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Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2003 / 13 Elul, 5763

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mobray
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Consumer Reports


Fake documents, real drivers licenses


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | With the uproar over drivers licenses being issued to illegal aliens in states like California, an even-bigger security threat has been overlooked: drivers licenses being issued to people with obviously fake documentation.

Agents from the General Accounting Office — the investigative arm of Congress — were able to obtain real licenses in seven states and the District of Columbia using bogus Social Security numbers and forged birth certificates and drivers licenses. Making matters worse, investigators intentionally used the kinds of fake documents normal cheats might use, avoiding any high-tech gimmickry.

Although some states required more than one try to get a license, each state tested by investigators — Virginia, Maryland, California, South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, New York, and Washington, D.C. — ultimately issued licenses to the GAO agents, with three tries being the maximum number of attempts needed.

In Maryland, the undercover agents were at first turned away because of the poor quality of the fake birth certificate, which had no state or county seal and was clearly not the usual texture of such documents. The second trip would have been enough, but investigators were informed that they needed proof of residency. They returned a few days later with a utility bill — and the agent received the license.

Duping DMVs got easier from there.

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Just across the border in Virginia, the first attempt to get a license was stymied because an alert employee noticed that the sham birth certificate and the dummy Social Security card had different dates of birth. Less than a week later, with the "error" fixed, the agent went to a different DMV office — and got a license.

On the other side of the country, though, is where investigators uncovered the most astounding shortcomings. GAO investigators were able to obtain three temporary licenses in two days — all using the same exact paperwork. One license was issued to someone who had a different person take his eye exam — in plain view of the DMV staff.

With a drivers license, someone can create a whole new life — renting an apartment, ordering utilities and phone service, obtaining credit cards, etc. — all under an assumed name. And all someone needs to do to get started is to make a trip to the parking lot of a local 7/11 convenience store and purchase phony documents at a cheap price.

With drivers licenses in hand, terrorists are better able to blend in — and avoid detection. This isn't just conjecture or speculation; it is exactly what several of the 9/11 terrorists did.

So what's the solution? Not a national ID card, for which many are sure to clamor following the release of the GAO report. The federal government has proven completely inept, for example, at deporting just those illegal aliens that they've arrested. Witness John Lee Malvo, the DC sniper, who was released on his own recognizance after being arrested by the border patrol.

As amply demonstrated by the GAO investigators, the real problem is one of enforcement. In most cases, the initial attempts to get a license were thwarted because a clerk spotted the fake documents. But those same clerks then handed back the phony paperwork, allowing the agents to try again at the same location or a different one nearby. In each such instance, no other state offices or law enforcement agencies were notified, and the agents who had just been caught using fake documents walked out unscathed.

It's hard to blame the clerks for laxity, though, considering the cues they receive from the political leadership. More and more politicians — and even some Republicans — are embracing the move to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens, who are often referred to by their boosters as "undocumented."

It should come as little surprise that the worst state examined by the GAO — California — is also the state that most recently passed a law making illegal aliens eligible for licenses. If politicians are tripping over themselves to give licenses to people here illegally who most likely can't even prove their real identities, why should the minimum wage staff at the DMV care about security?

The scariest thought: when clerks issue licenses to people who are "undocumented" or who have fake documents, how do they know they're not terrorists?

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JWR contributor Joel Mowbray is the author of the forthcoming book "Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America's Security". Comment by clicking here.

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© 2003, Joel Mowbray.