GAO: Fake Documents Used to Issue Valid Passports

A single undercover investigator used fraudulent documents to obtain four valid passports from the State Department last year, the Government Accountability Office revealed Monday.

In what it termed the most egregious case, the GAO investigator obtained a passport using the Social Security number of a man who died 44 years ago, along with a forged birth certificate and driver's license. In another case, the undercover agent acquired a passport using counterfeit documents and a Social Security number of a fictitious five-year-old GAO created from a previous investigation. In each case, the investigator used a different name, and neither State Department nor Postal Service employees identified as being counterfeit the documents used to acquire the passports.

According to GAO, its investigator later purchased an airline ticket under the name used on one of the four fraudulently obtained U.S. passports, and used that passport identity to check into his flight, get a boarding pass and pass through the security checkpoint at a major metropolitan-area airport.

The government issued all the fraudulently obtained passports within eight days of each application; one was issued the same day the investigator submitted his application.

"In order to improve State's current passport fraud detection capabilities," wrote Gregory Kutz, GAO managing director for forensic audits and special investigations, "State would need greater cooperation from other agencies at both the federal and state levels, and the ability to access other agencies' records in real time."

Responding to the GAO report, the State Department admitted the problem exists, blaming limits on information sharing and data access with other federal and state government agencies. State said some agencies limit its access to their records because of privacy concerns and because the department is not a law enforcement agency.

GAO said it briefed a Postal Service representative on its findings, but the Postal Service did not offer comments in response. Passports can be obtained through post offices.

5 Most Popular NIST Info Sec Documents

What were the five most popular information security documents accessed on last year? According to the just-released fiscal year 2008 annual report of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Computer Security Division, they were:

  1. Special Publication (SP) 800-30, Risk Management Guide for Information Technology Systems.
  2. Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 197, Advanced Encryption Standard.
  3. SP 800-48, Guide to Securing Legacy IEEE 802.11 Wireless Networks.
  4. FIPS 140-2, Security Requirements for Cryptographic Modules.
  5. SP 800-53 Revision 1 and, Revision 2, Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information System.

During fiscal 2008, the division's website received more than 87.8 million requests, mostly for its publications.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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