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State issues passports to fraudulent identities in GAO sting

Jul. 29, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By TOM SPOTH   |   Comments
All of the five of the successful passport applications used counterfeit birth certificates and driver's licenses, used the same photo as at least one of the other falsified applications, and claimed multiple addresses in different states.
All of the five of the successful passport applications used counterfeit birth certificates and driver's licenses, used the same photo as at least one of the other falsified applications, and claimed multiple addresses in different states. (GANNETT)

The State Department issued passports this year to five of seven people whose identities were fabricated by the Government Accountability Office to test State's ability to detect fraud, GAO reported Thursday.

Two of GAO's fake people that slipped through the cracks were deceased; three were over the age of 60, but used recently issued Social Security numbers. All of the five successful applications used counterfeit birth certificates and driver's licenses, used the same photo as at least one of the other falsified applications, and claimed multiple addresses in different states.

None of those red flags were enough for State officials to reject the passport applications. Two of the passports were retrieved from the mail before they were delivered, but only because officials at State realized they were part of a covert GAO operation, the report states.

The report followed up on a similar investigation in March 2009, in which State was also unable to detect several falsified passport applications. The most recent results show that "State has failed to effectively address the vulnerabilities in the passport issuance process," according to GAO.

The State Department has placed all personnel involved in issuing the illegitimate passports "on 100 percent audit" and is conducting fraud training for all personnel involved in examining passport applications, according to congressional testimony Thursday from Brenda Sprague, the department's deputy assistant secretary for passport services. The department will also move to enhance its systems for checking documents, tighten requirements for use of out-of-state identification and review all standard operating procedures, Sprague promised the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security.

Subcommittee chairman Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., and other legislators requested the second GAO report. He planned to announce at a hearing today new legislation that would give the State Department more authority to access information in federal, state and other databases.

"We need to make sure that the agencies that are responsible for processing passport application documents are concerned about national security as well as customer service, and we need to make sure they have the legal authorities, the resources and the technology to … detect passport fraud," Cardin said in a statement prepared for the hearing.

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