May 05 2009
Washington, DC – Following a recent government report detailing security breaches in the U.S. passport issuance process, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security today held a hearing on passport fraud.
The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was requested by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jon Kyl (R-Arizona). It found that potential terrorists or criminals could steal an American’s identity, and with basic counterfeiting skills, create fraudulent documents to obtain a genuine U.S. passport from the U.S. State Department.
Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s prepared opening remarks:
“Thank you, Chairman Cardin, for holding this hearing today on such an important issue.
A year ago Senator Kyl and I requested a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to uncover what vulnerabilities, if any, exist in the processing and issuance of U.S. passports.
What the GAO uncovered in its investigation is alarming. A GAO undercover agent attempted to get a U.S. passport issued based on counterfeit documents and fraudulent social security numbers and succeeded in four out of four attempts.
The State Department failed to clear all four of these passports through the Social Security number clearance check, which only takes 24 hours. The State Department did not identify the counterfeit birth certificates, or the counterfeit driver’s licenses. It also issued all four passports to the same individual.
One passport, as we know, was issued to a middle-aged man based on a 5-year-old’s social security number, and another was issued even though the social security number was from a deceased individual.
How many more passports are out there that were wrongly issued and are being used by those seeking to do others harm?
The State Department will testify today that it has made concrete steps to begin to close these vulnerabilities. While this is encouraging, State Department officials have known about these vulnerabilities for many years but have failed to fully secure the process.
For example, the GAO, in a report released in 2005, had recommended that the State Department check all social security numbers against the Social Security Administration’s database of deceased individuals, but this wasn’t done until December 2008, three years later. In addition, it is my understanding that employees processing the passports had raised this solution with the State Department as early as 2001.
Let me be clear: I expect that the recommendations made by the GAO today will be implemented fully, and done immediately.
These recommendations, as GAO will testify to, include:
- Improving the detection of counterfeit documents by:
- increasing the training and resources available to passport acceptance facility employees; and
- ensuring access to state databases to verify driver’s licenses and birth certificates.
- Verifying Social Security numbers by:
- holding passports for the 24 Hour social security number clearance; and
- exploring real-time checks of the validity of Social Security numbers.
- Providing greater oversight and accountability by:
- requiring the State Department to self-audit its passports acceptance process; and
- establishing a comprehensive oversight program of passport acceptance facilities.
In addition, I believe that the State Department must also audit the passports that were issued prior to the Social Security 24 hour check. We must ensure that these passports are not in the wrong hands.
I have been working to reduce passport and visa fraud for many years as the chairman of this Subcommittee because I believe that it puts all American at risk. As we know, passports can not only be used to verify citizenship, but can be used to purchase a gun, board a plane, or set up a bank account. This is why I intend to reintroduce “The Passport and Visa Security Act” to help law enforcement prosecute the trafficking of passports and visas.
Exploitation of U.S. passports by criminals and terrorists puts all Americans at risk. We must do more to verify not only documents, but identity, by placing as many barriers in the way of bad actors as possible.
The 9/11 Commission found that 19 hijackers had been issued 16 state driver’s licenses (from Arizona, California, Florida and Virginia) and 14 state identification cards (from Florida, Maryland and Virginia). They also had at least 364 aliases among them, according to the Commission, so it is possible they had additional licenses and/or identification cards that we will never know about.
This is why I also believe that facial recognition technology is critical to preventing the issuance of multiple identity documents to the same person. I understand that the State Department is working to implement this technology.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I look forward to working with you and Senator Kyl to restore the integrity of the U.S. passport.”
# # #