One of the major areas of concern during this global war on terrorism is border security — keeping out those who don’t belong here while keeping the borders flexible enough for normal trade and tourism. Passports should be the primary tool for ensuring security, but as the New York Times reports, passports routinely get issued to people whose applications should raise red flags:
The names of more than 30 fugitives, including 9 murder suspects and one person on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted list, did not trigger any warnings in a test of the nation’s passport processing system, federal auditors have found.
Insufficient oversight by the State Department allows criminals, illegal immigrants and suspected terrorists to fraudulently obtain a United States passport far too easily, according to a report on the test by the Government Accountability Office to be released Wednesday.
The lapses occurred because passport applications are not routinely checked against comprehensive lists of wanted criminals and suspected terrorists, according to the report, which was provided to The New York Times by an official critical of the State Department who had access to it in advance. For example, one of the 67 suspects included in the test managed to get a passport 17 months after he was first placed on an F.B.I. wanted list, the report said.
The problem isn’t just the issuance of legitimate passports to illegitimate people, but counterfeit rings that have not been adequately addressed, despite leads that could be exploited. All of this points to a system that has a dual danger for the US: it not only leaves us unsecured, but it leaves us with the illusion of security. That illusion has kept us from demanding reform or corrective action up to now.
Passports are critical to border security, but they also unlock all sorts of other doors once inside the United States. Passports allow holders to get driver’s licenses and other forms of identification, along with access to financial systems, and so on. They also allows fugitives or suspects in major crimes or involvement in terrorism to flee the country quickly, if desired. An officially issued US passport is one of the most valuable assets a terrorist could have in his arsenal.
If we want to create not just an illusion of security but start ensuring the safety of our nation, we need to demand more action on investigating and prosecuting passport fraud.
Note: Ironically, this comes up just as I’m applying for a passport myself, to work on a story with some international implications. The story will be some weeks off, but I hope to get the passport secured well before then — and I hope that it comes after a thorough and timely investigation.