Security: Counterfeit Identification Raises Homeland Security Concerns

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-10-01.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Committee on Homeland

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 1:00 p.m. EDT
Wednesday, October 1, 2003   SECURITY
                             Counterfeit Identification
                             Raises Homeland Security
                             Statement of Ronald D. Malfi 

                             Director, Office of Special Investigations 

                             Accompanied by: 

                             Robert J. Cramer 

                             Managing Director, Office of Special Investigations 


    Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

    Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about how homeland
    security is vulnerable to identity fraud. Today, counterfeit identification is
    easily produced and used to create fraudulent identities. Tests we have
    performed over the past 3 years demonstrate that counterfeit
    identification documents can be used to

•   enter the United States,
•   purchase firearms,
•   gain access to government buildings and other facilities, 

•   obtain genuine identification for both fictitious and stolen identities, and 

•   obtain social security numbers for fictitious identities. 

    In conducting these tests, we created fictitious identities and counterfeit
    identification documents, such as driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and
    social security cards. We did this using inexpensive computer software
    and hardware that are readily available to any purchaser.

    Our work shows how security vulnerabilities can be exploited. From July,
    2002, through May, 2003, we counterfeited state driver’s licenses and birth
    certificates, with fictitious names and used them to enter the United States
    from Western Hemisphere countries, including Jamaica, Barbados,
    Mexico, and Canada. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
    staff never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents, and
    our investigators encountered no difficulty entering the country using
    them. 1

    Second, counterfeit driver’s licenses can be used to purchase firearms.
    Between October, 2000, and February, 2001, used counterfeit driver’s
    licenses with fictitious identifiers to purchase firearms from license
    dealers in five states—Virginia, West Virginia, Montana, New Mexico, and
    Arizona. When we purchased the firearms, the majority of the firearms
    dealers we dealt with complied with laws governing such purchases,
    including instant background checks required by federal law.2 However, an
    instant background check only discloses whether the prospective

     U.S. General Accounting Office, Counterfeit Documents Used to Enter the United States
    from Certain Western Hemisphere Countries Not Detected, GAO-03-713T (Washington,
    D.C.: May 13, 2003).
        18 U.S.C. § 922(t).

    Page 1                                                   GAO-04-133T Security Threat
purchaser is a person whose possession of a firearm would be unlawful.
Consequently, if the prospective purchaser is using a fictitious identity, as
we did, an instant background check is not effective. 3

Third, counterfeit identification can be used to gain access to federal
buildings and other facilities. In March, 2002, we breached the security of
four federal office buildings in the Atlanta area using counterfeit law
enforcement credentials to obtain genuine building passes, which we then
counterfeited. We were also able to obtain building passes that authorized
us to carry firearms in the buildings. As a result, several investigators,
including one carrying a briefcase suitable for carrying firearms, bypassed
the magnetometers and x-ray machines using the counterfeited building
passes. They then were able to move freely throughout the buildings
during day and evening hours.4 In April and May, 2000, we similarly gained
access to numerous federal buildings in Washington, D.C., that contained
the offices of cabinet secretaries or agency heads.5

Finally, we easily obtained Social Security Numbers (SSN) for fictitious
names. We used counterfeit identification documents to obtain valid SSNs
from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for two fictitious infants. In
addition, we visited two states and obtained authentic but fraudulent
driver’s licenses using the names, SSNs, and dates of birth of individuals
listed on SSA’s publicly available Master Death file. The Master Death file
contains the names, SSNs, and dates of birth of deceased individuals. The
motor vehicle departments in two of the states we visited are among those
that rely solely on visual verification of identification documents and do
not compare the information on license applications with SSA’s Master
Death file.6

Our work leads us to three basic conclusions: (1) government officials and
others generally did not recognize that the documents we presented were
counterfeit; (2) many government officials were not alert to the possibility

 U.S. General Accounting Office, Firearms: Purchased from Federal Firearm Licensees
Using Bogus Identification, GAO-01-427T (Washington, D.C.: March 19, 2001).
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Security Breaches at Federal Buildings in Atlanta,
Georgia, GAO-02-668T (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 30, 2002).
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Security: Breaches at Federal Agencies and Airports,
GAO/T-OSI-00-10 (Washington, D.C.: May 25, 2000).
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Numbers: Ensuring the Integrity of the
SSN, GAO-03-941T (Washington, D.C.: July 10, 2003).

Page 2                                                    GAO-04-133T Security Threat
           of identity fraud and some failed to follow security procedures and (3)
           identity verification procedures are inadequate. While some of the
           problems revealed in our tests have been addressed by the responsible
           agencies, much remains to be done. A driver’s license is the most
           commonly accepted document used for identifications. The weaknesses
           we found during this investigation clearly show that border inspectors,
           motor vehicle departments, and firearms dealers need to have the means
           to verify the identity and authenticity of the driver’s licenses that are
           presented to them. In addition, government officials who review
           identification need additional training in recognizing counterfeit
           documents. Further, these officials also need to be more vigilant when
           searching for identification fraud.

           Mr. Chairman, this completes my statement. I would be happy to respond
           to any questions you or other members of the committee may have.

           Page 3                                           GAO-04-133T Security Threat
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