Homeland Security Attempts to Enhance Security of Passports and Visas
by Jim Kouri, CPP
Travel documents are often used fraudulently in attempts to enter the United States. The integrity of US passports and visas depends on the combination of well-designed security features and solid issuance and inspection processes.
The US Congress directed the Government Accountability Office to examine the features of US passports and visas and how information on the features is shared, as well as the integrity of the issuance process for these documents.
The GAO reviewed documents such as studies, alerts, and training materials and analysts met with officials from the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology, and US Government Printing Office, and with officials at seven passport offices, nine US ports of entry, two US consulates in Mexico, and two Border Crossing Card production facilities.
The Department of State has developed passports and visas, including border crossing cards (BCC), that are more secure than older versions of these documents; however, older versions have been fraudulently used and remain more vulnerable to fraud during their lifespan.
For example, earlier versions valid until 2011, of which there are more than 20 million in circulation, remain vulnerable to fraudulent alteration by such means as photo substitution. Although the State Department has updated or changed the security features of its travel documents, State does not have a structured process to periodically reassess the effectiveness of the security features in its documents against evolving threats and to actively plan for new generations.
The State Department has taken a number of measures to ensure the security and quality of passports and visas, including establishing internal control standards and quality assurance measures, training of acceptance agents, and initiating new visa policies and procedures.
However, additional measures are needed in the passport issuance process to minimize the risk of fraud. State lacks a program for oversight of the thousands of passport acceptance facilities that serve an important function in verifying the identity of millions of passport applicants each year.
Officers in primary inspection -- the first and most critical opportunity to identify fraudulent travel documents at US ports of entry -- are unable to take full advantage of the security features in passports and visas.
These officers rely on both their observations of travelers and visual and manual examination of documents to detect fraudulent documents. However, the Department of Homeland Security has not yet provided most ports of entry with the technology tools to read the new electronic passports and does not have a process in place for primary inspectors to utilize fingerprints collected for visas, including BCCs, at all land ports of entry.
Moreover, DHS has provided little regular training to update its officers on the security features and fraud trends in passports and visas.
Sources: US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of State, General Accountability Office
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.