In light of the Christmas Day attack on Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, let's go off topic with an item from the December edition of Foreign Policy magazine. The story is hard to believe but apparently true:
Since 2007, the U.S. State Department has been issuing high-tech "e-passports," which contain computer chips carrying biometric data to prevent forgery. Unfortunately, according to a March report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), getting one of these supersecure passports under false pretenses isn't particularly difficult for anyone with even basic forgery skills.
A [Government Accountability Office] investigator managed to obtain four genuine U.S. passports using fake names and fraudulent documents. In one case, he used the Social Security number of a man who had died in 1965. In another, he used the Social Security number of a fictitious 5-year-old child created for a previous investigation, along with an ID showing that he was 53 years old. The investigator then used one of the fake passports to buy a plane ticket, obtain a boarding pass, and make it through a security checkpoint at a major U.S. airport. (When presented with the results of the GAO investigation, the State Department agreed that there was a "major vulnerability" in the passport issuance process and agreed to study the matter.)
From "The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2009," Foreign Policy (December 2009) here.
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Proceed to passport control. Here's an excerpt from our March 9, 2009 post:
The government [of Kenya] in 2002 had said it wanted to update the way it printed and tracked its passports. Everything would be new and high-tech. A French company was found for the job, at a price of €6 million. But the contract went instead to an unknown U.K. company called Anglo Leasing Finance, at a price of €30 million. There was no public tender and the story only leaked to the press because of a junior civil servant. [Government graft-buster John] Githongo grabbed the investigation. Two years later, he'd uncovered about twenty government contracts awarded to phantom overseas companies at inflated prices, signaling the presence of high-level corruption. And most of the tainted contracts related to Kenya's security apparatus -- passport controls, forensic labs, security vehicles and satellite services, among others.