Mexican border crossing cards vulnerable to abuse
The State Department is issuing cards for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border that may be vulnerable to counterfeiting, according to a new report. In 2008, the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs took over from the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service the job of producing and issuing passport cards, which can be used by Americans as ...
The State Department is issuing cards for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border that may be vulnerable to counterfeiting, according to a new report.
In 2008, the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs took over from the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service the job of producing and issuing passport cards, which can be used by Americans as cheaper alternative to passports, and Border Crossing Cards, which are used by Mexican nationals who cross the border on a regular basis. However, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Thursday that "State does not fully understand the security and durability of the [U.S. passport] card." Though State "generally" is following accepted standards and procedures for designing the passport cards, it didn’t test the final version of the cards — leaving opportunities for criminals to forge their own.
Making the problem worse, when State began planning to produce a second-generation Border Crossing Card, the department issued the work to the same company that produced the flawed passport cards.
"Because the second generation BCC was added to the passport contract, it did not undergo any formal security testing and evaluation activities and no security or durability testing was done on the second-generation passport card," the GAO said.
The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection bureau intercepted more than 13,000 fraudulent Border Crossing Cards in 2009 alone. Last July, only one month after the use of the Border Crossing Cards became mandatory, the DHS’s Forensic Document Laboratory alerted U.S. Border Patrol officers that counterfeits had begun appearing at U.S. ports of entry and issued an alert explaining how to detect forgeries.
"The 9-11 Commission’s final report makes clear that ‘for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons,’" six congressmen wrote to the GAO in December 2008, in requesting the investigation. "We are concerned that the physical and electronic security of the U.S. Passport Card and the new Mexican Border Crossing Card may be inadequate."
State received the responsibility for manufacturing these cards as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which was supposed to tighten up the U.S. southern border as part of the reforms spelled out in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004.
The Forensic Document Laboratory, ,which specializes in travel-document fraud, told the GAO that State should use a different material to make the card, a higher standard of engraving, and put more visible security features on the front of the cards.
State responded that it has to balance the cost of security features with the benefit and therefore didn’t think the bulk of the laboratory’s recommendations were worth the expense.
Why didn’t State even test the final version of the passport card, as the laboratory recommended?
"Because it was in the final stages of procurement when the design was finalized and it wanted to meet schedule," the GAO said. State is working on the new version of the passport card now.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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