by State Department employees.

State ended up issuing five genuine passports, though at the last minute it managed to recover two in the mail when it realized it was being tested, according to testimony prepared for delivery this afternoon before the homeland security panel of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In one test, the application included both a counterfeit Florida birth certificate and West Virginia driver's license, both using the same fictitious name that was on the application. The application also included a Socal Security number that recently been issued by the Social Security Administration, even though the applicant was listed as a 62-year-old man. And it included a permanent address in West Virginia and a mailing address in Seattle -- another indication of fraud. And yet State issued the passport even though the agency says these were fraud indicators that should have been questioned prior to the issuance of the passport, according to Gregory Kutz, GAO's managing director of
forensic audits and special investigations

Kutz said that State remains vulnerable to such fraud because "passport acceptance agents and passport examiners have accepted counterfeit or fraudulently acquired genuine documents as proof of identification and citizenship" and because "State's limited access to information from other federal and state agencies hampers its ability to ensure that supporting documents belong to the bearer."

"The GAO testimony today shows that vulnerabilities in the U.S. passport system exist that could allow a foreign terrorist to use fraudulent citizenship and identity documents to successfully obtain a passport," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), in a prepared statement. "The 9/11 Commission's 2004 report recognized that 'for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons' and that 'terrorists devote extensive resources to acquiring and manipulating passports.' Nearly nine years after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, it is long overdue for the State Department to secure its system for issuing passports."

By Glenn Kessler  | July 29, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
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"at the last minute it managed to recover two in the mail when it realized it was being tested"

The ethics of that extraordinary effort are highly questionable. If you know it's a test, and you know you've failed, why go through the incredibly disruptive process of fishing a letter out of the USPS mail stream? Pure CYA, with no value to the taxpayer.

Posted by: kcx7 | July 29, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

When the documents 'were recovered in the mail', it could mean that the documents were still in the State Department mail room, not yet picked up by the USPS.

In the mail? Yes, in a technical sense. And not illegal to be 'retrieved' at that point.

In the possession of the USPS? Not determinable from the article. If so, it would be illegal for them to be 'retrieved' at that point.

ASSuming that the documents were retrieved from the USPS is just that, an ASSumption.

Posted by: critter69 | July 29, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

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